Chautauqua: Haven for Learning and Culture

My husband and I have become evangelists—for the Chautauqua Institution, a unique and wonderful community in the westernmost county of New York, between Buffalo and Erie, Pa.

It’s a combination of college campus, music festival, writers’ workshop,  arts enclave and summer resort, with a little more than a hint of the religious movement that gave it its start 143 years ago. One person we met called it “summer camp for the adult brain.”

And it’s nestled into a picturesque small town chock full of Victorian-era houses, gardens galore and quiet streets. Walking and biking are the primary means of transport (though shuttle buses are available).

Training for Sunday School teachers

Originally called the Chautauqua Lake Sunday School Assembly, the institution was created in 1874 as a two-week program for Methodist Sunday School teachers. The assembly took place following a revivalist “camp meeting” held annually on the shores of Lake Chautauqua. Founders John Heyl Vincent and Lewis Miller thought religion teachers needed more than revivalist spirit. They brought in speakers on a variety of academic subjects and provided music, art and physical education opportunities. It wasn’t long before the assembly totally eclipsed the revival meeting.

The Chautauqua idea caught on quickly, attracting the general public as well as religious educators. Soon there were numerous “daughter Chautauquas” and traveling Chautauquas throughout the country.

The founders’ vision still drives the institution, which now has a nine-week season every summer, from the end of June to the end of August.

Every week has a theme, and every weekday morning there is a lecture from a nationally known speaker on that theme. Every weekday afternoon there’s a lecture on a related theme in the “interfaith” lecture series. And every evening, six days of the week, there is fabulous entertainment: from the resident Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, from the music school’s orchestra, from the opera program or resident ballet company, or from top-notch visiting artists.

In between there are more lectures, book reviews, movies, discussion groups, recitals, art exhibits, nature walks and other activities – more than any one person can do.

For an additional fee there are three productions by the resident theater company and  a whole catalog of “special studies courses” on a wide variety of topics. There’s a golf course, tennis courts and indoor pool, and a lake with small beaches and boat docks. There are reasonably priced day camp programs for children from 3 to 16.

Religious life at Chautauqua

In deference to its history, Chautauqua provides many avenues for religious expression, including daily Protestant services with visiting clergy in the large amphitheater and a Sunday evening “sacred song service.”

Quite early in Chautauqua’s history, various Protestant denominations began operating guest houses so their congregants could stay at Chautauqua for a reasonable fee. Catholics and Jews weren’t particularly welcome in the early days, but now both groups have residences among the “denominational houses” on the grounds – and a Muslim house is in the discussion phase.

The newest of the denominational houses is the Everett Jewish Life Center, which opened in 2009. My husband and I started staying there for a week at a time in 2014. Last year we learned that they were looking for a new “host couple” and we jumped at the opportunity.

This year we spent 10 weeks at Chautauqua. Our duties included welcoming the guests to the Everett Center’s five guest rooms, shopping for food, preparing and cleaning up from breakfast, helping set up seats for the weekly films and speakers, and general trouble-shooting. Others handled the cleaning and maintenance and the programming.

In return, we got to enjoy almost everything Chautauqua had to offer. We heard incredible speakers, including Dahlia Lithwick, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Lewis Black, Jacques Pepin, E.J. Dionne, Bill Moyers and Stella Rimington, the former head of British intelligence and the model for Judi Dench’s “M”.

We saw fabulous entertainers, including Jay Leno, the Capitol Steps, Garrison Keillor, Sheryl Crow and the Beach Boys.

Visitors can stay at one of the 15 denominational houses with  guest rooms, the beautiful Victorian Athenaeum Hotel or at a rental house, apartment or room. There are also less expensive hotels and cabin communities a few miles away.

A word to the wise: The denominational houses get booked up fast! The Everett center has only a few openings left for 2018. The United Methodist House starts taking reservations October 1 and continues until the rooms are filled. The Catholic House has a lottery: get your application in between November 1 and November 30 and they’ll let you know soon afterwards if you’re “in.”

