GAG…

OK so the title doesn’t quite characterize the tone of this post.  It’s the unfortunate yet comical name I came up with for tonight’s dinner: Gouda, Asparagus, & Garlic frittata!

First, the back-story: a couple of weeks ago I wrote about the joy of a farmers market and my purchase of fresh asparagus.  So tonight on the way home from work I was mentally scanning the refrigerator, trying to figure out dinner.  I remembered having only a couple of slices of gouda so thought grilled cheese.  However upon arriving home and actually looking in the fridge, I saw the leftover asparagus and hated the idea of letting it go to waste. First thought was omelette, then for some reason another idea popped into my mind: frittata! Here’s the thing though…I’ve never made a frittata.

Never fear–Alice Waters to the rescue!  After seeing her speak 4 years ago at a conference I immediately snatched up her book The Art of Simple Food and have become a fan ever since.  And of course, in there was a recipe for a frittata, made with swiss chard but all I needed were the base ingredients.  Boy did this one come out tasty!  

So here’s how I did it, adapted from Alice Waters’ frittata recipe:

Preheat oven to 350-degrees and pull out your ovenproof 10-inch pan. Chop asparagus and gouda into small pieces.  I used up what was left of what I had, which was about 10 stalks of asparagus and 2 slices of packaged gouda.  Also chop 4 cloves of garlic.  Heat the pan with a little olive oil and saute the asparagus and garlic together, then set aside and wipe the pan clean. 

Take 6 eggs and crack into a large bowl.  Add salt, freshly ground black pepper and 2 teaspoons of olive oil.  Beat the eggs gently, then stir in the asparagus, cheese and garlic. 

Heat the pan over medium-low heat, then add 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  After a few seconds, pur in the egg mixture.  Be sure to try and spread the ingredients around as best you can (my cheese ended up concentrated in the center, with little reaching outward towards the edge). As the eggs set on the bottom, lift the edges a little to allow some of the uncooked egg to flow underneath.  Place the pan into the oven and let the frittata cook and set, about 7-10 minutes. Slide out of the pan onto your plate and you’re done!  

Let me know how yours turned out, and what veggies/meats you used!

Daddy Can Burn!

Father’s Day is particularly significant in our family because my sister & I were raised by our dad. Yes, many family members helped when he called but it was dad who kept a roof over our heads, doled out discipline and put clothes on our backs. He taught us some of the typical dad things like how to drive a stick-shift, but there’s something else he taught us that could be considered unusual for fathers: a love of cooking.

My dad cooked 4-5 times a week. Friday and Saturday were usually leftovers or carry-out and Sunday was always a special meal. Fast food was a treat, not a regular occurrence. He had a great collection of cookbooks with worn pages spattered on and notes in the margins. But sometimes he would recreate something he’d had in a restaurant, trying several times until he captured the flavor. Or he’d create his own twist. The first time I had shrimp etouffe was at home, not in a restaurant. I didn’t know that pasta carbonara was made with cream sauce until I’d ordered it in a restaurant–Dad always made his without.

He is famous among our friends for his pound cake. Every gathering the host asks him to bring it. It’s a family recipe that he’s perfected, sometimes topping it with a lemon or rum glaze of icing. Lately he’s been working on a home-made bourbon-vanilla ice cream to go with the pound cake.

Speaking of ice cream, we had a hand-crank ice cream
mixer growing up. My birthday is in the summer so I clearly remember preparing for the party by taking turns cranking that sucker, hearing the ice grind with the rock salt. My arms ache even now at the thought, but oh what a creamy delight that came from all of the work!

I once asked my dad why he enjoyed cooking so much. His response was simple: “Because I like to eat.” Those memories of fabulous home cooked meals still live in the memories I and my sister share. Though we both have lives outside of dad’s house, each time we come home we look forward to eating well. We cook our own meals in that same spirit of providing tasty food to our loved ones. It’s that spirit that I hope to pass along to my daughter.

Thanks Dad for such great food memories!

To Market, To Market

A few months ago my family moved a whole 30 miles south of where we had initially settled in New Jersey.  It’s closer to work for me, and close to office friends who also live in the area and have children of all ages.  Not only will this give my daughter some friends outside of daycare, but we also now have a regular babysitter in my boss’s daughter!

