The School Cafeteria

(A treat for you from two years ago. A piece I’d hoped to have published and never got around to submitting so here it is for your reading pleasure instead.)

Twice this year, I have taken the “opportunity” to have lunch with my kid. I twitch at this memory and the thought of  the incredible quantities of food that are being tossed into the trashcans. I experienced an overwhelming sense of loss. Needless to say, my visit was both a jarring and eye opening experience both times.

Last year, my son was in the first grade and lunched with the fifth graders. So when the megaphone got pulled out, I figured it was the older kids that were to blame. Near enough to middle school, I knew there was trouble a-brewing with this demographic.

But this year, the attempt to quell the “chaos” with a prison-like loudspeaker system commanding quiet from a room half-full of seven year-olds was employed multiple times in the limited lunch time period.  My husband and I recalled that our grade school lunchroom was just as loud. But as long as food wasn’t flying and children weren’t running, that’s a school lunchroom’s MO.

As for the food, thanks to people I actually know, there has been a true effort to make the cafeteria offerings a little more nutritious. They admit they can’t go all Jamie Oliver’s Food Nation on the system but I did see hummus on the menu. And if the children are hungry, they will eat the food that is in front of them. But on the occasion I was visiting the school last, it was holiday time. Despite the teachers attempt to not spoil their lunch, the kids hunger was quelled prior to lunch by those class parties.

Now sitting in the school cafeteria, I looked at the kid across from me and queried him on his indifference to his food. He said, even though he wasn’t hungry, if he was in the daily bought lunch program, the lunch women were required to put the complete lunch on his tray.  So a main, a snack side, a fruit or veg, and a drink would all be piled onto his plate. Even if he was just going to stare at it. In Union terms, an opportunity to eat was being provided.

As I watched all these loud children ignoring the majority of the food in front of them, I asked one of the lunchroom patrollers/teachers about the state of waste that I saw occurring. He said that they’d at least instituted a policy were pre-wrapped food could be brought up and trades could be made. The kid next to me took advantage of this and had at least two portions of pineapple. But I watched tray after tray of packaged and uneaten food go into the trash.

I then commented to the janitor at the amazing amount of wasted food I now saw actually physically being dumped into the trash cans. And this was only the second grade. There were many more lunchtimes yet to happen. Daily. Statewide. I then asked if he had any idea whether people were dumpster diving behind the school. He probably thought it an odd question but  I assume they are. He said surely the trash services picked them up quickly enough. Were the bins locked?

When I had asked the grocery store produce guy this question as he filled a huge trash can full of wilty vegetables, he said that he knew people not only dumpster dove for the produce, but sold it as well. Just because you can’t see it, hunger is still everywhere. And he added, they used to give the damaged pet food bags to the pet charities until they found out that people were purposefully sabotaging the food bags. And that was the end of that. Idiots.

The system is more than flawed. Mandatory feeding rules and regulations dictate what big brother thinks our children need in their bellies while feeding them within the scant hurried half hour of lunch when they’re not hungry, denies real bodily desires and needs to be met. And the waste factor is really disturbing and health regulations shut any other possibilities down.

I nod and smile when my kid asked me if I’ll come back to school again. I didn’t even mention the part where he completely ignored me during his lunch to show off to his buddies. I ended up making small talk with the kids around me. They are entertaining but I think I’ll skip the lunch visit and enjoy the academic classes before or afterwards instead. Or make my husband visit instead.

Overwhelmed : The Food Edition

In a earlier post, I spoke about that which overwhelms me with the news of the world. I had to chop that original post in half because when I added the too much information of the world of food, it was a monstrous post. The world and it’s food habits and food supplies and food modification is slowly seeping into my concern zone. There’s enlightenment, fanaticism, and pragmatism all thrown into the mix. Here are some highlights.  

Before her post on Uncertified palm oil’s destruction of orangutans’ habitats, Destination Here and Now blogger Marg Hogan wrote a post entitled The Greengrocer’s Granddaughter about our food-life and consumption.  And she summed up the place many of us want to be when she said, Buy Less, Live More. We need a reconnection to the circle of life, to be in awe and reverence of the world and those that grow and produce our nourishment gifted to us as opposed to being frightened of and disconnected from all of it. To cook and eat our meals together and have relationships with the people who work to feed us, that is the way life used to be. Back when it wasn’t about how cheaply in bulk you could buy stuff. Or trucking the perfect fruit thousands of miles to our stores. Sounds fabulous and then…

eggs for pasta dough from overwhelmed on

My friend and fellow blogger Jane who pens the blog That Curious Love of Green, just posted an article entitled, This is War (a food post). You’ve got farmers who are growing food harmful to the population. I have stayed right in ignorance about the genetically modified food stuff because I know it will make my head explode. Apparently no wheat is good for us now that they’ve hybridized it. And why do local food stores ship stuff sprayed with who knows what chemicals when there are farmers in the county who have perfectly good product? Because we’re vain people.  I love that Jane proclaims that she’d rather abstain on behalf of her family than buy farmed salmon. Because the bottom line is, we have a choice. We have a choice every day.

