Sunday, January 30, 2011

How Cool Is That? Purple Asparagus on Rachel Ray's Yum-O


Meet Beckham, the newest addition to our family. At 9 weeks, he’s just a tiny fur ball. He joined our family yesterday afternoon and, as of now, he seems to be a delightful puppy, playful, yet mellow. He’s a little nibbly, but with vigilance, I hope that it won’t cause any lasting damage to my carpets. Mid afternoon today, I figured that the highlight of my weekend was the fact that the little beast slept through the night. Then I opened my email.

I’d met Andrew Kaplan (“Kappy”), the director of Rachel Ray’s Yum-O foundation at the Chefs in the Classroom day on which Purple Asparagus worked with Healthy Schools Campaign. After this, I’d checked out the Yum-O site where I learned about the Featured Non-Profit section. What a great idea, I thought, to highlight grassroots organizations doing work in the communities. I made a mental note of it and told myself that we should submit a profile for Purple Asparagus.

The problem with emerging non-profits, as I have painfully learned, that you get so busy doing the work, that you don’t have a chance to promote it. While that may not sound like such a big problem, it is for funding purposes. If people don’t know what you’re up to, the money needed to support your efforts doesn’t come in.

I’m guilty of this – since 2009, we’ve gone from providing regular programming in 3 schools to 15. Fifteen! Without staff. And this doesn’t take into account our programs with the City, CLOCC (Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children), or at community centers, farmers’ markets, and other venues. Fortunately, I love it and we’re really blessed to have a terrific team of volunteers, some of whom have begun to take the lead on our programs. Nevertheless, as the “Head Spear,” most of the educating is still done by me. So, while the mental note did make it into an actual item on the to-do list, I hadn’t gotten to putting together that profile.

Thus, the email I got from Kappy was a very pleasant surprise. We are the friggin’ featured non-profit on Rachel Ray’s Yum-O! Holy EVOO, we got featured. I cannot express how gratifying this news was to me. Put a little extra skip in my step, which I certainly need to keep up with the little monster pictured above.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sports Drinks Aren't Good for Your Kids (And They're Probably Not That Good for You Either)

UPDATE: When Christina posted a link on her Facebook to this, one of her friends suggested a natural alternative to chemically created sports drinks made by R.W. Knudsen Family. Recharge is sweetened with fruit juice and uses sea salt as a means of replenishing the lost electrolytes. Her daughters apparently are big fans of it and it comes in multiple flavors, including grape, mixed berry and tropical. Hey, it's worth a try.

It all started when I dropped an iron on my head. That's right, an iron, the instrument with which you straighten clothing. Did it hurt? Like a mother f@#cker. In fact, I believe that I used those words sans symbols when it hit me point side down on the tippy top of my head. On to the ER we went.

I should have checked the major league baseball schedule. Despite being die-hard White Sox fans, we live only blocks away from Wrigley Field. And anyone who's been to a Cub's home game knows that the north side minor league ball club (or at least the fans thereof) like drinking, more than winning. Far too many northside fans found their way to the same emergency room waiting room as me that day with game related injuries. Unfortunately, blood conquers head bonks in the ER, so my wait was long.

We settled in across from a young Hispanic couple with a child who looked about 18 months old. I feel it important to note that the “patient” was the father, not the baby. Soon after our arrival, the mother pulled out a container of Gatorade. She then opened her child’s nipple topped bottle and poured into it the neon orange liquid. I was horrified.

Truthfully, I’ve never really paid much mind to sports drinks. I’m not an athlete by any stretch of the imagination. The only class that I was ever tempted to cut as a kid was gym – I would have much rather spent the time reading a book. Therefore, it’s probably embarrassingly unsurprising that I’ve never regularly worked up enough sweat to justify drinking these electrolyte enhanced beverages.

After this experience, however, I started paying attention to the marketing of sports drinks. Always associated with winning and beyond healthy professional athletes, I guess it’s not all that surprising that this mom, whose English seemed limited, would perceive this as a good choice for her child. My suspicions were confirmed after two experiences with highly educated parents about sports drinks.

The first came from my son’s classroom. During orientation, my son’s teacher suggested that each of the children bring a water bottle for their desk so that they could drink it during the day. A parent raised her hand to confirm the teacher’s request: “So we fill it with water or Gatorade.” Fortunately, Thor’s teacher is both health conscious and parent savvy and so her response: “Water would be great.”

