NaBlogPoMo and other news

A month of daily posting is finally over. What a relief. I haven’t felt that kind of daily blogging pressure since I ate school lunch every day. I don’t like how it feels knowing I *have* to put something out there, but I think that my content this month was actually half-decent.

I went a new direction and started sharing photos of Chicago. My rationale? I have been anonymous for so long that I wanted to ground myself and the blog in space and time. I’m a real person, I live here, and I enjoy it immensely. Also, I think it’s important to think beyond the main reason why I’m advocating for school lunch reform. Of course it’s because of the children, but it’s also about doing right by our communities, which we know and love.

Takeaways from a month of daily blogging:

1) Throwing together a blog post and not stressing over it. Sometimes I revise posts too much and overthink them. Moving quickly can be risky, but there’s a certain freedom to a brief post. Just do it.

2) Doing a series. Most of you know that I will often say I am going to do a series of posts on something and then I have trouble following through. Part of that is a time issue, but other times I lose momentum. I stayed the course with my Cooking up Change posts, the Chicago photos, and my posts about Feeding America.

3) Enjoying the blog. I like blogging because it’s really fun to connect with you. I read (and cherish) your comments, but I haven’t had time to respond to them as I always want to. Thanks for reading.

Going forward I want to do more blog posts in a series. I have some fun ideas, but it’s a matter of time and execution as usual. Please tell me what you like to read and what you want to see more of!

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What I’m reading in the news:

Waiting for midnight, hungry families on food stamps give Walmart “enormous spike” (MSNBC)

Lines Grow Long for Free School Meals, Thanks to Econ0my (NYT)

Rising child poverty rates could be a ‘taste’ of what’s ahead (CSMonitor)

A second chance for faulty food? The FDA calls it ‘reconditioning’ (MSNBC)

A Family’s Billions, Artfully Sheltered (NYT)

In Wisconsin, Supper Clubs Open to All (NYT) — My “hometown” (it’s where I went to high school and home to many good memories) of Rhinelander Wisconsin got a mention!! Holy cow, Rhinelander must be moving up in the world. I’d like to add something to the article though — the only thing better than going to a supper club is going there in a snowsuit in the dark via snowmobile in the freezing cold and getting a nice hot drink. Those are magical, frosty nights.

My kind of town: Chicago’s Union Station

When my parents moved crossed country four times, we went by train both ways. I fell in love with the vastness of the western United States looking out of the window of an Amtrak. A few years ago I found a little pink book with cover art by Mary Cassatt. When I opened the little book, I found scribbles detailing things I saw during my cross-country travels. Mostly I noted where little broken-down homesteads were. Presumably in case I ever needed to return to occupy one of these long-forgotten, neglected places. I wanted to remember their stark beauty and resilience on the prairie as I tried to hold on while my own scenery was changing.

 I like it when a place has an echo.

Earlier this autumn I took the train into Union Station. I just loved the majesty of the massive space.

Later in the day. Notice the light fills the space differently.

Part of me would love to sit there all day and watch people going by. I thought there would be more busy commuters, but there really weren’t that many people at 8 am.

I felt inspired and oddly happy after that short trip.

(I’m sharing photos I’ve taken of Chicago in November during my month of daily blogging – NaBloPoMo)

Child Hunger: Feeding America’s Backpack Program

When people grow up, they look back and glorify the experience of childhood. We think, “Life was carefree and fun when I was a kid. I wish I appreciated it more.” But the truth is that when you are a kid, you are at the whims and mercy of adults. That’s why kids want to grow up so desperately; they want to be in control for once.

Living in the USA, it can be hard to believe that children live with hunger when many images of kids in our communities and on TV are smiling and healthy. How could families be struggling? I see so many people eating out — how could there be a recession? But yet poverty exists in both urban and rural communities. There is no face on the problem of child hunger, but:

  • More than 16 million children live in food insecure households (here’s a reminder of what food insecurity means) in 2010.
  • Research indicates that hungry children do poorly in school and have lower academic achievement because they are not well prepared for school and cannot concentrate.
  • Only 2.3 million of the more than 20 million low-income children who receive free and reduced school lunch participate in Summer Food Service Programs.

Feeding America contacted me to inform me about their backpack program — Pack ’til They’re Back! — and sent me a backpack for me check out and to pass on to one of my students. Feeding America’s BackPack program sends nutrition food home with children over the weekend and during school vacations. The program is operated through member food banks.

My son was very interested in the backpack, but he already has his own. The one in the picture will go one of my students or another child at my school that doesn’t have a backpack. I love that kids can get food in a discrete way and a physical backpack for use at school as many of them don’t have ready access to either.

How can you get involved?

1) Raise awareness of child hunger and the BackPack Program in your community — it is nationwide, just like hunger.

