Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Sports and family dinner

Now that my son is highly involved in track, I'm getting an insight into how playing sports can help keep kids off of drugs. Apart from the sports philosophy "train your body, keep it clean," my son's practice schedule (3-4 afternoon a week, 3-6pm) makes it difficult to do much hanging out. After he gets home and collapses on the couch for a while, there's homework, dinner, and that's it. He's pretty much given up TV, which is an added side benefit. My daughter is a dancer/acrobat, and, though the training is a little less intense (only 3 days a week for 1-2 hours), she's also younger and has less homework to deal with.

It's true that a sports schedule can hamper family togetherness at the dinner table, but that's where flexibility comes in. Change dinner times and allow snacks to give them fuel when they need it. Your hungry athlete will need more food, and thus will actually enjoy dinner. He or she will probably enjoy large helpings of whatever you dish up, a far cry from the picky days of toddlerhood. Some families take to eating dinner together in the car, which I can't advocate for, though I understand the occasional need. If you must do takeout, try to bring it home and eat around a table together. It's better, really!

NHSDA Report on Team Sports and Sunstance Abuse among Teens.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

White House Garden: Spring 2009

White House Press Photo

What a fabulous idea! I am so in love this inspiring idea to plant a garden on the White House Lawn. I love Michelle Obama's grace and leadership in using the garden to make a broad statement about food and food policy. From the diagram, the planned garden looks like a beauty, with a kaleidoscope of wonderful fruits and vegetables. (OK, I'm a little jealous!)

Of course there are nayasyers (NYT's Room for Debate below has several points of view), but really this is a low-cost (about $200), potentially high-yield project in terms of both actual food and national attention to the crisis of unhealthy eating and unhealthy land-use. It send a message of how to think differently about food and better ways to use your grassy lawn.
“The power of Michelle Obama and the garden can create a very powerful message about eating healthy and more delicious food. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say it could translate into real change.”
Dan Barber, an owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, an organic restaurant in Pocantico Hills, N.Y
The White House garden represents a simple step, but it's a great way to engage kids to think about better food choices. It shows kids and adults that growing food is like magic, but not a mystery. Even just knowing that local food is possible, even in the most unlikely places, is important and empowering. As the community gardeners say, "You grow girl!"

The White House Blog: Spring garden planting
Obamas Prepare to Plant a Vegetable Garden at the White House. Marian Burros, NYT 3.19.09
Washington's Not-so-Secret Garden, Room for Debate, NYT 3.21.09

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Learning from the Past: The Good Cook Series and others

I love the NYTimes new feature Recipe Redux which researches old recipes from their archives and then offers a new twist or modern revision. Often the old recipes, sometimes from 1970, other times from the 1800's, seem to be better, or at least just as interesting as the new and updated one.

There is something comforting about cooking from an old recipe, be it a family one or one from a newspaper. Calorie and cholesterol debates aside, there is a reason some recipes get handed down and used again and again. They tend to be delicious, and moreover, reliable. I still find myself using the old James Beard and Julie Child books much more often than the pretty new books I ogled and splurged for at the Barnes & Noble.

In this vein, The Good Cook Series by Time Life Books also sounds intriguing, though they may be out-of-print and hard to find. Their step-by-step instructions and diagrams suggest a "Cook's Companion" type series from the pre-magazine subscription days. The techniques and tips you can learn from these old cookbooks are often worth the search.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Recent articles about local and organic food choices

I may be posting more lightly in the coming months since I just started working in the health policy field again. So much exciting stuff is happening in the world of food and food politics that I hope to keep a hand in and keep up with this blog. We'll see. Today I just have some articles that I'm been collecting for research. Enjoy!

For Three Years, Every Bite Organic Tara Parker-Pope, NYT, 12.2.08
100% Organic Man, Well Blog, 12.01.08
What America Really Eats. Lynn Schnurnberger, Parade Magazine, 11.16.08.
Top Ten Tips for Nutritious Eating in a Recession. The Fooducate Blog.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Chocolate Party! In praise of the at-home birthday

OK this is mud, not chocolate, but I swear their little hands looked just like this when covered in chocolate truffle mix!

My older daughter turns 10 today! We celebrated with a birthday weekend extravaganza, and the highlight was a Chocolate Truffle Making party for six tween girls and one very pleased to be included three-year old. I am a big proponent of the at-home birthday and a home-made cake, as noted here. As the guests get older, the main party activity can be making something to eat at the party and they love it! You can also do make-you-own pasta or pizza or anything really. Just plan it out ahead of time and be sure there's enough time during the party to make, bake, and eat it!

Making the truffles was so easy and so fun for the girls. They really delighted in getting their hands all chocolate-y and rolling up the little balls in toppings. The recipe is below. You have to make the chocolate mixture a couple of hours ahead and allow to cool.

Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Truffles
2 cups of Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Baking Chips (1 - 11.5 oz bag)
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Coating Options:
Unsweetened Cocoa
Finely Chopped Nuts
Nonpareils or other tiny sprinkles

Bring cream to a simmer in a small saucepan. Add butter and stir until melted. Add chocolate and stir until completely melted and smooth. Keep heat very low to avoid scorching. Remove from heat and pour into a shallow bowl. Cool, cover and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours. When ready to make truffles, use a teaspoon to scoop out the mixture and roll into 1" balls. Roll each ball in coating of your choice.

More Ghirardelli Recipes here.

Chocolate warms up into your hand very quickly. Roll balls quickly to reduce mess. (FYI: Ten year old girls are not interested in reducing the mess!)

For food safety at a party, have children wash their hands thoroughly before touching the chocolate and have them each use their own spoon. Have each guest put their own truffles on a party plate labeled with her/his name. At our party, they later packaged their truffles in a decorated candy box to bring home as the "goody bag". Decorating the candy boxes was another party activity.

In addition to making truffles, we also had home-made, make-your-own brownie sundaes. I was ambitious at first, thinking every component could be made by the girls: brownies, ice cream and whipped cream. But then realized the timing and the clean-up wouldn't be right, so I made the brownies the night before and bought a can of whipped cream. Still, they made the ice cream in this crazy ice cream ball contraption. A perfect activity for girls who like to chat and gossip around a circle. Once the ice cream was ready, they constructed their own sundaes, with lots of fun toppings.

My daughter proclaimed that it was the best party EVER! It certainly was the most chocolate EVER!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Food for Thought: National Day of Service, 01.19.09

Stepping away from the family dinner topic, for just today...

Heeding President-Elect Obama's call for a National Day of Service, I just signed up to help with a food drive on Dr. Martin Luther King Day, this Monday January 19, 2009. Hurry now and sign-up for something in your community at

Honestly, I had to click through on 3 food drives before I could find one to sign up for. (Had to be a food drive, since that's my thing.) The others had been "maxed-out" with too many people vying to sign up for limited slots. Of course, I'm in Brooklyn, but there were so many events, so many possible good deeds that are out there. 8,500 events were registered on the site as of Jan 14th. Click here to see the amazing Google Map.

It's making me teary-eyed, really, and so hopeful that Obama as our new president will represent a change. He has been so inspiring to so many people already. He truly seems committed to helping communities and helping people make a difference in their own lives and their own neighborhoods. Those 8,500 volunteer opportunities? Those are there everyday, if we just knew about them.

As an Obama volunteer in the campaign, I was polled about my opinions and suggestions immediately afterward, as were many people. (Just being contacted for my opinion seemed quite amazing, really.) I wrote that I hoped that he would use his campaign machinery to offer community-based volunteer opportunities and to harness all that energy and positive motion toward making a real difference in communities. The transition team is doing just that with, and I'm again stunned. Obama and his team have the two-punch: he inspires, then implements. There's a system in place to make it easy for people to sign up. That's the genius. It's marketing true, but really it's marketing and implementation. Many people want to "help" in some vague way, but if you're not sure how to do it, if you don't know who to call, it may never happen. Let's hope that the National Day of Service is a boost up to community involvement that lasts. In this economy, in these times, we cannot wait for government to right itself and solve all the problems that have been created over the past years. We have to embrace our communities and act locally to make a difference. Yes, we can!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Happy New Year Family Dinner

Photo from

Saving money and losing weight often top the list of New Year's resolutions and it's no surprise that cooking at home and having family dinner can help with both those goals. (Plus, it helps with being more connected to loved ones, which is a good resolution too.)

The biggest challenge with resolutions is that most people who make them give up with shocking speed. I think the average time on a diet is one week. This old CNN article tells the tale that at least 30% of people don't keep their New Year's resolutions into February. It's understandable, because change is hard. The best way to change is to make it a part of your routine. Want to exercise more? Get a dog that needs walking or bike to work, or sign up for that exercise with a friend who will absolutely make you go. Want to cook more at home and eat healthy foods? Start out with a weekly shopping trip and a plan, get your family involved and start doing it. Everyday.

For a little inspiration, Bittman starts out the year with a great column on how to stock you fridge and pantry to have the ingredients for easy, delicious meals on hand. There's even more tidbits on his Bitten Blog. And remember, even small changes can make a huge difference. Good advice on picking a manageable healthy eating goal here.

Fresh Start for a New Year? Let's Begin in the Kitchen. Mark Bittman, NYT 01.06.09
What to Ditch in the Kitchen. Bitten Blog, 01.07.09
Recipes for Health A NYT Round-up
New Year's Resolution 2009: One Small Step Toward Healthy Eating. Susan Brady, Health News Blog, 12.28.08