I had my second experience at Children’s Memorial Hospital where Purple Asparagus was conducting healthy food demonstrations in the oncology/hematology ward. I was, in fact, relaying the former story to my contact at the hospital in the elevator up when a doctor (and mother) overheard me. Snarkily, she commented to her 9 year old son: “oh, so now Gatorade’s bad too.” She departed from the elevator and the gentlemen remaining on the elevator asked genuinely, "so what is wrong with it?” My simple response?

It’s blue.

Let’s face facts: the blue, green, and orange colors of sports drinks are not natural. I could go on about the issues posed by these coloring agents, but my friend, Christina LeBeau started quite a lively discussion over at her blog, Spoonfed, on the subject. Christina writes:

artificial colors are the charlatans of food additives: enticing, seemingly harmless… then wham. Linked to long-term health problems, these petroleum-derived chemicals often have immediate and devastating effects on children’s behavior and ability to learn. And unlike when we were kids (and our parents were kids), artificial colors are in everything, from food to toothpaste to medicine, even things that are white or look natural (check your pickles and “blueberries” ). Since 1955, that’s added up to a five-fold increase in dye consumption. Not. Good.

What else is wrong with it? A little thing called high fructose corn syrup. Oh, I know, the newly christened corn sugar folks would like to have you think that HFCS is just like sugar, except academicians have concluded that it is not, whether because it's been found to contain mercury or because it's been linked by a Princton University study to obesity, or just because our bodies just don’t quite react the same to it that they do to sugar. I've even seen a study that I can't quite my finger on right now that showed decreased sperm count in rats fed the stuff. The biggest problem with HFCS, as many of us know, it that it’s in EVERYTHING, or at least it seems to be in everything that’s manufactured by major food companies. Ever check out a jar of apple sauce? You might be surprised.

Gatorade itself has recognized that perhaps these things, these additives, might not be to everyone’s taste and have thus introduced G Natural with natural sweeteners and colorants. Hmmm.

No matter what the athletes want to tell you, to sell you, sports drinks are not good for you. And yet, sports drinks manufacturers and the elite athletes that they recruit to hawk their dreck would have us believe that it's a healthy choice for a healthy lifestyle. Assuredly, the MBA or professional soccer player who are, burning 1000s of calories in their hard playing game need to replenish their electrolytes and sports drinks are an efficient way to do so. But our kids, they don’t need it. I’ve seen parents pass out giant sports drinks at Tball games when the most calories expended by the players is by messing around on the bench with their buddies. Soccer is a more physical game with constant running. As the coach’s wife, I bring lots of water and cut up oranges. It seems to work for us.

But back to the young woman in the ER, is she blameless? Certainly not. Anyone who enters the endeavor of parenthood has a responsibility to educate themselves in some small way about how to feed their child. Nevertheless, to blame her entirely underestimates the power of million dollar advertising budgets of the companies hawking these artificially flavored, HFCS laden beverages. When parents with far more education and resources make the same mistakes, we need to realize that it’s part of a larger problem.

To end on a positive note, I learned from a comment on Christina’s blog that coconut water is an excellent source of electrolytes, so for those parents who think water and orange slices aren’t enough this is a healthy and natural alternative.

Look for more on pro athletes hawking unhealthy foods here soon.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Gratitude and Zucchini Pie

Resized Zucchini Pie

While many other bloggers were writing their New Year’s posts, detailing their resolutions and hopes for 2011, I was sick in bed with the flu. Of course, this gave me lots of time to think about my resolutions and hopes for the upcoming year, but not much time to write about them . . . until now.

Like so many others, I made the standard health based resolutions. I was going to exercise more and get back to my pre-pregnancy size 2. Ha! While I am trying to get more physical, adding a few more sessions to my weekly routine, I think that I have to accept that a size 6 at 41 on my 5 foot 6-inch frame isn’t that awful. Instead, the resolutions that I plan to pursue more diligently are cerebral in nature.

2010 was an okay year. There were definitely highlights; in particular, attending the launch of Chefs Move to Schools at the White House. This experience led to a number of other great things, including the increased demand for Purple Asparagus’ programs in Chicago Public Schools allowing us to nearly triple them. There were also some really disappointing times and, these disappointments made me a little myopic. As a result, my most significant New Year’s resolution is to more expressive with my gratitude.

