Weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
At Christmastime, a nice size ad in the Southern Berkshire Shopper's Guide with the words, "PLEASE HELP US" inside a festive green ribbon caught my attention. I saw, "Help the Family Services Food Pantry at CHP" in much smaller type.
Community Health Program
provides high-quality health care to more than 16,000 Berkshire residents of all ages and economic levels. They are best-known for their Women, Infants and Children/WIC programs of nutrition services and access to healthy food.
There was a photo of packaged food and a paragraph that read: "Due to the high demand food is very low at the Family Services Food Pantry at CHP. Donations of rice, canned veggies and fruit, pasta and sauce, tuna and peanut butter and jelly would be greatly appreciated."
I did not recall ever seeing an ad for a food pantry so I called CHP to find out more.
I spoke with Michelle Derr, CHP's director of family services who told me about the food pantry for its clients, mostly low-income young mothers and their children up to 5 years old.
"We are focusing on nutritious food," she explained. "We want to offer more protein like tuna or peanut butter, not ramen noodles. And they don't want more ramen noodles. Not juices or jelly even though jelly goes with peanut butter.
"We do not want to offer empty calories."
CHP has playgroups in Great Barrington, Lenox, Otis, New Marlborough, Richmond, Sheffield and West Stockbridge to support optimum brain development during the critical first five years of a child's life. It even offers weekly cooking classes for children ages 2 1/2 to 5 to learn how to eat healthy food every day.
Carla D., whose lively, talkative, sociable 6-year-old daughter is now in kindergarten, told me that she and her husband had taken her to CHP playgroups and cooking classes from the time she was 2 1/2. Carla said her daughter loved the classes and cooked while she was there and now.
"All the children had their little cutting boards and [plastic] knives and made things like lentil and sweet potato pancakes. They all ate the food because they saw the others eating it and did not want to be on the outside."
Now her daughter helps prep meals at home and eats lentil soup, sweet potatoes, salads and lots of vegetables.
Derr said the CHP pantry cannot take fresh meat, "Because we do not have refrigeration. And nothing frozen."
She and her clients would like more canned and fresh vegetables, "Root vegetables, potatoes …
"We can take fresh vegetables if they get taken during the day. A lettuce would be snapped up.
"Our clients do have stoves or, at least, hotplates to cook on but it is hard in the winter," she said.
"We get fresh bread every day," Derr said. "We do give out flour. We do give out cornmeal but things like Bisquick or pancake mix make things much easier for them. They can use it to make different kinds of meals."
, is open and will take donated drop offs of food weekdays from 8:30 a. m. to 5 p. m. at the Family Services building, 444 Stockbridge Road/Routes 7 and 183 in Great Barrington.
Now that the holidays are over and winter and the cold is really setting in, the need, the demand is even greater.
"Run this after the New Year," Derr suggested.
So this story is to let Berkshire County people know CHP needs them.
Castle Street Café
Sunday through Thursday, closed Tuesday, 5 to 9:30 p.m.
Starting this Wednesday, Jan. 6, and running through Thursday, April 28, excluding holiday weekends, Michael Ballon, chef and owner of the Castle Street Café
, 10 Castle St. in Great Barrington, offers his customers a sumptuous off-season winter/early spring weeknight special three-course prix fixe dinner, now $29 plus tax and tip.
Now into his 27th year at the café, Ballon has always created his food from scratch from ingredients as local as possible, including beef from Ioka Farm in Hancock. He lists over two dozen farmer friends on his website — from Berkshire County, the Pioneer Valley, from Vermont and Columbia County and the Hudson Valley in New York.
I call the dinner special sumptuous because the choices are not the cheapest dishes on his menu.
The eight appetizer choices include housemade French onion soup as well as soup du jour; an eggplant sampler plate and a cucumber, tomato, olive and feta plate; his popular Asian-inspired bean sprout pancake invention; mussels steamed in white wine and two salads. Even the green salad is organic mesclun from Equinox Farm in Sheffield paired with Rawson Brook Farm chevre from Monterey. The other salad is a Berkshire twist on trendy salads: golden and ruby beets with toasted walnuts and Berkshire Blue cheese.
The seven main courses are a mixed mushroom risotto or a vegetable plate with roasted vegetables, lentil salad and more; there are two chicken choices: Parmigian or pecan-crusted breast with wild rice; braised short ribs; sautéed sole with warm Brussels sprout and kale slaw; and an Asian style shrimp and bok choy over soba noodles.
Fresh but comforting winter dishes.
The desserts are worth eating with flavors like frozen lemon or raspberries or deep chocolate.
Coffee or tea are part of the meal.
Reservations are a good idea at prime or later dining hours but optional mid-week. It's a quiet time, especially Mondays or Wednesdays. Still, at least the staff will know someone wants dinner.
'Manger! Boire! Eat! Drink!'
Weekly Cooking Demonstration
Thursday, Jan. 7; 6:30 p.m.
Now that the holidays are over and snow and cold are sneaking in to bring real winter, husband and wife Franck Tessier, chef, and Rachel Portnoy, baker, owners of Chez Nous French Bistro, 150 Main St. in Lee, decided to start off the year and their 'Manger! Boire! Eat! Drink!' mini-wine dinner and cooking demonstration series by giving their guest customers an evening of French style comfort foods and wines.
Portnoy said, "We were thinking that, after a hectic month, some comfort food was in order."
"This Thursday, we'd love to share a warming menu: French onion soup followed with hachis Parmentier, a French 'shepherd's pie' made with braised beef and topped with creamy potatoes."
"A custardy-apple-y dessert will follow," she said. "All will be served with some flavorful new wine discoveries.
"And, of course, a lot of foodie conversation."
Hachis Parmentier, a French shepherd's pie, is featured at this week's Manger! Boire! at Chez Nous.
It's Chez Nous' way to continue the lively holiday feeling during the quiet, homey New England winter.
Tessier will demonstrate the night's savory dishes as guest watch, converse and ask culinary questions. Portnoy will have provided printed recipes for all the evening's dishes including her dessert.
Portnoy asks that people do not reserve online but, rather, call 413-243-6397 and specify that the reservation is for Manger! Boire! The price is $35 per person plus tax and tip.
Manger! Boire! will continue on most Thursday evenings through the month of February, after which the couple take their winter vacation until early spring some time in April.
Watch for next week's Manger! Boire!
Downtown Pittsfield Farmers Market
at Boys & Girls Club Lighthouse Café
Saturday, Jan. 9, 9 to 1
The Downtown Pittsfield Farmers Market will host its third winter market of the season in The Lighthouse of the Boys & Girls Club, 16 Melville St., 413-448-8258
, this Saturday on what is expected to be a mild but rainy morning.
Bold and intrepid is what the organizers, farmers and food artisans are. Shoppers will find pasture-raised meats, eggs, fresh fruits and vegetables, breads, baked goods, coffee, wine, cut flowers, plants and more.
The farmers and food producers who will be there include Assembly Coffee Roasters, ElMartin Farm, Mountain Girl Farm, Square Roots Farm, Trusted Roots Farm and more.
There will be live music from 11 to 1.
The free indoor winter farmers' market will be held the second Saturday of each month through April, which makes the Downtown Pittsfield Farmers Market the only year-round farmers market in Berkshire County. The outdoor market will return to the First Street Common in May.
Market manager Jess Conzo is looking for kids who want to take part in Kid 10: A Kid-Run Farmers' Market on Saturday, Feb. 13, during Pittsfield's 10X10 Upstreet Arts Festival. Parents and children can contact her at email@example.com