Friday, August 28, 2009

A Slow, Soggy Lunch


Despite the weather, the Daley Plaza Eat-In was a great success. We had four full tables of diners enjoying lunches from City Provisions, Hannah's Bretzel, Gourmet Gorilla and Green Bag Lunch. The fruit provided enough of a draw for passer-bys to sign petitions to get good, clean food into our schools. Those names will ultimately be submitted to Congress to show support for real change to the Childhood Nutrition Act.


We had folks in corn costumes of multiple hues, farmers and kids. Mike Nowak led us all in a call out for good food: What do we want? Good food. How do we want it? Slow.


To get more information about Slow Food's platform on this issue or to host your own Eat In on Labor Day, click here

Photos Courtesy of Lynn Peemoeller, Slow Food Chicago

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Time For Lunch

Tomorrow from 11:30am to 1:00pm, join Purple Asparagus in Daley Plaza as we participate in Slow Food's Eat-In to demonstrate our support for getting good, healthful food into our schools.

Sounds great, but what does this mean and why now? Is it because school's right around the corner? While the timing seems right in terms of focusing our attention to this issue, but there's more to it. At the end of September, the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act, which authorizes all of the federal school meal and child nutrition programs, will expire. Does this mean that children will go hungry if Congress does not reauthorize the law? Not exactly.

The School Breakfast, National School Lunch, and Special Milk Programs are authorized permanently. However, many of the other programs such as the Child and Adult Care Food program, Summer Food Service Program, Afterschool Snack and Meal Program and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children (WIC), the WIC Farmers' Market Nutrtition Program and the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program are not and would expire without further Congressional action.

Given the surging interest in local, sustainable foods, and the interest we've seen from the White House about this subject, we may finally have an opportunity to improve the foods supplied by the existing programs. We also should advocate for the National Farm to Table Program to finally receive funding. Congress established the Farm to Table Program in 2004, the last time that the Child Nutrition Act was reauthorized, gave it a $10 million authorization but never appropriated any funds to it. It may go without saying to those who read this blog that farm-fresh foods taste better. If the lunches taste better, it's pretty likely that participation in school lunch programs will rise among paying students and adults. Increased participation rates among paying customers means more money for school food services improving the financial viability of the programs.

Improving school lunches isn't just about giving more fortunate children an option to brown bagging it. This programs funded by the Child Nutrition Act make a real difference in lives of many in at-risk communities. According to the latest USDA data, 12.6 million children lived in households facing a constant struggle with hunger. During the 2006-07 school year, 8.1 million low-income children received free or reduced-price breakfast and 17.9 million free or reduced-price lunch. Getting better food in the schools to these children could make a lasting public health change.

If you care about these issues, speak out. Come to the rally tomorrow to join forces with other individuals and organizations who care about these issues. For more detailed information about tomorrow or to order your lunch beforehand, visit Slow Food Chicago's website

If you can't make it tomorrow, consider hosting your own Eat-In on Labor Day. To learn more, visit Slow Food USA's site.

Also, you can support Purple Asparagus's grassroots, on-the-ground programs in the schools by attending our annual fundraiser Corks & Crayons or participate in our online auction. For more details, visit our website. Finally, come to Cooking Up Change on October 29 at Salvage One to show your support for Healthy Schools Campaign, a national advocacy group working on all issues related to health in our schools.

To learn more about the Child Nutrition Act or the Farm to School Initiatives in Reauthorization, visit the Community Food Security Coalition to sign up for their listserv.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Corks & Crayons

Crayons and Paper
We're only a week away from Purple Asparagus' annual benefit Corks & Crayons: a good time for all ages. Adults can enjoy beverages from Candid Wines and Three Floyds, Uncommon Mint Juleps made with Templeton Rye and iced coffee from Crop to Cups and kids aqua frescas with fruit from Seedling. All guests will enjoy a terrific sampling of Uncommon Ground's menu as well as music from an American Roots & Blues duo, tours of Uncommon Ground's rooftop farm and a mini-farmers' market stocked by Harvest Moon Farms and manned by our pint-size guests.

Families at the Table

The silent auction is stocked with goodies, like dinner for 2 at Mado, an overnight stay at the Park Hyatt and Indian cooking classes. We'll be raffling off gift baskets, magazine subscriptions and other fun. All of the proceeds go to support our school programs, which we plan to expand this year with the funds raised from the event.

To purchase tickets, click here. If you can't make it, you can still support us by bidding on our silent auction or purchasing raffle tickets.