Despite some hiccups, I’ve got it pretty good -- a great family, terrific friends, a comfortable home, and a job that I love.

I’ve also got this blog and one of the very best things about it are all of the people who I would never have met without out. And so, here, I wanted to openly express my gratitude for some of my fellow blogger friends, most of whom I’ve only met virtually, but still they enrich my life. If you haven’t bookmarked their sites, you should.

To Monica Bhide, fellow career changer, you are an inspiration to me. Not just because of your extraordinarily beautiful writing, but because of your willingness to be vulnerable. I’m so sorry that you went through a difficult time recently, but it made me remember that even my idols are human.

To Jaden Hair, like Monica, I love your honesty. I had no idea what to expect when I sat next to you at IACP in Portland. I was so impressed at how natural, gracious and open you were. You deserve every success that you’ve achieved.`

To Mrs. Q, you reminded me of accountability. Our introduction was inauspicious. For that I’m sorry. It was during those disappointing times and the green-eyed monster reared her ugly head. Your ability to look beyond that has endeared me to you and I’m so glad that we were able to right our relationship.

To Sarah Henry and Cheryl Sternman Rule, thank you for your support. When I was in my down phase, your willingness to share the word about Purple Asparagus meant so much to me. Oh, and yes, your blogs are both brilliant.

To Michelle Stern, fellow food educator, thank you for allowing me to vent about the challenges of funding and keeping the faith with the uphill battle that we face in sustaining our work

Colleen Levine, I so appreciate your blog, Foodie Tots. As a fellow farmers’ market devotee, it always gives me inspiration.

To Christina LeBeau of Spoonfed, there’s never a post of yours that doesn’t make me think. What’s more remarkable about your writing is that while thought provoking, there’s so little judgment in how you write and so much honesty about your own process in feeding your daughter.

To Kim Foster of The Yummy Mummy Cooks Gourmet, while I don’t always agree with you (giving knives to young children is a bit terrifying to me), I deeply respect your commitment and your passion for teaching children how to cook.

To Jennifer Perillo, I love your recipes and your tips at In Jennie's Kitchen. One of my very favorites was how to freeze zucchini, which has made one of my favorite childhood recipes that I believe came off a Bisquick™ box, pictured above, a year round delight.

Each of you, I give a big thank you and a virtual hug.

Zucchini Pie
4 servings

1 medium zucchini, grated
1 (½) onion, diced
½ cup all purpose flour
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons butter cut into pieces to dot the top.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix together all ingredients except butter. Scrape into a buttered pie plate. Dot with butter and bake until set about 20 to 30 minutes. It can also be served in a hollowed out summer squash if you've got one large enough like that pictured above.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

An Addition to the Family

PUP UPDATE: We learned last night that we soon will be the owners of a little black and white fur ball. While retaining the breed, we are embarking on a new name. So Sam II (who inspired Sam III and IV owned by a close friend) will be the last Sam in this family. Our new pup will be named Beckham, after White Sox player Gordon Beckham, also know as "The Bacon."

No, it’s not the little fur ball pictured above, though I will have more to say about him in a little while. And I am definitely not pregnant. Cut out your tongue. Mike and I decided a long time ago that we were “one and done.” Our new addition is instead a mechanical one.

December was a tough month. The death of our Springer Spaniel, Sam, was not the only loss that our family experienced during it. A far less beloved, yet equally important part of our house hold, also died a sputtering death. During a Sunday evening roast, my kitchen range began shutting itself off. Three days later, it wouldn’t even turn on. While only 9 years old (almost exactly a year older than Sam), this stove has experienced more than its fair share of casualties and it was time to say good bye.

In my last post, I mentioned an example of our home’s former owner’s, shall we say, questionable decisions. These were not limited to paint selections. I could go on and on (and on and on), but suffice to say, everything they seemed to touch, buy, or choose turned to mud, kitchen appliances were no exception. While the range was an expensive one made by a very respectable brand with many extraneous features, it was a hate-hate relationship from the very start.