One day as I was exploring our new area I saw a sign on the side of the road: Farmers Market, Saturdays 9am-1pm.  Rejoice!  I love farmers markets, and came to love them more when may daughter started eating solid foods.  This happened right at the height of farmers market season so every couple of weeks I was at the local market, picking up fruits and veggies to take home, steam, puree and stick in the freezer.  It was great to introduce her to fantastic peaches, blueberries, squash and green beans that came straight from regional farms.

So this past weekend I checked out the market.  While it’s still early in the season I just wanted to get a “flavor” of what vendors were there and what the community was like.  We got there early enough to get a parking space but late enough that there was a good-sized crowd wandering around.  Not only did you have produce, but baked goods were sold in a couple of stalls, a crepe stand had the longest line, and a band was setting up. I walked past, and ended up stopping, at a barbeque sauce company owned by a brother and sister pair.  Always wanting support local business–and particularly Black-owned–I walked away with sauce and a dry rub, vowing to return for the honey mustard in the coming weeks.  Another vendor had asparagus, which I love roasted (check out Calandra’s post on oven-roasted asparagus) and I even picked up chicken sausage made with basil and sun-dried tomatoes.  The next day we had grilled chicken breasts made with the dry rub and basted with the barbeque sauce…and of course roasted asparagus!  Can’t wait for the peaches and blueberries to come in…cobbler, anyone?

Farmers markets are not only a great way to purchase fresh produce, they’re also a way to start to learn about your community, mingle with neighbors, and possibly even make new friends.  Check out the USDA directory for a market near you!

Take Me to the Go-Go

Taking a quick departure from my usual Adventures in Food & Family to reflect on the music of my youth: Go-Go.  Yesterday’s news of the passing of Chuck Brown took me straight back to my hometown of Arlington, VA and the music created and wholly owned in nearby Washington, DC.  Only those who grew up in the DC region (including parts of Virginia and Maryland) can appreciate go-go; I’ve met many outside of the area who scrunch up their faces and describe my favorite music as “banging on pots and pans”.  Black, white, Hispanic and everyone else who grew up and lived in the DC region appreciate go-go to some degree and have a sense of pride that it’s something only DC can claim.

Probably the best way to describe go-go is that it’s born out of funk with a percussion-heavy groove, lots of horns and always a tambourine (Wikipedia has a good description).  Live shows always include call and response and if you’re lucky you can hear your neighborhood or area code called out by the bandleader.  That’s probably what made go-go so fun…the lead singer knew the area and could easily incorporate the names of neighborhoods into his lyrics.  Small pockets of the crowd would go nuts once they heard “We got folks from the 301 (a Maryland area code) in here tonight” or “I see you Barry Farm (a SE DC neighborhood)”.  It’s like the singer knew you were in the crowd. 

The bands were also small businessmen.  Go-go was so loved that bands would sell recordings of live shows out of mall kiosks or locally owned record shops.  These were not flashy productions–the quality wasn’t always great and the music competed with the crowd.  But those tapes sold anyway, and I was a prime customer.  There was a kiosk in the mall across the street from my cousin’s house and every time I visited her we made a trip so I could pick up the latest tapes.  The groups were also local celebrities; if you had a go-go band playing at your fundraiser or public event you were sure to get a huge crowd.

Chuck Brown had mainstream success with his blues albums, even getting nominated last year for a Grammy. However only 1 or 2 other go-go bands received radio or video attention outside of DC. Everyone still starts rockin’ when EU’s “Da Butt” plays at a party but probably not everyone knows that a band called Rare Essence had a video on Yo! MTV Raps (though not the best representation of go-go). 

Since I no longer live in the DC area and all my tapes have disappeared with moves and no longer having a tape player I don’t hear go-go as much as I’d like.  Imagine my shock when I entered “Chuck Brown” into Pandora and not only was his music played but so also were a couple of other well-known go-go bands.  Of course I saved my new station and every time I listen I’m taken back to dancing at a live show, listening to it in my room, or hearing it blasting out of car windows as I drove around the region. 

DC radio will probably be playing Chuck Brown all day, and if the weather’s nice cars will be blasting him out of the windows.  All go-go roads lead back to Chuck and he will sorely be missed.  If you’ve never heard Chuck’s music, check out his 2010 performance at the NPR office, still crankin’ (DC lingo) at 73 years old!  Even if you’re not from DC I dare you to not nod your head just a little.

An Anti-Mother’s Day Tribute

I’m going to confess: I’m not a fan of Mother’s Day.  Hopefully it’s understandable given my mom died when I was nine (see my February tribute to her).  Because I was so young my memories of her are dim, so no Mother’s Day reflections of good times or loving tributes to the fabulous relationship we had.  It was the relationship a nine year-old had with her mom: often times great but sometimes a (hidden) rolling of eyes when she told me I couldn’t do something I wanted.

