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Growing Up Gourmet: February 2009

Friday, February 20, 2009

School Food That's Worlds Away

Oh to be a kid in Paris. To play along the banks of the Sienne and wander in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. To ride the carousel at the Jardin du Luxembourg and play peek-a-boo in the narrow streets of the Marais.

And to eat cauliflower gratin, braised lamb with rosemary, and stinky soft cheese. For lunch. At preschool. As reported Monday on NPR, this is precisely the kind of menu served at the 270 public day-care centers throughout the city. Along with homemade applesauce, local and organic produce, and even tomato garnishes in the shape of a rose.

Sign me up. These kiddos even get an afternoon nap. It would be erroneous to pretend our country's culinary heritage is even remotely in line with the French. And yet I can't help wish our national conversation was about feeding school children asparagus instead of the newly developed peanut butter recall widget:

FDA Product Recall List

FDA Salmonella Typhimurium Outbreak 2009. Flash Player 9 is required.

Was it by coincidence that just days after NPR's story about school-foodie paradise, the New York Times today featured an op-ed by Alice Waters? She implores Washington to do away with the National School Lunch Program, the inefficient and unhealthy emphasis on government commodities, and the school food that hardly constitutes food at all. Calling our current lunch program a "junk food distribution system", Ms. Waters suggests a complete overhaul that would cost about $5/child for wholesome, nutritious, and freshly-cooked school food. (A bit more than the $2-$3 per child cost as noted by NPR in this story, and one that appeared in July, where the French chef serves 800 high-schoolers ingredients from within just 30 miles of the school in Salon de Provence.)

A tasty proposal that sounds tres bien to me.
Meanwhile, gourmet food isn't the only thing the French are serving up. Cookbook author Deborah Madison spent some time in France's lunchrooms, observing not only what was on the menu, but how it was dished up: in a relaxed, convivial atmosphere, with a 2 hour lunch and exercise period, on real plates with real silverware, and in a comfortable, nurturing, colorful "cafeteria". Her report is available here, at

Since I work in schools teaching cooking to children, and see the enthusiasm and curiosity parents, kids, and educators have displayed for our exploratory culinary curriculum, I think there is a possibility that our school cafeterias may begin to look more like France's. But without the kind of sweeping change Ms. Water's demands, with cooperation, funding, and support from bureaucratic entities like the Departments of Agriculture and Education, as well as a commitment by local school districts, I worry it won't happen any time soon. And in California, where public schools are again taking a multi-billion dollar budget cut, I worry even the most well intentioned schools will struggle to serve up something good.
Mr. Kass, head to the kitchen. It's time to get to work.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Oh, Trader Joes

For better or worse, I find myself at Trader Joe's at least 3 or 4 days each week. Sometimes I think I'm there enough to pick up a few part time shifts. While I'm shopping. They wouldn't even need to train me -- I'm pretty sure I know all the secrets. Like that Thursday evenings are the quietest nights, and Wednesday around noon is the calm before the storm. Or that the fastest checkout line is always on the far right. Or that parking on the street is a good option if more than 5 cars are waiting at the side entrance -- unless it's street cleaning. Which is 11-1 on Friday. I know that TOS means Temporarily Out of Stock, and that too often the product that's TOS is exactly what I need. I know that they recently discontinued dried mushrooms, and that one year ago they stopped making a chocolate-hazelnut spread that beat Nutella at its own game. I know that fresh squeezed Florida orange juice for $2.99 is the best price you can find on quality orange juice, anywhere, that the $4.99 Pizza Parlano is the best way to fill your freezer for nights you absolutely can't cook, and that their St. Andre brie is a delicious bargain... so long as you don't eat it all on the car ride home.

My list could go on. And on. And on. My kitchen is a walking Trader Joe's. In fact, when I cash in my Skymiles this summer, I'll have Trader Joe's to thank. Exclusively. That's how many times my Amex is swiped at my favorite grocery store.

Ahh... the trials and tribulations of a cooking teacher and avid home-cook.

At any rate, thanks thumbbook, for sharing this video with me.

If you don't shop at Trader Joe's quite as often, this video may not excite you. You'll probably think it's a bit odd. My husband did. But for me, all to familiar with things "you can't find anymore"... the mini coffee samples before noon... the friendly staff... the "strange little snacks you end up buying instead"... the bananas for 19 cents,... and yes... "the cars that don't fit in the parking lot", for me, this video really made me chuckle. A lot.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Not to Be Picky...

The other day I was reading Oliver's Fruit Salad to hungry tot-chefs in my Kindergarten Books-for-Cooks class at Franklin Elementary School. The story is about a boy named Oliver, who -- having recently helped his grandpa harvest juicy grapes and delicate pears from a backyard garden -- refuses to eat the fruit his mom serves for breakfast. Nothing from a can, thank you very much. No jams either. And please, no juice. So off Oliver and his mom go to the supermarket, where they ooh and ahh at fresh fruit from pineapples and melons to oranges and apples. At home, mom empties the grocery bags onto the kitchen table.

"Now," said Mom. "You can eat an apple. Or a pear. Or a plum.
It's not in a jar or a can. It's all fresh, so help yourself."
Oliver shook his head. "No thank you," he said.
"I just
helped Grandpa. I didn't eat any of the fruit. I don't like fruit."