Now, mind you, I had just left behind a beautiful 30-inch Viking range in my post pre-practice marriage condo (i.e. where I lived after my divorce). It was gorgeous. And man it could cook the shit out of anything. Nevertheless, I knew it wasn’t practical for an actively cooking family. Professional ranges, at least the ones in my price range, are not self cleaning. This wasn’t too much of a sacrifice for a hard working single gal, who cooked sporadically. A working mom doesn’t have the time to pull on the rubber gloves nor should she be exposing her family to the toxic fumes from commercial oven cleaners.

Instead, I bought the sensible shoes. A stainless steel GE Profile. And, you know what? I love it. It’s got 5 burners, an extra deep oven capacity, and a warming drawer that doubles as another baking element. Since it arrived shortly before Christmas, I’ve been thrilled with its performance. It has roasted pork, baked our essential Christmas recipe, Stollen, and broiled spiced chicken. This afternoon, however, I put it through its final test: baking bread.


I’ve been making bread from the same all-natural starter for 17 years now. This batch of goo has outlived friendships, marriages, and careers. The “baby yeasties,” as I like to call them, are my first child. While they withstand disregard and can be kept in deep chill for months at a time, once they come to room temperature, they are temperamental, requiring three squares and strict temperature controls.

Given that this was my first bake, I was exacting in developing and maintaining the dough. I held my breath from the moment I cut the loaves with their reverse c to release the gas to the time that I pulled them out of the oven. I set them on racks to cool, ravenously watching them until they were ready to cut. When the serrated knife cut the crust, I waited a second . . . expecting something that would no longer happen.

See, I’m not the only household member who loved bread. Until a little over a month ago, there was a black and white beast who adored it. So much, in fact, that he could be three rooms away, in a sound sleep, and still be awakened by the crackle of the crust when the knife cut into it.

Back to the little black and white puddle of fur at the top of the post. We’re a-hopin’ and a-prayin’ that he comes to our home soon. Through a circuitous set of circumstances, the dog pictured above with the little locavore is Sam’s great nephew. Sam’s sister, Darla, birthed Gidget. Gidget bred with Tommy and they had a litter of six male puppies, all of whom are liver and white, except one. We visited them in South Bend, Indiana, when they were six weeks. From what we understand, we are the first in the running for the black and white, named Reggie at the moment, the breeder, Greta Dalrymple, is deciding which of the batch she will keep. She wants to keep the most show-worthy of the batch. Let’s hope Reggie is cute, but not quite cute enough. And let’s hope that he too is a bread hound.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Our Home's Heart

Photograph courtesy of Amanda Sudimack of Artisan Events

There's a room in my home that I love above all others. No, it's not my kitchen, which is far too miniscule to inspire adoration. Nor is it the rustic screened in porch, which kindled my initial desire to make an offer on the house. It also is not our bedroom, comfortably finished with a burnt umber patina and filled with light. Instead, it's the golden room at the very heart of our home.

When Mike and I house hunted back in 2002, I had one major request: I wanted a formal dining room. New houses don't have them, many old homes have been reconfigured to exclude them. The dining room is unfortunately dying breed. It makes sense - people these days rarely have company and those who do tend to entertain in a very casual fashion. I was, however, determined and when we toured our future home on a cold, snowy February day, we were pleased to find an oddly shaped, graciously sized dining room walled away from the three rooms it bordered.

It required some imagination. The home's former owners had a thing for pink and the dining room walls were decorated with kelly green paint separated from pink bunny toile wallpaper by a chair rail. Also, the walls are by no means linear. There's a coal shoot that juts out of one wall. On another, the powder room's wall intrudes rectangularly. Because these walls are molded from 1896 plaster, there's was no straightening them. Instead, we brought in the experts to create a diamond from the misshapen rock.

With our dual big firm attorney salaries, we'd saved enough to hire our designer friends at Kaufman-Segal. Inspired by the quirky golden chandelier with its tassle bejeweled with fake pearls, they set about to create a little "jewel box." Gold paint, striped golden silk drapes that echoed the golden stripes on the fabric covering the walls atop the chair rail. They added a crown molding and bought a mirror that weighs as much as Mike. Our table is mahogany with an inset of golden fruitwood. The chairs are lined with a custom Italian fabric for which we had to wait eight weeks because the firm was on their August holiday. I completed the room with a painting inherited from my ex-husband's dad and an Oriental rug that cost me $1.99 on eBay ($99.00 shipping).