I’m not the only one who feels this way.  One of my best friends lost her mom 10 years ago after battling a long illness.  My friend was an adult so had many more years with her mother than I; you’d think she would definitely be the one who would celebrate Mother’s Day with fond memories.  The first Mother’s Day after her mom’s death, she called me to go to the mall to get her mind off of her grief.  As we walked through the mall we saw families in restaurants celebrating mom, store specials for Mother’s Day, moms and daughters walking with bags in hand.  Looking back, probably not the best place to go to try and forget Mother’s Day.  Over drinks, we formed the “Motherless Child Club” (motto: we’re not looking for new members) and decided we no longer liked Mother’s Day.

I thought my feelings would change when I became a mother but they didn’t.  They did mellow a little where I can tolerate it a little more, and yes the hand-made school cards are very cute keepsakes.  But when my husband asks “what do you want to do for Mother’s Day?” I just shrug and say “whatever”. Don’t get me wrong–I absolutely love being a mom.  But since my mom’s been gone over 20 years Mother’s Day brings me sadness instead of joy.  And it probably doesn’t help that my mother-in-law, to whom I became very close over the 14 years I knew her, also died in 2008.

My girlfriend hasn’t changed her opinion though.  I still call her to check in and cheer her up, and since she is a mother of a 5 year-old I acknowledge her honored position in life. Maybe both of our outlooks will change as our children get older and we are more than just “mommy”.  Maybe it’ll change when we’re also a friend, confidant and advisor to our kids. Maybe my opinion will change when I have the kind of relationship with Beverly that I’ve always wanted to have with my mom.

A Battle Over Breasts In Newark, NJ

This is a companion piece to Calandra’s post today on mortarnbrique.

Over the weekend I read an article on TimeHealthland that left me a little perturbed.  The article, titled Can a Formula Company Really Promote Breast-Feeding and Fight Child Obesity?, discussed the criticisms that Newark Mayor Cory Booker has recieved in his decision to accept funding from Nestle Corporation of his Let’s Move Newark! initiative.  Nestle provided a $100,000 grant to support the education of families on nutrition and physical activity.  The issue at hand is that breastfeeding advocates feel (a) it’s inapropriate for a childhood obesity prevention initiative to partner with a formula company and (b) Nestle has some hidden agenda to promote formula over breastfeeding when it’s a proven fact that breastfeeding reduces the risk for childhood obesity.  Mayor Booker responded through his regular radio program that there are no strings attached to this funding.

This could easily be compared to the skepticism that occurred when tobacco manufacturers started providing information through their websites (and lots of grant dollars) on smoking prevention.  Isn’t there a conflict of interest in both cases?

Personally, in this particular case, I don’t think so.  Smoking isn’t a necessity, but eating is.  In her post, Calandra describes her decision to formula-feed her children.  Well here’s mine: After the first 2 nights of trying with minimal success latching on (and incredibly painful boobs) I had to feed my baby something, and it was formula.  For the next 5 months it was the same–repeated attempts with maybe a third of them being successful and lots of supplemental formula feeding.  My child had to eat, so after my boobs gave up she became a formula baby.  I was frustrated and guilt-ridden but after much family support I moved forward.  If I’m blessed to have another child I’ll definitely try again but if again we’re unsuccessful then Similac it will be!

A couple of weeks ago I read a heartbreaking blog post about a woman who was very guilty about her inability to breastfeed after TWO breast infections.  Her health was being threatened yet lactation consultants were urging continued breastfeeding.  In the end she was frustrated that they didn’t even mention formula options and advise this as an alternative. 

Nestle knows that children have to eat, and through this grant they’re supporting the healthy eating option–breastfeeding.   Will Nestle hand out formula coupons with their breastfeeding information? Possibly.  But I wouldn’t go so far to say that they’re in conflict with advising breastfeeding.  They make so much money from the women who don’t choose to breastfeed that I don’t think promoting breastfeeding will cause a big dent in their revenue budget.

Does Size Really Matter?

No, not going there–I’m talking about kitchens, people!  Recently my family moved into a bigger apartment so everyone could have their own defined space (in our previous apartment Beverly shared her room with the office), including a ‘man-loft’ upstairs for my husband.  In addition to extra rooms we now have a larger kitchen and it got me to thinking about kitchen sizes vs. the ability to still throw down and put out a fabulous meal.

