Monday, May 30, 2011

a new project...

Last week I got a call from my boss about a grant to combat childhood obesity that she is applying for. 

Our company is dependent on families with disposable income signing up their children for extracurricular activities. But deep down, my boss understands the power of food. In her words: "We can teach *insert name of wealthy Austin neighborhood* kids to make crepes all day long, but we have the chance here to make a difference."

Oh happy day.

If the grant comes through, one of my weekly classes in the fall will be a free afterschool enrichment program for a lower income school. Added bonus, the school will more than likely be in my 'hood. East Austin livin' ain't just for hipsters, you know.

As my spring classes wind down, I'm spending a lot of time working from home researching recipes. I wanted to write about this process so I can think it through a bit more and also because I find it pretty interesting. This week I will be doing a test run of the below mentioned recipes recording the difficulty, cost, and taste. I will try my best to post some pictures along the way.


For the grant, I've been asked to develop four recipes (2 savory, 2 sweet) that are simple, healthy, and inexpensive. The recipes should also be substantial enough to feed a whole family. Since my company's purpose is to provide children with hands-on cooking experiences, the recipes obviously have to be something kids can be involved with making and will eat. I also have to consider the demographic of the neighborhoods and what parents would actually try.

Possible recipes- Savory:

Lentil tacos
Posole with beans and corn tortillas
Corn pancakes with fresh salsa
Lentil Sloppy Joes
Sweet potato and black bean chili

Possible recipes- Sweet:

Sweet potato mash
Summer fruit salad
Pumpkin empanadas
Oatmeal carrot cookies


This is something I've daydreamed about since starting work with this company. Outreach is where my heart is, and I'm more than a little excited about this prospect. But as I look and plan and try to advise other people on what to eat, I realize I must tread lightly.

Food is such a personal choice. I don't appreciate people picking on the husband for being vegetarian (light-hearted picking, mind you, but still I know it gets old). In the same way, I make it a point to not scoff at people with different food preferences or get on a soap box about what I will and won't eat. I have my own reasons for the food choices I make, but in my experience no one appreciates unsolicited opinions that are that big. So, when faced with the challenge of advising people what to eat who come from a completely different socio-economic and cultural background than myself, I have to consider the different meanings food can have.

For me, crafting a well rounded vegetarian meal is a way to unwind. Going to the grocery store and seeking out fresh vegetables, chopping and dicing, taking time to simmer and smell and taste as I go along...the entire process is relaxing if not meditative. Eating, too, is a special moment in the day. Something we attempt to sit and savor, regardless of if we are having dinner at home or eating beet fries with an ice cold Lonestar at a bar. These things mean so much to me that I find ways to devote even more time by reading books about food, writing about food, and having a job involving food.

This isn't the case for everyone, nor should it be. Food is a necessity, something we must have to sustain ourselves. Is it really feasible or fair for me to suggest to a tired, overworked parent that an hour spent chopping and roasting eggplant (which their family may or may not eat) is more valuable than time to sit and relax? Honestly, I'm not sure. It is a luxury to be able to give this much attention and time to food, and while it makes for healthier families and better budgets, the fact is that is not the society we all live in. 

 This is why I cringe at the word "foodie." This is why I don't truly believe you can have a real appreciation of fine food if you never step foot in your kitchen. As fun as it is to indulge in extravagant, expensive, beautifully prepared meals, when it comes down to it food is sustenance and a necessity. We all have to eat.

Michael Pollan said it best, "To have healthier food, we must invest more money or more time." I have that quote in my kitchen and I look at it everyday to remind myself that time spent cooking is indeed worth it, even when I'm feeling tired or lazy. I'm attempting to approach my recipe planning with that in mind. If you're interested in food at all, I highly recommend this article, that dicusses the class differences inherent in our food system much better than I ever could.

Wish me luck! If you have any feedback or suggestions I would love to hear about it in the comments.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"i'm here darling to enjoy the party"

I originally published this post last week, but Blogger decided to delete it. first post in months and the internet makes it disappear? Should I take this as a sign?

the song: "Hello" Martin Sloveig and Dragonette

Well hello there, beautiful.

It has been a long time. I just wanted to check in and let you know that a) I'm still alive and b) I'm still cooking. Like...a lot. In addition to cooking with my kiddos every day and cooking at home often as often as I can, my life now also includes developing recipes for my job. 

On Monday, I taught an amazing class at a lovely school. My seven children were enthusiastic and well behaved. We started the day by making pizzas and ended with (my favorite!) carrot oatmeal cookies. The best part was knowing that they really got it. One of my little guys was adament about not trying an oat cookie with carrots until they came out of the oven smelling delicious. He then ate two and told me it was the best cookie he'd ever had. When his mom came to pick him up, he told her "You know, I didn't think I liked it. But then I tried it. And guess what? I did like it!" Four years old.

Call me sentimental. Call me a sucker for cute kids. Call me whatever you want. Moments like that make me feel really really good.

After class, my afternoon job was to test out a tortilla soup recipe. I haven't felt inspired to take pictures while I'm cooking in weeks. But the combination of these beautiful multi colored tomatoes and my first garden peppers was too beautiful to pass up. Summer food isn't my favorite, but it is awfully pretty. Fitting, too, because my very first recipe to write about was tortilla soup. (Full disclosure...the one I did Monday was better.)

When I quit my old job almost a year ago, I didn't really know what to expect. I wanted to work with food. I wanted to do something that made a difference. Something that would inspire and motivate me without exhausting me. I didn't realize I would find this. We're still a small and struggling company, so we'll see how long it lasts. But I plan on giving it everything I've got for as long as I can.

Anyway, I just wanted to pop my head in. I'm really trying to make time to write again. So with any luck, I'll be seeing you again soon...