Insalata Caprese from Overwhelmed on

Which then takes me back to the wonderful book that Barbara Kinsolver wrote called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and the simple fact that we are spoiled children who want what we want when we want it. We want produce that’s pretty and out of season. We can not abstain from out of season fruit. Strawberries in December, heck yeah! We live in America. The land of “I want it now”. She points out, how can we ask our teenage children to abstain from sex if we can’t abstain from out of season strawberries. She says a lot more super cool stuff and I highly recommend this book.

Salad makings from Overwhelmed on

Lastly, here in America, we’re raising little snackers. Fear feeding isn’t a good thing. Our children are out of touch with the earth and it’s rhythms. They have no idea what their bodies need and live in fear of unknown foods. I raised this kid and in my two-part post Trouble At The Table, I read and reviewed French Kids Eat Everything, a magnificently helpful book by author Karen Le Billon which changed my understanding of food culture. From cultivating an appreciation for appetite to France’s impressive government that encourages buying local, I learned a lot from this book on how to better parent in the kitchen.

We are currently eating under the ‘No White Flour, No White Sugar’ rules during the week. Weekends bring a slight splurge and wine. It feels really good to be a little more careful with my body and we’ve lost two pounds each, one for each week. The trick is to keep tweaking our choices and not overdoing our perfectionistic dietary expectations. The drastic either/ors we throw in that make no sense like either live vegan or do fast food,  either live Paleo or eat pizza all the time.

Yes, it takes an effort to make choices, do food prep, and buy locally. So what. It’s fun, feels good, and you get to be proud of yourself and you support farmers and are a positive influence on your family’s diet. There’s absolutely nothing I can do about the world’s dwindling food supplies. I can choose to feel overwhelmed or I can donate some food to the food drive this fall. And model choice for my children to see me make.

And as I was readying to be done with this subject (which btw, I will never be done with), I saw a neat blog post written by Green With Renvy Blog’s Alison Abbott on 12 Food Festivals Celebrating America’s Bounty. From Vermont to Hawaii, there are foodies feeding and eating at festivals you just didn’t know about. She says, “Attending Food Festivals that support small farmers, makers and fisher folk helps to keep their businesses sustainable. ”  Her love of travel and food are wrapped up in this neat piece and it gives me hope not only for our food culture, but for some really yummy destinations to eat my way to and around. Some day. Hope springs eternal.


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And, as always, Thanks to you for your visit.

Homemade Tacos

There was a long standing tradition of making homemade tacos in my house. My Mom brought the technique with her when we moved to the East Coast from California when I was 6 months old. And although I do sometimes use the cardboard boxed tacos for a quick dinner for a 9 year old, I also am capable of pulling the real deal out of my sleeve.

Tacos are a special occasion when guests come to visit kinda endeavor. Because it’s a lot of impressive work that results in some of the most tender delectable yummy food ever. And a couple of weeks ago, our girl Caitlin came to visit and I decided that I was in the taco making mood. No better excuse for the effort than company.

My girls hanging in the kitchen

Masa Harina for Homemeade tacos on

The process begins with making the dough and forming balls. I use wax paper to smash the tortilla dough on the tortilla press.

Then I take a rolling pin to it to make it a little thinner. Cooking once on the griddle, the dough hardens into a tortilla ready for frying.

tortilla PRESS FOR Homemeade tacos on

Rolling the corn tortillas a little thinner for Homemeade tacos on

Not pictured here, the wax paper that is hanging off the griddle catching fire while you transfer them. Once the tortilla gets transferred to the hot oil, it puffs up as you bend it into the ‘U’ shape ready for filling with taco meat, cheese, shredded romaine,avocadoes, sour cream, and siracha sauce. The house fills with smoke from the hot oil. So there’s a smoke alarms turning off and windows opening thing that makes this a real culinary adventure.

deep frying the Homemeade tacos on

Homemade tacos on

I made some homemade salsa fresca from our tomatoes, cilantro, onions, and dashes of sushi vinegar and cider vinegar as I had no lime.

Homemade salsa fresca with the homemade tacos on

As with fresh pasta, freshly made tacos are such a different beast than anything you’ve ever had. And worth every firey bit of wax paper and smoke burning your eyes with the smoke alarm scaring the cats moment.

Homemade tacos from

I must admit that this finished shot is from a previous batch of tacos. Because in the frenzy of making and eating them this time, there were no more pictures to be taken. The filling this time was a pork. It’s the most easy and satisfying. A pork picnic/shoulder roast cooked at a low temperature for a long time then falls off the bone and is easily shredded. I added chicken stock, cumin, sauteed onions and peppers, and maybe some chili , onion, and garlic powders. But ground beef or poached shredded chicken or even rockfish are all good choices especially with salsa fresca. And a secret sauce tip? Use sour cream mixed with the adobo sauce from a can of chipotle peppers. Creamy and smoky and spicy and you are a genius.

