Wednesday, March 30, 2011

On March and Personal Missions

FL pix

March has been very March-like. As I've written here before, something about March and me don't mix. Whether it be great personal trauma or major home repair issues, March always brings some adventure in trouble.

This March has been no exception. No need to discuss the matter at hand, but suffice it has made the month yet another rollercoaster.

But it's almost over and I'm sitting poolside in Florida, so things are looking up. Because of my change in locale, I won't be writing much this week. Instead, I'm going to share something I wrote many March's ago, one with far worse trouble then the mere professional irritations endured these past weeks.

In March of 1998, I separated from my first husband, a decision that caused much trepidation, soul searching, and resulting journaling. One of the most poured over writings was my personal mission. It may not be my best work (nor even good), but it is a text that I return to regularly when times are trying. The document seems to be opened lots in March.


Unlock heart and mind.

Respect the mysteries of spirit and soul.

Search out and struggle for quality.

Protect the magical and delicate web woven between twin souls.

Nourish the bonds forged with friends and family.

Cultivate a garden for the senses.

Commit to a lifetime of learning.

Preserve personal and communal heritage.

Balance independence and interdependence.

Keep a gracious and comfortable home.

Fight the battles worth winning.

Appreciate, enable and inspire joy.

Have patience with all things.

Build physical, spiritual and financial strength.

Heed the internal ethical compass.

Believe in limitless possibility.

Take comfort in solitude.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Read and Seed with Purple Asparagus


Three years ago, the City of Chicago invited Purple Asparagus to host a week of activities at one of Chicago's newest and most beautiful attractions, Millennium Park. During the Taste of Chicago, we were to present a week of food related kids activities for the festival that didn't involve tasting tasting food.* Certainly, an offer that we, as an emerging non-profit, could not resist.


I sometimes have a dangerous habit. I come up with ideas on the fly, sell them, without a real understanding of how to execute them. Read and Seed was one of these ideas.

I proposed that we would "Create your own bookmark made out of recycled paper and herb seeds."

Now came the challenge, accomplishing this task within our budget for 5,000 kids.

High profile opportunity, high stakes. Of course, just the right time to procrastinate.

In early May, I looked into buying pre-made embedded seed bookmarks. How could I not know that this would blow the budget out the water?

Of course, we could pre-cut the bookmarks from construction paper, 5,000 of them. Of course, I would spend night after night wearing my fingers to the bone at the paper cutter. Or maybe not.

Finally, a realistic thought. I could approach Paper Source, Chicago based maker of artisan papers. Surely they'd want their name on this. Ultimately, they did. It, did unfortunately, take some down to the wire negotiations. Two days before we were scheduled to arrive at the tent on Randolph Street, we picked up two cases of bookmark sized craft papers. Combining that with thousands of tiny glassine envelopes, pounds of teeny basil seeds, herb plants a variety of craft supplies, and a team of terrific volunteers, we were ready for the hordes to descend.


We had a great five days, but city's estimates were inflated, substantially. Plus, Paper Source was far more generous in their donation than expected. As a result, we have supplies to lead Read and Seed to Chicago children for years to come.

How does it work?

Take some beautiful craft paper - we have a multitude of patterns.

Decorate the paper with crayons, ribbons, flowers, stickers, whatever you've got.

Fill tiny glassine envelopes with a small spoonful of herb seeds. Glue the envelope to the back of the bookmark.


The bookmark makes a great gift. And unlike an embedded bookmark you can actually use it to read AND seed.

We've now run our Read and Seed adventures at Green Festival, Family Farmed Expo, and, on April 23, at several of the Chicago Sears locations to celebrate Earth Day.


*The City does not allow tasting or sampling at the Millennium Park Family Fun Festival or the demo stage of Taste of Chicago for reasons of sanitation.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Spaghetti and Meatballs that Won't Need to Be Recalled

Among the food safety recalls this week was Lean Cuisine Simple Favorites Spaghetti with Meatballs. According to Reuters:

"The U.S. unit of Nestle on Monday recalled some Lean Cuisine packaged meals after people found red plastic pieces inside meatballs.

Nestle said it was recalling Lean Cuisine Simple Favorites Spaghetti with Meatballs packages produced in a one-hour period last October.

The packages have a product code of 13800-10390 and a product code 0298595519 P.

Nestle did not say how many people found plastic in their food but said there were no injuries reported.

The company also said that due to the product's popularity, it believed little was left at retail. It asked anyone who had the product to call (866) 606-8264."