Kitchens come in all sizes, from the mini-fridge and hot pot in your college dorm room to the massive indoor-outdoor kitchens complete with a patio wood-burning pizza oven that I’ve seen in celebrity kitchen specials on TV.  I remember college friends creating very interesting dishes with a package of ramen noodles, condiment packages swiped from the dining hall and maybe sandwich meat bought at the corner deli.  As a freshman without a car I even created pasta masterpieces in the microwave with butter, milk and packaged pasta bought on my monthly bus trip to the grocery store.  When I was in graduate school I lived in a studio apartment with a small kitchen that had an ancient, electric push-button stove.  Seriously, instead of knobs on the front of the stove there were buttons on the back that you would push for the desired heat level—it was bizarre!  But it was just enough kitchen to feed myself so it worked for me.

My last apartment, which we moved into after arriving in NJ and living in a good-sized apartment in Missouri, had a galley kitchen.  This was certainly the smallest I’d ever encountered in the 12 years (not counting college) living on my own.  We had way more kitchen stuff than this kitchen could hold.  We had to buy a pantry to place in the dining room to hold all the things a pantry in a larger kitchen would have.  Then piled on top of that pantry were the gadgets and serving pieces that the cabinets couldn’t hold.  Counter space was at a minimum, making multi-dish efforts difficult for me; at one point I was rolling dough on the dining room table! My sister, on the other hand, has hosted Thanksgiving with her galley kitchen.  I seriously don’t know how she did it.  She occasionally posts meals she makes for herself and her fiancée on her Facebook page and I look at them like, you did that in your little kitchen??  Guess I should have been calling her for tips…

 We lived in our apartment for 4 years and eventually I learned to adapt, making one-pot meals or putting what I could in the refrigerator instead of leaving it on the counter.  But now we’re in a bigger kitchen with an actual pantry. That was one of my most exciting moments when we initially toured the apartment—no more external pantry cabinet! Now 3 weeks in and the pantry’s stocked, all appliances are in their proper place and I’m getting ready for farmer’s market season and all of the wonderful meals that are to come.  Still aiming for the massive, double-stove, huge island kitchen though…

(By the way, the pantry cabinet became Beverly’s new bookshelf.  Took the doors off and repainted it…just like new!)

Tag…You’re It!

I remember when these “all about you” questionnaires would circulate via email.  My how times have changed…now they’re circulating through blogs!  Either way I love doing these things because they’re procrastination at it’s best.  Thanks to Calandra, my cousin & co-editor of this blog, for asking me to share 11 random things about me and answer 11 questions she has asked about me.  Even though we’re cousins I learned something new about her(and confirmed how similar we are–must be the genes!) so maybe she’ll learn some new things about me. 

11 Random Things About Jasmine…

  1. My husband and I met in college and dated for 10 years before we got married. By then it was just a formality…
  2. I used to write short stories in high school.  While in college I was offered a chance to publish but didn’t do it.
  3. I played the flute in elementary through high school.
  4. I’ve only seen two opera performances but loved them and want to see more.
  5. I know lines to the movie The Color Purple practically by heart.
  6. I walked a full marathon with Team in Training in 2003; took me 6 hours. 
  7. I met LL Cool J in 2002 and still carry around the picture I took with him.
  8. Four generations of my family lived Asheville, NC, which is why I find it funny that the small mountain city has become one of the hottest vacation spots over recent years.
  9. My dream kitchen would have two ovens and one of those water faucets right over the stove for filling large pots.  And Giada DeLaurentis on speed-dial!
  10. Though I wouldn’t dare do it now, when I was a kid I purposefully mismatched my clothes.
  11. I majored in Religious Studies in college but had no intention of going to seminary–I just thought to subject was interesting!

My Questions From Calandra…

  1. If you could magically give up any vice overnight, what would it be? Procrastination…hah!
  2. Which are more meaningful, hugs or kisses? Hugs
  3. Dog-lover or cat-lover? Cats–they’re so self-sufficient!
  4. What theme music plays in your head when you enter a room? Depends on my mood: Ludacris’ “Move B***h” or LMFAO “I’m Sexy & I Know It”
  5. Who would you most want to spend a day with (living or dead)? My mom
  6. Contemporary or classic music? Classic for sure!
  7. What book/song title best describes your life? Alicia Keys’ Superwoman
  8. What was your favorite subject in school? Health
  9. What helps you relax after a long day? Spending time with my family then a nice glass of red wine.
  10. If Oprah gave you half her money to do something good for someone else, how would you spend it? Go to microlending and donation sites like Kiva.org, Benevolent.net and Donorschoose.org and fulfill every single request. Then start a foundation helping women & girls. 
  11. What is your best quality? I’m eerily calm under pressure, which I think scares people sometimes…

