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Appetites Prevail Over Wind at Afternoon on the Green

March 8, 2009 — Under skies only sometimes sunny, with a wind that sent flying hats, paper napkins and anything else that wasn't nailed down, the University of the Virgin Islands celebrated its 20th Afternoon on the Green Sunday.
Though the weather presented a challenge, it was well met with spirited laughter, as folks chased paper plates or helped one another to retrieve a hat skimming across the green campus.
"It's a March wind with December weather," said outgoing UVI President LaVerne Ragster, who hasn't missed the celebration in 20 years.
As the petite president bustled around the golf course Sunday, checking with other committee members to keep things moving, she was called to the stage herself, where she received a "special contribution" honor: a handsome picnic basket filled with everything from Swiss chocolates to gourmet cheeses.
"This is very welcome," Ragster said. "For the first year, I haven't gotten to have a taste of my bread pudding yet."
The afternoon is one of the most popular events of the year, bringing the community together with UVI students and faculty in an exchange of good wishes and great — repeat: great — food.
The afternoon's theme, "Have a Roast of a Lime for the 20th Time," could easily have been, "If you cook it, they will come." And they did by the hundreds: young, old, local and a few visitors, dressed in everything from a smart military jacket with plaid pants to bright party dresses on pretty little girls to — of course — the madras plaids.
The lines were long to pick up the tickets, but nobody seemed to mind, chatting convivially while waiting for the $2 tickets, which got you a taste of everything from artisan breads to dumb bread, snapper in mango sauce, roast pork, seafood chowder, desert crepes, salmon shepherd pie, roast pork and pasta in every guise imaginable, including spaghetti pie.
Ivan Leonard, a part-time chef from Tortola, said he was "just waiting to get some barbeque."
"There's a bunch of us," he said. "It's our fourth year in a row, and we eat everything. It's a change of pace, new flavors."
Chef Linda Chesterfield dished out tofu chowder to one and all.
"It's my first year," she said, while giving tips on her soup. Everything she uses is organic, a growing trend.
Artisan breads by a woman known as Angel were going like hot cakes: rye, wheat, a thyme crown loaf, a sun-dried tomato loaf.
"The breads are made by hand, with only a spoon, an oven and a baking stone," Angel said. "No mixers, no other machinery, no kneading."
She claims she just started baking the breads a month ago, but further investigation revealed that she is also an experienced pastry chef.
The event committee started setting up about 6:30 a.m. Sunday, but the actual planning began last August, with planners soliciting dishes and organizing donors, said Liza Margolis, UVI special events coordinator. The event, Ragster said, "began as an avenue to increase community engagement."
It has grown to that and more. The rolling green campus was a carnival of color and excitement. as folks danced along with the Mungo Niles Cultural Dancers in what they called "Quelbe aerobics," which turned out to the electric slide with a Caribbean touch. The Top Notch band played during the afternoon, with the UVI Jazz Ensemble following from 5:30 p.m. to closing at 7 p.m. Meantime, Carnival and UVI contestants paraded across the stage.
Youngsters darted around, playing and learning. They gathered around a display by the UVI master's degree program in marine and environmental sciences, where marshmallows were used to simulate a polyp, with red licorice sticks sprouting out its top as tentacles.
Along with the marine exhibit, the UVI exhibition booths offered everything from videos of upcoming acts at Reichhold Center, to free blood-pressure testing, to tofu cooked by Benita Samuel of We Grow Food in every incantation from cheesecake to fritters, to slices of Blanch Mills' delicious tomato and sorrel pies.
"You must have firm tomatoes," Mills instructed, "mix with a little sugar, and bake until done."
Actually, Mills spelled out the recipe for anyone with a pencil handy.
The event, which raises money for UVI's scholarship program. brought in $9,300 last year, Ragster said. Prizes will be announced next week.
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