All of the denominational houses welcome people of all faiths, though some give preferences to church members; some allow you to become an official member of the tribe by paying a small membership fee.

Like any good evangelist, I’m willing to “testify” for Chautauqua! If you have any questions about the program or about the Everett Jewish Life Center, please contact me.

The recipe below is for one of the breakfast casseroles I served to our guests at the Everett center. I got it from It would be a great brunch or potluck dish. Be sure to plan ahead, because the recipe calls for the dish to sit overnight in the refrigerator. You can probably get by with letting it sit just a few hours, but I don’t recommend baking it right after you mix it up; the bread needs a chance to soak up the eggs and milk.


All-local grocery stores take off


This story was originally published in the February 25, 2017 issue of Model D. All photos by Doug Coombe.

By Patrick Dunn

As a Cordon Bleu grad who grew up in Detroit’s Grandmont Rosedale neighborhood, lack of access to fresh local food in Detroit is a particularly personal issue for Kiki Louya.

“You go to a grocery store and I remember since I was a kid: your meat is brown, your produce is rotten, and you get used to it,” Louya says. “You have to wait for that one day at Eastern Market, because it was only open on Saturdays before, and you have to drive really far out to get really good meat or good cheese … It’s just this way of life that we as Detroiters became used to, and it’s not the way that we should have to live.”

When Louya and business partner Rohani Foulkes set out to change that last year by opening their Corktown grocery, the Farmer’s Hand, they found a unique model and invaluable mentorship in Ann Arbor. Argus Farm Stop opened in 2014 on the western edge of downtown Ann Arbor with the express goal of creating a year-round grocery stocking exclusively local food.

Argus co-owner Bill Brinkerhoff says that once the store got up and running, his second goal was to inspire more like it.

“This was meant to be a demonstration project,” Brinkerhoff says. “We’re the first one that’s done it as a business. I think all the other ones across the country are done as nonprofits or cooperatives, which have some advantages. But we said, ‘Let’s put it as a business so we can hire employees and reduce burnout.’”

Building a model

First, however, Argus had to develop a viable business model. Brinkerhoff describes the business as a “hybrid” between a traditional grocery store and a farmers market. The store works on a consignment model, paying farmers 80 percent of gross sales of their produce and allowing them to set their own prices. Argus co-owner Kathy Sample says the model takes a traditional farmers market to the next level, making local food more readily available to local consumers with minimal added effort for farmers.

“Farmers markets are so charming and that’s been such a traditional model that I don’t think people realize how confining that is for a small farm,” Sample says. “That’s why I think food got industrialized. These small farms can’t do more than one market a week.”

Although the business is young, it’s been hugely successful thus far. Argus has paid out $2 million to over 150 Ann Arbor-area farmers and some Detroit producers since it opened. Sample and Brinkerhoff keep the operation profitable for themselves by also running a coffee shop out of the compact 1,300-square-foot store. And farmers seem thrilled with the setup.

“It’s so dang convenient,” says Tyson Gersh, cofounder and president of the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative in Detroit, one of the earliest farms to sell produce through Argus. “It’s everything it needs to be. I don’t have to think about any of it. All I’ve got to do is do the growing and drop it off and they figure it out.”

A helping hand

Argus first came to Louya’s attention while she was having exploratory conversations about opening an all-local grocery store and people kept mistakenly assuming that she was associated with the Ann Arbor business. When Louya looked into Argus’ model, she was skeptical at first.

“My thought was, ‘How does this make money?’ Because that’s the bottom line,” she says. “I didn’t believe it at first. It was almost like a dream.”

Louya requested a meeting with Brinkerhoff and was surprised when he walked her through Argus’ business model and finances in detail.

“Really, once you see that, it was amazing because it was like, ‘This is possible and we can do this,’” she says. “But I needed that assurance because there’s just nothing like it.”

Foulkes, too, discovered Argus while she was pursuing options to start a community-oriented food business in the metro Detroit area. She describes Argus as “an attractive, functional, non-traditional grocery that every neighborhood should have,” reminding her of the neighborhood groceries and butchers that were more common in her native Australia. Foulkes and Louya immersed themselves in the Argus model, shadowing at the store to get a thorough grasp on how Sample and Brinkerhoff’s business worked.