I don’t expect anyone to run out and try this. It’s not for the faint of heart. But if you ever get a chance to try the real thing anywhere, do yourself a favor and eat a freshly made masa harina flour taco. Divine. 


Lamb Kabobs and a Green Salad

Easter brought family into town and I was compelled to cook. A holiday’s an excuse to make leftovers as well as try something new. Continuing cold weather had me in the mood for lamb stew with Guinness beer. A beef version from my Irish friend Jane here. But then, when the weather became beautiful, I began to think grilling instead. And this inspired my final menu. First, lamb kabobs marinated with orange flavors and orange slices.

Lamb Kabobs with orange marinade recipe from

The lamb I bought from a lamb man at the Easton farmer’s market. He had run out of boned meat and sold me ribs assuring me I could de-bone them myself. Well yes and no. I did a fair job of getting the meat off but there are still tough enough parts that should just have been left on the bone. They got mixed in. Oh well, next time local be damned, I’m going to a butcher to get my meat the way I need it.

I chose to go with the following green salad which ended up being divine. A mixture of crunchy, creamy, and sour elements with sweet clementine slices to add a balance and tie in with the lamb. The dressing is a classic “french” dressing aka vinaigrette and I didn’t have parsley the second and third time I made it.

green salad recipe from

Piazza in Easton, Maryland on

Prociutto and cheese “candy” from Piazza in Easton, Maryland

I served fabulous Italian meats and cheeses from Piazza in Easton, Maryland.

With bread from the Easton Farmer’s market.

french baguettes from the Easton Farmer's Market on

Eamon ate the bread at

Well, I did have a baguette but then Eamon devoured it while we were waiting for the meats and cheeses to be lovingly cut and packaged. So we got bread from Piazza too.

pussy willow at he farmer's market in Easton, Maryland

And flowers from the farmer’s market in Easton, Maryland.

I made a giant vat of fruit salad which had two kinds of apples, oranges, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, and pineapple. Somehow my family is much more willing to eat fruit in fruit salad form. There was so much leftover, the strawberries were squishy before we finished it off. I add a lime and honey to flavor it.

Additionally, I grilled shrimp in a skewer and served it with a yummy remoulade sauce from the Gourmet cookbook from editor Ruth Reichl. 

I had served this on a New Years Eve years back when we’d grilled a leg of lamb and shrimp on the barbie in the winter on the front porch while it was snowing. There’s a roof there unlike the back porch. We really enjoyed that meal.

remoulade recipe from the Gourmet cookbook via

A tad too salty if you stick your finger in it but absolutely divine when used with the grilled shrimp.

The leftover lamb bones went right into the oven to roast with some tomato paste smeared on them and vegetables to roast beside them. I made a stock from this as I’d remembered doing with veal bones once.

Roasting the lamb bones for stock on

Don’t know how it turned out but waste not, want not.

You can see the rest of our crazy birthday Easter Earth Day weekend here

Ghost of Holiday Meals Past

I used to have another life involving another husband, another set of in-laws who hosted Thanksgiving at their house, and no car. Eventually, we stopped showing up for Thanksgiving dinner.

Divorce is sad but my happy memory is of making my own meals based on whatever theme I felt like experimenting with. And I continued to do this with Christmases and New Years days with my now husband. We do spend Thanksgiving with his in-laws and we own a car and a truck.

I have often thought fondly of the themes and the dishes I’ve prepared for these occasions. There was an Italian themed dinner that included homemade egg pasta, which I do and it’s not hard, and a Reinforcement salad, a pickled vegetable salad with a religious story behind it. I remember reading Italian Christmas dinners are usually really late after mass. I prefer to eat early.

There was the seafood themed holiday where I got to cook a lobster tail. The lobster was attached. There were probably oysters for an appetizer. I make a pretty mean oyster stew too. But I add diced potatoes and carrots. Sue me.DSC02126

Talk of the feast always comes back to your favorites though, doesn’t it? My turkey day favorites include turkey with the cornbread stuffing incorporating any combo of sausage, apples, or chestnuts. Nuts or mushrooms too. It all makes me happy. Mashed potatoes and home-made gravy most definitely. We used to enjoy a cranberry jello salad called Junk. This one is close but maybe needs a ground up orange. I prefer whole cranberry sauce (recipe right on the bag of cranberries), love creamed spinach, and for dessert? I’m a pecan pie girl all the way.

I used to make this Oyster casserole dish below. Stopped because it was so rich. But found the recipe and thought to share as it’s an East coast classic. Happy Full Belly Day people.

I pint of fresh oysters…1.5 cups of crushed Ritz crackers, tossed in 1/2 cup of melted butter (use 1/2 cup for each layer in the recipe)…reserve 4 TBS of oyster liquor and combined with 2 TBS cream and the dashes of nutmeg, and Tabasco. Put a thin layer of crumbs on the bottom of a buttered baking dish that is about 8 inches square. Put on 1/2 the oysters Salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle on 1/2 the liquor mixture. Repeat, and top with remaining crumbs.
Bake for 30 minutes at 375 degrees F.

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