While I'm of course horrified at the prospect of people swallowing red plastic with the ground pork and beef. The plastic isn't necessarily the scariest ingredients in the mix. This is the ingredient list from Lean Cuisine's website:


Blanched Spaghetti (Water, Semolina), Tomato Puree (Water, Tomato Paste), Water, Beef and Pork, Tomatoes, 2% Or Less Of Modified Cornstarch, Onions, Rolled Oats, Soy Protein Concentrate (With Caramel Color), Bleached Wheat Flour, Sugar, Soybean Oil, Dehydrated Onions, Salt, Basil, Beef Flavor (Salt, Seasoning (Including Hydrolyzed Beef Protein), Tapioca Dextrin, Modified Cornstarch, Palm Oil, Corn Maltodextrin, Citric Acid, Arabic Gum), Beef, Spices, Cheese flavor (cheddar cheese (cultured milk, salt, enzymes), water, salt, enzymes, cultures, phosphoric acid, xanthan gum), Dehydrated Soy Sauce (Soybeans, Salt, Wheat), Beef Flavor (Maltodextrin, Salt, Beef Extract, Rendered Beef Fat, Sesame Oil), Egg Whites, Dehydrated Garlic, natural flavors, Cultured Whey, Yeast Extract, Beef Stock, Caramel Color, Potassium Chloride.


While I've seen worse, I certainly wouldn't wouldn't be adding these ingredients into my meatball recipe. More egregious than the chemical stabilizers and preservatives, are the palm oil and the quality of pork and beef used. You can imagine that to get to Lean Cuisine's price point, Nestle is not using sustainably sourced palm oil or antibiotic and hormone free meat.

Back to my meatball recipe, while I cannot claim that this is diet food, it doesn't include junk. Instead, I start out with top notch meat from Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm and add in locally sourced ingredients and serve on top of whole wheat spaghetti for my LITTLE LOCAVORES kid or polenta for my carb-fearing husband.

You can watch me (and Little Locathor) make the recipe at Kenmore Live's Healthy Kids Sunday(and screw it up a little bit). See, I'd grabbed a bottle of what I thought was Tomato Mountain Mountain Roasted Tomato Puree, but was in fact Tomato Juice. Fortunately, the samples for the audience were prepared earlier in my commercial kitchen with the proper ingredients so all was well.

Other videos from the day can be found on Purple Asparagus' home page.

Spaghetti and Meatballs
Makes about 45 medium sized meatballs

1-1/2 cup 2 % milk
1 cup fine fresh bread crumbs
1 large egg
2 tablespoons sour cream
14 ounces bulk pork sausage
14 ounces ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 head garlic, roasted and cloves mashed
1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon Hungarian paprika
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
2-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Tomato Sauce
1 1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
6 medium size garlic cloves
1/2 cup red wine
1 cup chicken or beef stock
2 28 ounce cans tomato puree
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 sprig winter savory
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 pinch granulated sugar, optional
6 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

Soak the breadcrumbs in the milk for 10 minutes in a large bowl. Whisk together the egg and sour cream in a small bowl. Add the remaining ingredients, including the whisked egg, into the bowl with the breadcrumbs. Mix together thoroughly, but gently, with your hands.

Before you begin browning the meatballs, start making the tomato sauce. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook just until fragrant, less than a minute. Pour in wine and let it reduce by half. Add stock, tomatoes, oregano, savory sprig, bay leaf, salt, and pepper. Bring the pot to a simmer and let it cook for 10 minutes. Taste the sauce and if it seems particularly acidic, add sugar. Cook for another 10 to 20 minutes or until the sauce has thickened. When the sauce is at the proper consistency, add the cream and cook for about 5 minutes. Add vinegar and cook for two minutes longer. Remove from the heat until the meatballs are all browned.

While the tomato sauce is cooking, scoop 1/4-cup size balls onto a parchment or silpat-lined rimmed baking sheet. Roll them into meatballs. Heat the oil in a non-stick sauté pan set over medium heat. Add the meatballs in batches, making sure not to overcrowd the pan. Cook until just browned on one side and flip. They will not be cooked all the way at this point. Remove to another rimmed baking sheet or casserole dish.

Dump in the browned meatballs and any juices that have accumulated in the pan. Simmer the sauce for 10 minutes to cook the meatballs.

Serve in a chafing dish, on spaghetti, or on top of Italian bread, sprinkled with parsley.

The meatballs freeze well, so I make a huge batch and add to sauces for a quick and easy dinner. No need for frozen entrees!

Posted as part of Fight Back Friday

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Celebrities: Stop Hawking Crap

At the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, celebrity chefs Art Smith and Spike Mendolsohn made a request of other celebrities, specifically those in the acting and athletic fields. They suggested that celebrities should harness their influence to encourage people to eat healthily. Art Smith was quoted as saying: "I want to see these amazing sports people say, 'Hey, the reason I look like this is because I eat this,'" he said. "We are so star struck that if these people with power would say, 'I feel great because this is part of my regimen,' people will buy into that."


However, before we make that request, let's ask them to take this interim step: Stop hawking the crap.

Celebrities, especially athletes and sports associations routinely accept money from fast food companies, beverage companies, and other food manufacturers.