Argus’ influence is clear at the Farmer’s Hand. The Corktown store’s layout is compact – at 390 square feet, even smaller than Argus’. All produce at both stores is clearly labeled with the name and location of the farm it came from. The Farmer’s Hand’s consignment model gives farmers 70 percent of gross sales of their produce, though Louya and Foulkes hope to bring that up to 80 percent soon. And while the Detroit store doesn’t have a coffee shop, it does have a revenue driver in a prepared food counter and the recent addition of beer and wine.

Louya and Foulkes are lavish in their praise for Brinkerhoff and Sample’s mentorship.

“Had we not had them, we wouldn’t have been as far along as we are now,” Louya says.

Spreading the model

Brinkerhoff and Sample are enthusiastic about the Farmer’s Hand’s success thus far, but they’re already looking ahead to how they might spread the Argus model further. They’ve currently broken Argus’ business model down into 12 steps, which are viewable to the general public at their store. But Brinkerhoff speaks of streamlining that into a four-step process.

“We’re amazed by [Foulkes and Louya’s] energy and that they’ve gone ahead and done it and done it so quickly,” Brinkerhoff says. “It makes me want to put some energy into making the template easier to use.”

Sample says she thinks Ann Arbor alone could accommodate “two or three more Arguses.”

Brinkerhoff agrees. “If you can get two or three Argus-type stores, suddenly you can have farmers that can make a sustainable, healthy income,” he says. “It could really put us on the map for how local food is done.”

But Sample and Brinkerhoff aren’t particularly interested in starting another store themselves – or even profiting from franchising the model. Sample estimates that she and Brinkerhoff are currently working with 15 people nationwide who are interested in replicating it. Locally, Clarkston dietician Angela Bollini is aiming to open an Argus-like business called the Farmer’s Harvest in Rochester [a small town north of Detroit] this summer.

“They’ve been so helpful,” Bollini says of Brinkerhoff and Sample.

Louya and Foulkes see huge potential for the Argus (or Farmer’s Hand) model to be further replicated in Detroit as well. Louya says similar stores could easily take root in Grandmont Rosedale, the Livernois and Seven Mile area, and other Detroit neighborhoods.

But, like Brinkerhoff and Sample, Louya and Foulkes aren’t necessarily interested in opening another store of their own. In fact, they’re finding themselves beginning to fill the role that Sample and Brinkerhoff once filled for them.

“”The funny thing is we have people coming to us now, asking for our help,” Foulkes says. “So if we can pay that forward, it’s like the whole thing comes full circle.”

Story by Patrick Dunn originally published in the February 25, 2017 issue of Model D.

[Editor’s Note: I wanted to include a recipe that uses ingredients that might be available at an all-local store. The only thing in this nice recipe that might not fit is the cream of mushroom soup. If all-local is important to you, saute locally grown mushrooms and add them to a super-thick homemade white sauce.)

Green bean casserole—the true story!

Just say “green bean casserole” and almost every American will know what you’re talking about: canned green beans mixed with canned cream of mushroom soup topped with canned french-fried onion rings. Oh you can get fancier versions, like those using fresh green beans and fresh mushrooms, but this is the Real Thing.

Green bean casserole was one of the first recipes I ever learned too make, in seventh-grade cooking class. You couldn’t get much easier than opening a can of green beans, opening a can of mushroom soup, mixing the two with a little milk, then opening another can with the onion rings to top it off.

So I was fascinated to learn that this recipe was popularized by a Jewish woman, Cecily Brownstone. Leah Koenig, author of Modern Jewish Cooking: Recipes and Customs for Today’s Kitchen, wrote about the “green bean queen” recently in an article in the online magazine Tablet. With her permission, I’m reprinting a few paragraphs here. You can read the rest of the article online.

With an ingredient list dominated by fat and convenience products, green bean casserole sounds like it emerged from the dog-eared depths of a 1950s Midwestern church cookbook. But the recipe actually landed on the American table via an unlikely source: a Jewish, Canadian-born, New York transplant named Cecily Brownstone.