My big firm salary is a thing of the past, and there are a number of purchases made during those days for which I wish I could return to supplement my meager non-profit income. But not this, not this room. During most of the year, it serves multiple purposes including Purple Asparagus board room and staging area for summer's preserving (did I mention that my kitchen is tiny?), but in the winter, it fulfills its true purpose and is filled with good food, wine, and conversation.

When I was younger and our son was not yet part of the equation, I would cook fancy, multi-course meals, pulling out all the stops and most of the wedding wares - with two of them, weddings that is, I have a LOT of wares. I actually made Veal Wellington once (ah the pretentiousness of youth). Nowadays, my meals are much simpler and the kids are at the table with us.

Since we weren't here for Christmas and New Year's Eve, we inaugurated our table for the winter season on Saturday with our good friends Amanda and Tod and their two children, Emmet and Zoe. Macaroni and Cheese, Parmesan Rolls, and a rich French chicken stew called Garbure, graced our table. Nothing formal, just good family food. Our cushy chairs, low dimmable chandelier, and gracious dimensions, the room is the epitome of comfort, encouraging lingering, an action that we took on Saturday night.

DEC 006

Serves 4 to 6

3 chicken halves
3 pounds chicken backs or wings
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig parsley
1 tablespoon peppercorns
2 heads garlic, halved horizontally
3 quarts of chicken stock, preferably homemade
¼ pound white beans
4 slices thick cut bacon, cut into small dice
3 small leeks or 2 medium leeks, finely chopped
1 medium carrot or 2 small carrots, cut into small dice
1 celery stalk, cut into small dice
2 turnips, preferably golden, cut into small dice
1 sprig thyme
1 bunch dandelion greens, heavy stems removed and thinly sliced.
¼ cup parsley, finely chopped

Up to five days before you plan on serving the Garbure and at least a day before, preheat the oven to 450° F. Oil two sheet pans with rimmed sides. Place the chicken halves and garlic halves on one pan and the chicken parts on the other. Sprinkle both with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast for 30 minutes. Let the chicken cool slightly. When the garlic is cool enough to handle, squeeze out the softened cloves into a small bowl. Place the squeezed out garlic halves, onion, carrot, celery, thyme, parsley, peppercorns, garlic, and chicken in a large stock pot or the bowl of a slow cooker. Cover with the chicken stock. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook on low for 3 hours. Remove the chicken halves to a large pan. Refrigerate when cool. Strain the stock and remove the vegetables and chicken parts. Cool quickly by placing the bowl of strained stock in a large ice bath. Refrigerate overnight.

Soak the white beans in water to cover by 2 inches overnight or for at least seven hours.

Remove the chicken meat from the skin and bones. Cut into small pieces. Discard skin and bones. Puree the roasted garlic.

About 1-1/2 hours before you plan on serving the soup, cook the bacon in a large Dutch oven over medium high heat for about 5 minutes. Add the leeks, carrot, celery, and turnips and cook for about 10 minutes or until the vegetables are softened slightly. Pour in reserved broth and add the thyme and drained white beans. Cook for about an hour or until the white beans are softened. Add garlic puree and dandelion greens and cook for about 10 minutes. Serve in shallow bowls sprinkled with parsley.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Purple Penicillin and the Flu


I’m so embarrassed.

I just looked at the date on my last entry and realized that it has over 2 weeks since I’ve posted a single word. My excuse? Well . . .

As I mentioned in my last post, we spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Europe eating, sightseeing, and shopping. Unfortunately, since New Year’s, however, I’ve been preoccupied with less pleasurable pursuits. Fever, chills, aches, and pains filled last week. When I had the energy to raise my head off the pillow, I focused on the immediate demands on my time – my blog was not one of those immediate demands.

After lots of Tylenol, orange juice, and soup, Purple Noodle Soup to be exact, I’ve finally got my sea legs and typing fingers back. So stay tuned for some new posts and recipes including my reports from London and Paris.

[Purple Noodle Soup is chicken soup colored with purple carrots. Unlike other purple vegetables that lose their hue when cooked - purple carrots (pictured above) color every thing they touch despite their light yellow core.]
blog design by brooksiedesign