When the lunch bell rings, teachers run

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NEWTON – It’s Burr Elementary School at 12:25 p.m. Stomachs are growling, excitement is mounting.

”Line up!” Squeals of delight and they’re off to the lunchroom – the teachers’ lunchroom. It is ”Salad Bar Wednesday” for the second-lunch-period teachers and almost nothing gets between them and their meal. No stopping in the halls for a chat. They’re going to enjoy their 30 minutes of camaraderie with a group lunch.

”Lunch?” you ask. ”What’s the big deal?”

It’s a very big deal to some people who must eat lunch where they work. Lacking a cafeteria or tiring of brown bagging, any number of workplace groups have formed to make lunch a special treat.

For the mix of fifth-grade teachers, teacher’s assistants, the librarian, and other specialists at Burr Elementary, every Wednesday has been an event. That day, the group creates a salad bar, with each person contributing one item.”The goal,” says former Burr teacher Lucia Kegan, who helped start the event, ”was to have a good lunch without doing much work. It was easy, inexpensive, and everyone agreed on the contents. Elementary school teachers need that time to be as pleasant and rejuvenating as possible.”

Cathy Mahar, a teacher’s assistant, says the weekly event is ”a great social thing with a very festive feel. We all really look forward to it.”

Fresh greens, cherry tomatoes, artichokes, tabbouleh, feta cheese, olives, sprouts, walnuts, chick peas, and beets pile into the fridge. The teachers have their items ready, so as not to waste a minute of time preparing when 12:30 rolls around.”

There was nothing we didn’t do that wasn’t very simple,” said Jane Frantz, referring to the early days of the group.

All agree that Kalpana Guttman’s homemade dressing makes the salad. The dressing is simplicity itself: a half cup each of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and 1 tablespoon of Grey Poupon mustard.

Recalled Josh Kershenbaum: ”On Tuesday afternoon, I began to anticipate lunch on Wednesday. I knew this is one meal I could count on.” (It seems it took Josh a little time to get the hang of things, though. The first time it was his turn to bring in the greens, he arrived with a bunch of parsley, insisting it qualified, being both leafy and green. That only happened once.)

The success of this non-cooking event lies in a comfortable and very doable pattern. The size of the group assures a variety of items. Nothing is left to chance. When asked how they determine who brings what, the librarian, Laura Mayer, produces a printed chart with columns: beans, beets, bread, carrots, celery, croutons, cucumber. Principal Cynthia Bencal points out the list is in alphabetical order.

Kalpana sums it up: ”Our group is really a metaphor for people coming together. Each brings something different and what is regular on its own is really quite wonderful when put all together.”

Kegan is now at the Memorial Spaulding School in Newton. They already had a soup club, and she was invited to join. Their approach is slightly different: One person cooks for everyone each Monday. The good thing is each person cooks only twice a semester; the bad thing is it requires a very big pot.

The agreement was to go basically vegetarian. Gazpacho, chili, cream of peanut soup, and minestrone were a few of the favorites, and there is always great bread. The challenge is keeping the soup warm without burning it over several lunch periods. How do you spell success? An empty pot!

At Grace Chapel in Lexington, Merry McCann and Lorraine King are weekly Bible study leaders. Once a month, their groups share a meal with several others. A theme is chosen, and everyone contributes accordingly. Some popular themes have been quiches, baked potatoes with toppings, fresh vegetables and dips. Once, everyone made one sandwich and cut it into quarters to share.”

Food is not the focal point, but conversation and food go hand in hand,” says McCann.

Teachers at the Linden School in Malden go gourmet frequently throughout the year, with a catered meal arranged through their ”flower fund” and $5 from each participant. According to teacher Jane Murphy, ”it’s such a treat and really is something to look forward to. We just had a delicious clam chowder in a bread bowl with salad, lemon tarts, and other pastries for dessert.”

And you thought a ”food group” referred only to ”legumes” or ”dairy products?”

Little-known lunch fact:
Keith Lockhart, music director of the Boston Pops, says: ”I brown bagged most of the time while I was growing up. My mom was the ‘sandwich queen’. She used to teach bread making and would make our sandwiches on this great bread. I remember her freezing four or five different kinds of sandwiches (roast pork, meatloaf, chicken) so we could have a variety right out of the freezer. My weirdest favorite, though, was a cream cheese sandwich on raisin bread with fresh slices of green pepper stuck in it and a Glad bag full of cherry tomatoes. I used to eat them like candy.”

Salad Bar Blueprint for Ten
Think taste, texture, and tones.

Basics:

2 varieties of greens: baby spinach, romaine, Boston, red leaf lettuces, watercress
2 packages grape or cherry tomatoes
1 container radish sprouts
1 bag baby carrots (do not slice)
2 English cucumbers, sliced (no peeling)
2 cups croutons
2 cups beans (white, red, chickpeas)
2 peppers, red, yellow, or green

Things that make it special:

1/2 pound crumbled feta or goat cheese
1 cup nuts (toasted) such as pecans, walnuts
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup olives
2 cup taboulleh
1 lb. tortellini, cooked and marinated in a dressing
1 cup sunflower seeds
From the can, drained and ready Tuna (packed in water)
BeetsArtichokes, quartered
2 loaves good bread

Let each person create his or her individual salad from whichever ingredients they like.

Creamy Italian Dressing (Makes 2 cups)

1 cup light mayonnaise
1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon oregano
2 teaspoons dry mustard
3 scallions, chopped finely
salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients and mix until smooth. Chill.

Alice’s Escarole and Meatball Soup

Serves 10

10 cups chicken stock
1 pound ground beef
1/4 pound ground pork
1 egg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup parsley
2 cloves garlic minced or 2 teaspoons garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
1 head escarole
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
3/4 cup uncooked mini-macaroni or ditalini

Heat chicken stock to simmering. Mix beef, pork, egg, breadcrumbs, cheese, parsley, garlic and seasonings. Form into very small meatballs.

Wash escarole and chop roughly. Add meatballs, carrots, and escarole to stock. Cook on low heat until meatballs are almost cooked through, about 25 minutes.

Add pasta and cook another 10 minutes. Season to taste.

Serve hot with extra cheese.

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