From 1947 to 1986, Brownstone was the food editor for the Associated Press. For almost 40 years, her writing, and the pieces she commissioned, were among the most widely syndicated stories in the country. That includes a piece she wrote in 1955 about a press dinner she attended at citrus magnate John Snively Jr.’s Florida home. During the meal, a green bean dish caught the enthusiastic attention of the table—enough so that Snively’s wife shared that she had recently served the same dish, to similar acclaim, to the visiting shah and queen of Iran. The queen, Mrs. Snively said, had asked the butler which ingredients each dish contained before taking a bite. She did it so frequently that the butler eventually lost his patience and, when she inquired about the casserole, he allegedly snapped back, “Listen, lady, it’s just beans and stuff.”

Brownstone knew a compelling story when she heard one, and set out to write an article about the queen and her green beans. She just needed a recipe to go with it. Variations of green bean casseroles—some studded with chopped hot dogs, others topped, cobbler-style, with biscuit dough—dated back to the 1930s, when Depression-era cooks found ways to stretch limited ingredients to feed their families. But Brownstone wanted to capture the magic of the dish Mrs. Snively had served. As was common at the time, she called up a food manufacturer, in this case Campbell’s Soup Co., to help develop a recipe that would appear in newspapers across America. And so the modern green bean casserole, in all of its soupy, crunchy-topped glory, was born.


Hoping the weather cooperates for Sukkot


I should be thinking about the meaning of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot that started last night. Instead I’m fretting about the weather.

The Jewish religious calendar is unique in that it is both lunar and seasonal. Months have 28 or 29 days. This means that over the years, the religious dates get out of whack with the secular—and natural—calendar.

Muslims also follow a lunar calendar, but their holidays aren’t connected to the physical seasons–so Ramadan and other holidays can occur at any time of the year.

The Jewish calendar uses a system that adds a “leap month” seven times in 19 years  a second month of Adar, which usually occurs around February — to keep holidays and seasons in their traditional relationship. For example, it wouldn’t make sense for either of the two Jewish harvest festivals—Sukkot in the fall and Shavuot in the spring—to wander through the seasons. It’s hard to celebrate a harvest in January, even in balmy Israel.

Holidays are “late” after a leap year

Last year was a leap year, so everything was pushed back 28 days compared to last year. That means this year, the fall Jewish holidays were “late”–Rosh Hashanah didn’t start until October 3, just a few days earlier than the latest date it can possibly be.

This wouldn’t be a problem except for the festival of Sukkot, which began this year at sundown on October 16.

The holiday doesn’t celebrate only the fall harvest. Mainly, it commemorates the 40 years when the Israelites wandered in the desert after the exodus from Egypt. Wherever they camped, they lived in temporary structures, and so on this holiday, we build little huts in our backyards, on our patios or even on our balconies.

These huts are called “sukkot” (singular “sukkah”), often translated as “booths,” which, frankly, I never understood since, while small, they are much larger than phone booths, voting booths or restaurant booths.

We usually interpret the command to “live” in these huts as meaning we take many of our meals in them.

Michigan weather a challenge

In Israel this isn’t much of a problem, but in Michigan, and much of the U.S., it can get pretty darn cold in mid-October, especially after sundown when most of us eat our main meal. And when it rains, eating in the sukkah is just out of the question; the sukkah is supposed to be covered with organic material such as pine boughs, reeds or bamboo, and one is supposed to be able to see the stars through the roof. Unfortunately a roof that lets in a view of the stars also lets in whatever moisture falls from the heavens.

The weatherman is forecasting a high in the low 70s for Sunday in our part of the U.S. Perfect! But they’re also forecasting rain. So while I purchased fancy plastic plates to use in the sukkah, I’ll also be setting my dining room table. In mid-October, you just don’t know!

One thing I will be doing is serving my famous stuffed cabbage, which I make every year at this time. It’s traditional to celebrate the fall harvest by eating stuffed vegetables, a symbol of bounty.