Take, for example, McDonald's, which is the official restaurant ("restaurant official") of the Olympics. The Olympic relationship began in 1968 when McDonald's airlifted hamburgers to athletes competing in Grenoble, France. In 1976, McDonald's became an Official Sponsor of the Olympic Games. From 1988 to 1994, McDonald's was the sponsor in several countries around the world of National Olympic Committees. McDonald's provides food service for athletes around the world at the Summer and Winter Games.

In 2009, Taco Bell signed a multi-year agreement with the National Basketball Association (NBA) to be its official quick service restaurant.

Coca-Cola Company is one of the longest standing corporate partners of FIFA, the International governing body of soccer (or if you're the rest of the world - football). Coca-Cola has had stadium advertising at every FIFA World Cup since 1950 and has extended its sponsorship of the event until 2022.

Individual celebrities are not innocent in this game. Both Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant have lent their celebrity aura to the golden arches. NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon has raced his car under a Pepsi paint scheme. Missy Elliot helped Doritos launch a new flavor. I could go on and on, but you get the point.

Baseball is about to resume. As a season ticket holding White Sox fan, I love the game. I do not, however, enjoy the highly commercialized atmosphere of the stadium. While the Cell (as new Comiskey has come to be known) has relatively good food options, including steamed Chinese buns from Wow Bao, it also also offers a constant bombardment of crap and advertisements for crap. My least favorite ad was a series of interviews with White Sox players extolling the virtues of the Happy Meal. Given that I've met the nutritionist who's worked with many of the players, I highly doubt that these guys are eating McDonald's on any regular basis given the economic worth of their physique.

So yes, it would be terrific for athletes and Hollywood celebrities to explain how they eat to remain the peak condition, I submit, however, it would simply be a start for them to stop making a profit on products that make the rest of us fat.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mini Mardi Gras Merrymakers


Today is Ash Wednesday and carnival season is over. Gone are the revelers and the beads and in their place, the leaner times of the Lenten season.

But yesterday, people all over the world celebrated in high style whether in New Orleans, Rio, or my favorite LITTLE LOCAVORES™ kid's first grade classroom.


I've actually never been to the Crescent City's celebration. In fact, I've only been to New Orleans twice. Nevertheless, the city holds a special place in my heart. My first trip was for my good friend Jen's wedding. The history, the music, the food all captivated me. Were I ever to retire to southern climes, my condo wouldn't be on a Florida waterfront, but a French quarter balcony (as long as it hasn't sunk into the Ponchartrain).

This year, I shared my love of New Orleans and its singular cultural pleasures with Thor's classmates. We started out reading a children's book entitled Gaston Goes to Mardi Gras, which summarizes the holiday's traditions in kid size language. We then turned our attention to mask making. Before the class, I had cut masks free style from paper plates. The kids bejeweled and feathered them to their whimsy. Using leftover chopsticks, we gave each mask a handle.


After making masks, I served up a homemade King Cake,* in which I'd shoved a gold-ish coin in the baby's stead. We crowned the coin's finder Rex (well, actually Regina since the lucky child was little girl). She then presided over our miniature Mardi Gras parade, more scrum than organized formation.

According to the darling book of thank yous that I received afterward, the celebration was a huge hit with Thor's classmates.

LA image

If you're looking for the next great read, check out Sara Roahen's Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table, a fantastic exploration of the city's culinary traditions by another Midwestern gal.

Our more adult celebration later in the evening involved Sazeracs and New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp, a recipe that I wrote about a little over a year ago.

* I used Emeril's King Cake recipe, just dividing it in half. I decorated it with India Tree's naturally dyed sprinkles, a product that I learned of from Christina Le Beau's blog Spoonfed. The result may be a little different in color than the ordinary King's Cake, but far more comforting to serve.

* UPDATE: A new twitter friend sent me a link to a Norwegian kings cake. With a kid named Thor, I know what I'll be making next Shrove Tuesday. Thanks Active Kids Club.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Delicious, Nutritious Advenutres™ in Edison Park


One would think that as my catering career has slowed down that hauling and schlepping would be a thing of the past.

Not so much. In fact, these days, my lifting muscles must be getting bigger by the day with all the packing, unpacking, and carrying I do in conjunction with Purple Asparagus' school programs.

My big green Land Rover (yes I know, it's not the most sustainable option but that's why our other car is a Prius) traverses the city proper from north to the south, the west and to the east. This weekend was no exception.

Friday's night program was in Edison Park, a community on the northwest side of the Chicago. Volunteer extraordinaire, Victoria Rivkina, and I hauled and schlepped in the pouring rain. Thankfully, a terrific group of parents and some adorable kids made their way through the inclement weather to see us, well really Staley the bear - we were definitely only the opening act.

As promised, I'm sharing the recipes we prepared - the kale chips being the biggest hit. For all the folks who braved the weather and even if you did not, click on the following link for the recipe handout. Despite being soaked, it was a lot of fun.
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