Sound familiar? Sure. The very particular mandates and quid-pro-quos of a picky eater.

Perhaps you know one. Perhaps she prefers her noodles plain with a touch of butter and as much cheese as you'll allow -- NO SAUCE, EVER! She likely prefers her carrots raw and PLEASE DON'T LET THEM TOUCH THE CHICKEN FINGERS! Perhaps she'll begrudgingly eat her peas, but ONLY with a side of promise… of chocolate decadence cupcakes and vanilla ice cream. Your picky eater might even prefer, in fact DEMAND, frozen dino nuggets over your labor intensive, free range, organic, perfectly cooked famous chicken dish.

That afternoon I asked the kids in my class if they happened to know any "picky eaters" like Oliver. Lacey -- who just last week meticulously removed every trace of vegetable from her Wild Things Bagel Creature -- thoroughly contemplated the question with a scrunched up forehead and proclaimed, "I've heard that word before but I can't remember what it means."

Yeah, right. I bet you've heard it. And I bet you know exactly what it means.

That's because it seems like "picky eater" has become a variety of diet. There are vegetarians, vegans, locavores, and now, picky eaters. Google “picky eater” and you’ll get results from the Mayo Clinic, support groups for adult picky eaters, tips from youth nutritionists, and endless books on I talk to plenty of moms each day who tell me right off the bat, "my son is a VERY picky eater" and then divulge the numerous ways Jonny shows-off his habit as if it were a badge of honor.

Since when did being a picky eater become a legitimate way to describe someone's food habits? Are we too accepting of this ‘condition’? Do parents enable the behavior by becoming the preferred caterer for the Picky Eater Club? And if kids aren't picky at age 2 or 3, what makes them outrageously picky by 5?

Take Felix here. Happily chowing down on guacamole straight from his backyard avocado tree. Will it be just a matter of months before he utters his very first complete sentence, which also just happens to be "YUCK! I WON'T EAT THAT!! I HATE GREEN FOODS!"

I’m not suggesting children everywhere should be happy eating tuna casserole for dessert and Brussels sprouts from their lunch box. But I do think at some point we crossed the line in how we view and embrace children’s eating habits. Picky eating is very likely an acceptable phase in a toddler’s development. Sometime after the age of 2 or 3 kids may even decide the foods they once loved, often the very same food their parents eat -- Indian curries, snap peas, goat cheese – now make them kick and scream and gag at the table -- even foods they've never even tried. But by the time the child is going to school, picky eating should become a diet meant to be broken.

I bring this all up, because I recently came across The Yummy Mummy. She doesn't hold back, and she's pretty hilarious. A few months back she posted a piece at Imperfect Parent, the dead-on, sarcastic, "The 10 Ways to Have Your Very Own Picky Eater". At Number 10:

Remind your kid what a problem eater he is. Kids love that. In fact, tell him in front of guests. Call him “picky”, fussy”, “difficult at dinner time” or say things like, “He’s like this because he’s adopted,” and my personal favorite, “He’s just like his father,” and then, roll your eyes dramatically. You will only have to label him a few times before he sullenly looks at his plate of food, pushes it away and demands to be hand-fed McDonald's French fries.
If this works, you can go the next step and tell him he is “bad” or “a demon seed” and remind him that he was an “accident”.

You can read the rest of the article and learn how to create your very own picky eater, here.

Okay, so back to Oliver and his fruit salad. As the title suggests, the story ends with Mom, Grandpa, and Oliver slicing and dicing all sorts of wonderful fruit for fruit salad. And of course, a surprised Oliver proclaims, "I like fruit salad!" And after three helpings... "YUMMY!" he says.

So I asked the kids in my class if there was a moral to this story. Without any prompting, 5 year-old Lacey, the prime contender for the picky eater club, perked right up: "It's like when you don't like a food, but your mom makes you try it. And then you actually like it after all, but you don't want your parents to know. So you make a face."

Hmmm.... just what I thought.

The best ways to wean a picky eater?
1. Cook with your kids. Get them involved in the process and they’ll crave the product.
2. Offer choice. Choice is empowering, so give your kids options rather than forceful mandates.
3. Choose healthy, colorful ingredients with tasty preparations.
Think roasting, homemade vinaigrettes, stir-fries, and veggie-art.
4. Set a good example. Why would your daughter ever eat tofu if you won’t try it either? Still picky? Dr. Sears offers loads more tips here.

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Monday, February 9, 2009

Valentine's Cooking Fun!

As promised, we cooked up lots of love yesterday at Harper Lane! Nearly 40 children spent their afternoon in Harper Lane's delightful courtyard, making Valentine's luv bunnies, dipping fresh strawberries in decadent dark chocolate, and decorating adorable chef hats.

Harper Lane recently launched their online store, so if this rainy deluge is keeping you inside, why not do a little online shopping? After all, your tot-chef will have to trade his apron for more proper clothes at some point...!

It's not too late to cook something special with your sweetheart! Download our Valentine's recipes for Luv Bunnies and Chocolate Dipped Strawberries. For inspiration... enjoy these photos from yesterday's event!

Felix with his chocolate strawberry pop.

a very proud chef

decorating chef hats

Making chocolate covered strawberries with Chef Kate and Chef Seth

a luv bunny

All photos courtesy of Harper Lane. Thanks Stacey and Ryan!

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