Monkey See, Monkey Do

25 years ago this week, my mom died from Hodgkins’ Lymphoma. I was nine years old, but with my sister’s birth 2 years earlier and between the wonder of a new baby and mom’s multiple visits to the hospital I really only got 7 good years with her. Specific memories are vague but I do remember a few general traits about her. She loved music – I think my obsession with Prince comes from her having his tape on repeat during our road trips to see relatives. She loved a good joke and a good laugh. She instilled in me an appreciation for multiple cultures, but especially African culture and history. She was craftsy: she sewed her own clothes and one afternoon we stitched and stuffed a big teddy bear.

I only have one cooking memory of her: one evening we made monkey-bread. I remember pulling the soft elastic dough apart and rolling them into balls, stacking them into the pound cake pan. I remember savoring the sweet sticky goodness of those same little dough balls after they came out of the oven a beautiful golden brown. What I don’t remember, is whether mom made the dough from scratch, though I assume she did because I don’t think Pillsbury canned dough had been invented yet.

What’s funny is that for years I thought she’d made up the name of that wonderful tasty treat. My mom was silly enough to call something “monkey bread” and I was young enough to believe she’d come up with that name herself. Then one day as an adult I was walking through Williams-Sonoma and came across a monkey bread mix. The memory flooded back. I didn’t buy it (just didn’t seem right to buy a boxed mix) but walked away amazed that this was a real thing, not just something mom created as a fun thing to do with her daughter. I walked away happy, thinking whenever I have a child we’re going to make monkey bread.

So now I have a daughter who carries my mother’s name, Beverly. I also have a recipe for monkey bread but using refrigerated dough. Everything else is the same: cinnamon, sugar, melted butter to make it all stick together. As an extra bonus it even has fruit and raisins to put between the dough balls. So very soon, Beverly & I will start a mother-daughter tradition: making monkey bread together.

I love you Mom.

Crossing the Line

Earlier this week a colleague circulated a story that concerned me.  I sat on it for about 4 days, deciding whether or not to write about it here.  But finally I think it’s time to say something.

The reason I sat on this article is because I try very hard to keep my personal and professional social media activities separate.  Facebook–totally personal; I don’t even say where I work on my Facebook page and I post whatever the heck I want.  Twitter–professional; my profile clearly states where I work and what I do and I maintain a level of professionalism in all my tweets.  This blog–mostly personal until today.  Today I’m going to just slightly cross the line.

I work in childhood obesity prevention, with particular interest in changing policies and environments so families can buy healthy food. My love of food, cooking and family certainly combines personal and professional, giving me the passion to love what I do.  So when my colleague sent an article stating that a recent poll showed that the majority of people surveyed blame poor parenting for obese kids, it was disturbing both personally and professionally. The article summarizes the results of a survey of over 1,000 registered voters nationwide that asked them if they think childhood obesity is a disease, or if it’s caused by poor parenting and/or poor food choices: 34% said both poor parenting and poor food choices cause childhood obesity, 29% said poor parenting, 24% said poor food choices.

As many of us who like to cook and try to do it in a healthful way know, food prices are rising.  A bag of apples or a bunch of carrots are much more expensive than they were only 3 years ago.  I’m blessed enough to be able to afford fresh fruits, veggies and whole grains to cook wholesome meals for my family but definitely have noticed the uptick in our grocery bill.  But imagine if you’re a parent living on food stamps or with a very limited budget, trying to purchase healthy food for your family.  The average food stamp budget is $31.50 a week for an NJ resident; take $31.50 to the store and try to buy yourself a week’s worth of healthful breakfasts, lunches and dinners and you’ll see it’s not that easy.  The head of the NJ Dept of Human Services tried it last year, along with members of Congress in 2007. I’ve heard and read stories of parents who want to give their kids healthy meals but simply can’t because it’s just to darn expensive.

As parents we all want to do what’s best for our kids so they become healthy adults.  However in this current economy many families in this country have all the best intentions but not the money to buy healthy food.  If you’re among those who think parents are at fault for their kid’s obesity problem please consider whether they’re able to afford healthy food.  Sometimes that makes all the difference between best intentions and current reality.