2) Donating and volunteering at your local food bank (find one in your area using the locator)

3) Donating to Feeding America

4) Start a food drive in your community and donate it to a local food bank

5) Get more information online (including videos you can share).

Give a kid the gift of food

Stay tuned…I will be volunteering at a food bank in December and blogging about my experience! I’m looking forward to giving back.

Lunch Wrap Up: Two week recap

The past two weeks have been weird. There have been odd days at work including report card pick-up day and a professional development day (that I took off). To keep things simple, I’m going to put two weeks worth of lunches up at once.

Also I’m posting my biggest lunch packing failure thus far. I have been packing my son’s lunch since September 2010 (after I saw Food, Inc) and I never struggled like I did almost two weeks ago. Why? It was a dreaded FIELD TRIP.

I had gotten myself all worked up about the fact that my three-year-old was going to be going on a bus for the first time and of course it would be the first time he has ever traveled by vehicle without one of us. My husband was totally not worried, but I kept thinking that something terrible would happen during the bus ride. Of course nothing did — thank god. I mean, many children who are age three take the bus to school so why was I so concerned? Because I’m like that.

Charlie’s lunches

BBQ sauce, chicken; boiled potatoes; applesauce; grapes; broccoli; crackers

Definitely a hit with Charlie. Child care menu: Cheesy chicken, diced parsley potatoes, broccoli, pear, wheat roll.

Pasta with sauce; roll; chicken; apple slices; carrots and pea pods

The roll came from Katz Gluten Free, a company my husband found online. Child care menu: BBQ turkey, rice, veggie blend, banana, rye bread.

 Mac and “cheese”; peas; hard-boiled eggs; sliced pear; crackers

Charlie’s teacher told me that I should not send two eggs because he only eats one. Note to self. Child care menu: Pasta and sauce, bean salad, cinnamon sliced pears, wheat bread.

Fragrant Basmati rice with cilantro; applesauce; antibiotic-free hot dog, ketchup; spinach and carrots; kiwi

I caved and gave him a hot dog like the other kids. Child care menu: Turkey hot dog, pasta, carrots with ranch dip, cinnamon applesauce, Italian bread.

Turkey wrap with daiya cheese over spinach; broccoli; apple slices; bar

Trying to match the other kids’ food again. Child care menu: Turkey and cheese wrap, mashed potatoes, corn, orange, rye bread.

“Party” rice with ground turkey, peas, red pepper, broccoli ; sliced grapes; carrots; pretzels; applesauce

I didn’t really do much matching that day. Child care menu: Turkey with gravy, stuffing, cucumber slices with dip, cranberry applesauce.

Field trip lunch: carrots; apple slices; chex; sunbutter sandwiches; muffin

The morning of the trip, I suddenly realized that due to the event they would be getting back to the facility after lunch. I thought that everything would have to be disposable so I started thinking about portable food that could be eaten quickly. The muffin came from Katz Gluten Free, a company that my husband recently discovered and ordered from. When I was just finishing up the sandwich, I decided that I should call my son’s child care and find out for sure when and where they were eating lunch. They told me that the kids would be having a late lunch back at school so no one to worry. I had already bagged most of the lunch so I left it as is. The sandwich is “sunbutter” — butter made from sunflower seeds (allergen free)! Child care menu: Chicken Alfredo, elbow pasta, veggie blend, pineapple chunks, wheat bun.

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 My lunches

Turkey chili (with pinto beans and sweet potato); bread; mandarin orange

Chili is a perfect wintery lunch.

Chex cereal (leftover from Charlie’s lunches); Trader Joe’s gluten free French roll, roasted chicken, sweet potato, regular potato, broccoli; grapes

Simple roasted chicken is now a staple ’round here.

Mac and “cheese” with peas, two hard boiled eggs; apple slices

Generic, but satisfying.

Lamb and potato curry, fragrant Basmati rice with cilantro; apple; Larabar

My husband made that for dinner and I took some of the leftovers into work. Amazing.

Chicken sandwich with spinach, apple slices; Larabar

Simple, easy, delicious. (I’m getting into Larabars now)

“Party” rice with ground turkey, peas, raisins, broccoli, peppers; apple; Larabar

I tried to get my son to eat it by calling it “party” rice. It sort of worked. My husband and I thought it was great. No convincing necessary.

Open thread: Favorite cookbooks

Thank god for the internet. It’s so convenient when looking up recipes and ingredients. But I also have a cookbook collection that I treasure. It numbers about fifty cookbooks that I have accumulated over the years, mostly since getting married in 2003. Admittedly I don’t cook from most of them. In fact, I read that most people cook a maximum of three recipes per cookbook. I won’t get rid of any of mine, even the ones I don’t use very often, because I love looking at pictures of beautiful food and thinking about eating. My current favorites that I use include:

1) Betty Crocker Cookbook (Bridal edition) — I received this as a wedding gift and I use it frequently. It has everything in it.

2) Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution — Useful and approachable recipes – geared towards people just starting out cooking at home. I especially like all the recipes for roasting meat and “veg” in the oven because that is my current obsession. Of course the fact that Jamie and I chatted by phone and he wrote a blurb for my book certainly doesn’t diminish my enthusiasm for his work. He inspires me.

3) The Family Dinner — Simply a great book. I love all the personal stories from real people and famous ones, too. We’re all doing the best for our families and it’s great to see people cooking and eating together as a family. I met Laurie David in person at BlogHer Food in Atlanta in May. We share a dual passion for changing food here in the US. I’m a big fan of hers.

4) Cooking for Isaiah — I love this cookbook. It was one of the first ones that I bought since going gluten free. Again, the recipes are readable and friendly. I haven’t been disappointed by any recipe I have tried. I like that she wrote a cookbook for her son — aren’t we cooking to feed someone? Just like lunch ladies, we feed people we care about.

5) Cooking from the Garden — My sister gave this to me last Christmas, but I didn’t crack it open until we started getting CSA boxes. I didn’t know what the heck I was doing with all those new vegetables. It’s been helpful as the recipes are short and easy.

For a more complete list, you can check out my Listmania list: Cookbooks I own, which only lists 40 books (the Listmania maximum). Luckily for my family I make holiday shopping easy — virtually any cookbook will make me happy (including old ones and homemade ones).

What are your favorite cookbooks? What do I need to add to my collection?

7 Free Activities for the Day After Thanksgiving

 “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.” — George Carlin

My mom attributes this quote to George Carlin so I’m going with it — do correct me if you know who originally said it. But it’s very true. Some people are freezing outside in lines to buy products that are still overpriced. While others are calling today “Buy Nothing Day.” I think there is a place in the middle for all of us. My mom just bought gloves online and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. If anything, I think we should put our dollars into the local economy instead of with the mega-corporations. But in general I think finding fun, free family activities is great. Here are a few of my ideas for the day:

1) Got leftovers? – I find that some foods taste better the day after I prepare them. It’s time to relive the flavors and memories of the holiday all over again. Pack picnic lunches and take them with you when you… Cost: $0

2) Go to museums or the zoo – Many museums, parks, zoos, gardens and conservatories offer special free or reduced rates the day after Thanksgiving. Did you buy a museum membership this year and you didn’t get as much use out of it as you would have liked? Many attractions will see smaller crowds because many regular visitors are at home, shopping, or are out of town. Check out the museum’s websites for details. Cost: $0 (optimistically)

3) Skype – Charlie idolizes the older son of my husband’s cousin. We Skyped them and Charlie was in heaven seeing his friend. Cost: $0

4) Play board games – My husband is an evil genius at Scrabble and I don’t allow him to opportunity to beat me very often. I think tonight is my chance for a rematch. Cost: $0

5) Put up the tree – We’ve already unpacked the tree and strung lights this morning. My son was thrilled. Cost: $0

6) Watch movies – My husband planned ahead and rented five movies from the library. He chose mostly documentaries, which are free (non-documentaries cost a $1 and you have them for a week). Or you could raid your stash of favorite movies purchased over the years. Cost: $0

7) Clean out your closet – A few weeks ago my mom said, “Let’s clean out your closet.” I thought cleaning out my closet with my mom would be painful, but I agreed because I knew I couldn’t do it on my own. Well, having a functional closet has de-stressed me in more ways than I would have thought. We ended up tackling everything on hangers, the shelves above, AND my dresser. It took less time than I expected and now I can find what I need in no time. Cost: $0

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing you a happy Thanksgiving!

It was our first gluten free holiday!

What was left over — I took only an “after” shot!

Top (left to right): Popovers (far left corner); mashed potatoes; strawberry jello (all natural); stuffing; “butter”; turkey

Bottom: Sweet potatoes with marshmallows; green bean casserole; cranberry sauce; turkey gravy

Giving thanks for real food, my wonderful family, and good conversation.

My kind of town: Cloud Gate

I took these photos in October. It was Columbus Day and I was going to my interview with CNN. I decided to have lunch by The Bean. I know it’s supposed to be called “Cloud Gate,” but c’mon. It’s a magical silver bean.

It was a beautiful day. I love those kind of autumn days. Crisp, but warm sunshine. Memories of days like that help me make it through the winter. I hear it’s supposed to be a bad winter, too.

Someone recently asked me if I have taken Charlie to The Bean. I realized that I haven’t. He would probably pass out with joy at the sight of it. I mean, who wouldn’t?

(I’m sharing photos I’ve taken of Chicago during the month of November during my month of daily blogging – NaBloPoMo)