Photo Courtesy of

Dining Out With Kids and Daily Candy

I have the best parents around. At least twice a year, they take my 5 1/2 year old son, Thor, on a trip either to their home in New York or some other tony location. Last Friday, they flew him to Palm Desert, California, for a visit with my aunt and uncle. Wasting no time, my husband and I use his time away to visit some of Chicago's restaurant's that are't kid-friendly, or at least shouldn't be.

Last night's plan was dinner at a well-regarded Japanese fusion restaurant, Takashi, at 6:30pm and a movie at 8:00. A delicious dinner with soba gnocchi and scallops, curried eggplant soup and pork belly buns. With a lovely bottle of wine, it should have been a delightful evening. Should have been, but marred by a couple arriving at 7:00pm with stroller in hand and a baby and two-year old in tow. The Japanese techno music was punctuated by baby shrieks and toddler exclamations.

So, in light of this, I thought it woud be a good point to introduce a few tips I gave Daily Candy recently about dining out with kids such as eating out early and selecting restaurants carefully, neither of which this couple chose to do, unfortunately for our table and those around us.

To see the rest of my tips or to download this fun placemat to keep the little ones occupied, click here.

Adobe Photoshop PDF

Friday, August 21, 2009

Back to School Part 1

Check out Whole Foods' new partnership with Chef Ann Cooper, the Renegade Lunch Lady.

From the Facebook page:

"On Friday, August 28 at 3 p.m. CST Ann Cooper, a.k.a. "The Renegade Lunch Lady" will be answering YOUR questions about school lunch reform and what you can do to help make simple, yet revolutionary changes to school lunch programs in your area. Join the conversation, and get involved!"

Click here to join in.

Sody Pop, Watch it Fizz

Soda has always been an Achilles heel of mine. As a child, I could hardly resist the full flavored spiciness of a Coca Cola. As I grew older and became weight-conscious, I learned to like Diet Coke. Even as my diet became more and more local, I still couldn't kick the Diet Coke habit. And then there was the resulting waste. I was no fan of the 2 liter bottles, only virgin aluminum cans kept the fizz adequately. For these reasons, I'm happy to report that I'm Diet Coke free for two months now.

Back in May, I ran into the Soda Stream folks at Green Fest. I picked up a coupon, while my assistant bought the floor model. After hearing him rave about it for months, I broke down and bought one.

Soda Stream makes a variety of soda makers and mixes. It uses a single carbonator, which makes about 110 1 liter bottles. The Fountain Jet, the Genesis and the Pure use BPA-free plastic bottles, while the more expensive Penguin uses glass carafes.

Soda Stream makes a number of mixes to add to the soda water. The diet cola is a pretty good substitute to my ordinary poison. The sodas on my machine are stored in the plastic bottle used to make the soda water, so like other plastic bottles, the fizz lessons, but it’s a small sacrifice for lessening my aluminum habit. Plus, there’s a stainless steel container, which hopefully will do the trick.

My only disappointment was the full-cal flavors. The regular flavors are sweetened with a mixture of sugar and Splenda, which while reduces calories, provides that artificial flavor. Yes, yes, I know if I drink Diet Coke, aren’t I used to it? Indeed. However, when giving my son a special treat of homemade soda, I would prefer that it doesn’t include artificial sweeteners.

And then it dawned on me, I don’t need no stinkin’ mixes. With all the beautiful fruits that are coming to the farmers' market these days, all I need is fruit puree, organic sugar syrup and a bit of imagination.

The following are recipes for some of the concoctions I've made thus far.

Sparkling Raspberry Lime-Aid
Serves 1

You can also make Minted Sparkling Raspberry Lemon-Aid by substituting 1 tablespoon lemon juice for the lime juice and uses minted sugar syrup instead of plain.

1 tablespoon raspberry puree made by pushing the raspberries through a fine mesh strainer
Juice of ½ lime
2 teaspoons sugar syrup (recipe to follow) or to taste
soda water to cover

Mix the ingredients and enjoy in a tall glass

Sugar Syrup
Makes approximately 2 cups

1 cup organic sugar
1 cup water

Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Cool.

Variation: Add ½ cup roughly chopped mint to the sugar and water. Strain when the sugar has dissolved.

Blueberry Lemon Soda

2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
1-inch piece of lemon zest
1/4 cup organic sugar
lemon juice
soda water to cover

Cook the blueberries with the lemon, sugar and water to cover by 1/2 inch until the blueberries have softened. Puree in a food processor and push through a fine mesh strainer. Cool. Once cooled, mix 1/4 cup of blueberry syrup with 1 teaspoon lemon juice with ice and sparkling water to cover.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Why Local?

My proudest moment as a chef/mom/food educator was relayed to me second hand. While perusing the produce aisles of the supermarket in late February, my mother asked my 4-year old son if he wanted strawberries. Declining, he said to my mother quizzically and yet emphatically, “Grandma, we can’t buy strawberries now, they’re not in season.”