Last year I gave you a recipe for Armenian stuffed grape leaves. Today I offer a nice recipe for apple-stuffed acorn squash. I modified it slightly from a recipe I found on, where it was posted by Elana’s Pantry.


Lessons from the Garden for Passover

Today’s piece is written by Rebecca Starr. Past assistant director of the Detroit Jewish Federation’s Alliance for Jewish Education, she currently serves as an independent educational consultant and an instructor for Melton, an adult Jewish education program. This article originally appeared in myJewishDetroit, the online community journal of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. 

I was raised on a sheep farm in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, in a small town called Pickford.

This isn’t a phrase you hear very often, especially from a Jewish girl, but nevertheless, it is the life my parents chose for me for the first 18 years of my life.

We lived off of the land. Our farm produced everything we needed to fill our bodies with healthy, wholesome foods and we were deeply connected to the land on which we lived. Our garden produced more vegetables than our freezer could hold and we ate the lamb that we raised.

My connection to food and where it comes from is rooted in my rich past and I am regularly reminded of it as the Passover season approaches.

As we break bread . . . for matzoh

Matzoh (unleavened bread) is the bread of affliction, the lechem oni, or the bread of poverty. The Jewish custom of eating matzoh for seven or eight days (depending on your custom) during the holiday of Passover reminds us that we were once slaves in Egypt. It reminds us that we did not have the resources to diversify or even complete our meals in bondage.

The act of eating matzoh takes us back to a place and time when food and freedom were scarce. It is truly amazing that such a simple food can bring such a strong and important message about the journey of the Jewish people. In truth, it also offers a very modern message to us as living in the 21st century.

Bondage takes many forms

Bondage and slavery can present themselves in many forms. The Israelites were literally slaves to the work of Pharaoh, but chains need not be present for us to feel as though we are victims of certain types of injustices today. When we consider the ways in which we access food on a daily basis, we realize quickly that sustainable, healthy, local, fair trade food is extremely difficult to find and even more difficult to find in less affluent areas.

In many ways, we are slaves to a food system that is not just and may even use unfair, illegal or unethical practices to create a product for our grocery store shelves with the single goal of turning a large profit.

The way in which we access food in today’s world looks a lot different than it did even 50 years ago. Local family farms exist, but in smaller numbers; animals are raised in unimaginable conditions that don’t resemble traditional farm habitats at all; agricultural workers are treated and paid unfairly; and food is processed so far from its natural form that it doesn’t resemble real food any longer.

We worry about pesticides and chemicals on a daily basis and we waste unbelievable amounts of food, fuels and resources on production. These are the things that keep me awake at night as I worry about which foods to offer my children and in what state we are leaving the planet for them.

There is no doubt that this message is concerning, and I don’t mean to be an alarmist, but I am hopeful that we can work together to bring about real change. The Passover season is the perfect time to make a commitment to learn more about food justice and sustainability.

Today’s recipe is a vegetable kugel that can be used on Passover because it contains no grain that hasn’t already been baked into matzoh (in this case, in the form of matzoh meal). There are many types of kugel, which simply means pudding. It’s a side dish that is baked and cut into squares for serving.


Food at the Smithsonian—and corn casserole


We spent Thanksgiving weekend at the home of my sister, who lives just outside Washington, D.C.

One of the advantages of being retired is that we can travel home on Monday, instead of Sunday when traffic is heavy on the Ohio Turnpike and there are often restroom lines at the service plaza (for the women at least!).

Since we weren’t traveling on Sunday, we visited the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. (Another great thing about visiting Washington is that almost all the museums are free–your tax dollars at work!)

The museum has a nice exhibit about American foodways, called “Transforming the American Table 1950-2000.”

Julia Child’s kitchen

The highlight of the exhibit, for us and probably for many other visitors, was Julia Child’s actual kitchen. It was brought from her Cambridge, Mass. home and rebuilt inside the museum.