When too many kids are eating far less than the recommended daily allotment of fruits or vegetables, why worry about whether the fruits and vegetables that they do eat are in season or worse locally grown? If you’re living or working in one the country’s food deserts, where the closest thing that you’ve got to a grocery store is a bodega that stocks more varieties of Cheetos than fruits, this is not likely to be your main concern.

How about the rest of us? Is it really that much of a struggle to pass by the California-grown strawberries in June or the Mexican-raised tomatoes in August? Locally grown, seasonal produce is all around us. Even Wal-Mart has even begun to source locally or at least regionally. But before I get into the where, I want to talk about the why. Here are my top three reasons for introducing locally-grown, seasonal foods into your child’s diet.

It tastes better. I started eating locally not for ideological reasons, but because it tastes better. If you’ve ever eaten a pea off of the vine or sweet baby greens picked in the morning and served on the table in the evening, you know what I mean. And strawberries, sweet Illinois strawberries. The white-hearted California berries bred for shipping have nothing on our tiny, ruby-like orbs that soar with flavor. If you want your child to have a lasting love for fruits and vegetables, give him ones that are full of flavor. Seriously, who could love starchy peas or wilted salad greens?

It’s better for the environment. A small caveat on this statement, even taking into account food miles (i.e. the distance your food travels from farm to fork), just because food is grown within a certain distance from your home does not intrinsically make it better for the environment. However, many local farmers who sell to consumers at farmers' markets are small family farmers that tend their soil in a responsible manner often using organic methods even when they are not USDA certified as such (the little “o” versus the big “O”). How do you know the difference? The best way is to talk with the farmer and ask about their pest management systems and how they fertilize their soil. If, however, you don’t have the time or the inclination to do so, at the end of this post, I list markets and retailers that focus on locally grown, seasonal and sustainable produce that do the vetting for you.

It can forge a lasting connection between your child and the earth. I believe that connecting your child with the people who grow the food and the growing cycle creates a deeper respect for the food that they eat and for the earth. It was recently reported that America throws out 30% of the food raised in this country, a despicable fact given the rise in malnutrition and hunger on the planet. I have found that children who understand where their food comes from are less likely to waste it. My son knows that his apples come from Farmer Pete and his carrots from Miss Beth. He says “cheese please” to the cheese guys and knows that the good milk comes from the market in glass bottles. And the growing cycle, well, suffice to say, he’s pretty excited when June’s strawberries arrive.

Locally-grown, seasonal and sustainable produce is available from May through October at the City of Chicago’s farmers markets and year round at Green City Market (check the website for days and times), Green Grocer Chicago and Irv & Shelly’s Fresh Picks. Many of the Whole Foods in Chicago carry locally-produced items as well.

A final note, I’m actually not throwing my mother under the bus. My son and she were in Florida at the time of their conversation in the produce section where the strawberries in question were in fact in season.


At five, my son Thor is already an old hand at navigating the farmers’ markets. His first visit was before six months. At two, his mid-morning Saturday nap was spent in the stroller at Chicago’s Green City Market, where the non-profit that I founded, Purple Asparagus, was running its kids program. Our weekly, sometimes bi-weekly, visits have created so many wonderful memories, including trying his first strawberry plucked straight out of a pristine pile by the farmer, or his market play dates with the daughter of another farmer who lives in the same small Indiana town as my husband’s relatives. Through these experiences, I’ve learned that the reward for our market visits was not simply getting the freshest and best tasting ingredients, but also forging a deeper connection between the food that we ate and the people who produced it.

Whether seasonal or year-round, seven days a week or weekly affairs, farmers' markets are appearing in towns and cities all over America. Although the market was once a primary means of food distribution, in the last century, Americans got lost in the not-so-supermarket with its shrink-wrapped meats and out-of-season produce. For those who care about good food, the surging popularity of farmers' markets is a cause for great celebration.

Farmers' markets are the perfect vehicle for getting families back to the table, connecting with one another and with the earth. Visits to the market are a fun and easy way to connect children with the source of their food, get them back in rhythm of the seasons, create a sense of community and develop in them a respect for farmers and producers and the food that they sell.

With this blog, I hope to help families develop this meaningful connection with their food, helping them get their children in tune with the rhythm of the seasons and creating lasting traditions through visits to the farmers’ markets.

Food isn’t simply a source of nutrition, but it is also a form of nourishment for heart, body and mind. By sharing food, we can create bonds that transcend age, race and gender. By using foods from the farmers' market and buying directly from the farmers themselves, we can create a bond not just between the people with whom we share our food, but with the people who produce it and the earth itself.
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