Next to the kitchen, which is protected from the too-curious by Plexiglas, is a mini-theater where videos of Julia Child’s television shows were playing, starting with the best known, The French Chef, which ran for 10 years on PBS. She also had four later series, Cooking with Master Chefs, In Julia’s Kitchen with Master Chefs, Baking with Juliaand Julia Child & Jacques Pépin Cooking at Home.

When I was a teenager, my younger sister just loved watching Julia Child on TV. I couldn’t figure out why, because she was too young to cook, until I watched it one day with her when I was about17. Julia was just so delightful! I would have gotten hooked too if I’d had time to watch TV.

At the Smithsonian, we could have sat for hours watching clips of Julia whipping up treats alone or with one of her guest master chefs.

Is new always improved?

A exhibit section called “New and Improved!” talked about attitudes towards progress and better living in the 20th century, but raised questions about the long-term effects of mass production of food and of consumerism.

“Resetting the Table” showed how American food changed over 50 years through the influence if immigrants, world travelers and activists. If you were around in the 1950s, you probably ate Chinese and Italian food – and Mexican if you lived in the West or Southwest.  But who knew from Thai, Indian, Korean, sushi  or vegan?

A display of “Food on the Go” showed how snack foods and take-out had changed over the half-century.

At the exhibit on American wine I learned something very interesting. There was a variety of grapes called Norton that were native to Virginia, but they were all uprooted during Prohibition. Winemaker Dennis Horton brought some Norton cuttings to Virginia from his native Missouri in 1988 – and bottled his first vintage from the grapes in 1992.

If you find yourself in Washington, D.C., check out this worthwhile exhibit!

I wanted to include a quintessentially American recipe with this piece, and what could be more American than corn? This simple casserole is best with fresh corn, which of course is not readily available in winter, but frozen corn will work almost as well. Serve it as a main dish for a light vegetarian supper or as a side dish.


Bubbie’s Latkes

As the eight-day holiday of Chanukah starts, we present Susan Gartenberg’s remembrance of her grandmother’s potato pancakes (latkes in Yiddish). This dish is traditional for Chanukah because it is fried in oil, recalling the Chanukah miracle when one day’s oil in the rededicated Temple lasted for eight days. Susan Gartenberg grew up in Detroit and is a retired preschool and elementary school educator. Her three grandchildren now enjoy their bubbie’s latkes!

My bubbie made the best potato latkes and coffee cakes!

Like many Jewish grandmothers in those days, she never had a recipe.

One day, when my children were very young, Bubbie came to help me make latkes. She wore her usual cotton house dress with a zipper in front. She put on a cotton print apron and watched me peel potatoes.

“Oy vay, you’re wasting half the potatoes!” she cried as I continued peeling with my fancy new left-handed peeler.

She took over and, one-two-three, those potatoes were peeled! I invited more families to celebrate Chanukah with us, and before I knew it, we had 15 pounds of potatoes

peeled and grated by hand (no food processors in those days)!

We fried the latkes, overwhelming our guests with the aroma.

Nothing was too much for Bubbie, not even 50 guests for Chanukah.

Bubbie’s coffee cakes were known throughout our community. She kneaded the dough filled with cinnamon and raisins and allowed it to rise, covered with a cloth, on the top of her gas stove, then baked the cakes in white enamel pans with red trim.

After baking she would cover the warm cakes with a kitchen towel and place them in an empty cardboard tomato  basket. Some of the cakes remained on the stove in her home so she could greet guests with tea and cake and a “shtekel” (cube of) sugar.

My zadie believed women shouldn’t drive, so Bubbie, wearing a flowered front-zippered housedress and a white sweater, and I would walk – and

walk, and walk – to bring her fragrant coffee cakes and latkes to family and friends for the holiday.

I could never replicate the coffee cakes but I can remember that the most important ingredient was the love Bubbie incorporated into every recipe. I can feel it even as I remember her cooking.

Another thing I remember is that I, as the first grandchild, could do no wrong in Bubbie’s eyes.
When my mother would become  angry at me for some childish infraction, Bubbie would say, in Yiddish,  “She won’t do it again.”  I always felt very special and very loved.

The recipe below is adapted from Epicurious.