A Millie Favorite

A Millie Favorite

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Art of Chicago

I have spent the past five days in Chicago, IL and I have to say that I have learned quite a bit since being here when it comes to food and food culture. I actually have worked and lived here twice. Both times for a campaign that I was hired to organize. When you are on a campaign, you spend most of your time, organizing volunteers, identifying voters, building relationships and well going crazy one day at a time. You have very little time for food and what little food you do eat, it is not good for you in any way.

When I worked for Hillary Clinton, it was suggested to us that we do not eat any food that is “round” like pizza, burgers, bagels and donuts. Probably a good policy to have, but it was really not practical.

There was a completely different reason for my being in Chicago this go around. I am not visiting family, I am not here for yet another campaign, I am not here to visit the museums and I am not here to watch the Black Hawks beat the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Even though they did).  I am here for two main reasons.

The first reason being that I am applying to work for a non-profit organization that works with urban and low income kids to teach them how to become unified threw cooking. The sad facts are that if you are lower income or you are living in neighborhoods that have little to no access of fresh produce and natural foods, you are eating fast foods and processed foods almost every single day of the week. I have noticed this for a couple of years now, so to have an opportunity to work with this organization would be a dream come true for me.

The second reason for my stay in the Windy City is that I am finally taking the necessary steps to enter in the world of food PROFESSIONALLY!!! I have applied for culinary school. Putting myself in this position may just be one of the scariest things I have ever done. Going back to school at my age, with my past career, a husband and child and all the unknowns is the rawest thing I have done since the birth of my amazing daughter. And isn’t that what makes it fun?

I was able to meet with the school on Saturday morning. I sat in a small interview room, talking about all my passions for food, but how I lack the professional skills to go further with my dreams. I had such a good conversation, that I just knew in that moment, this is exactly where I needed to be.

After the interview, I had the privilege of going on a tour of the school. Even though it was a Saturday, there were students everywhere. There was even a pastry class in session, so I was able to witness these bright young students in action. I have to say, I became a little intimidated by it all. Their beautiful sugar sculptures were drying on the rack, sparkly and colorful. I wanted to reach out and touch one of them, but I refrained.

In the next room over, there was a large kitchen with the smell of chicken stock wafting threw the hallways. When I peeked inside, there were a couple of students working on a project. They had prepared themselves a large breakfast of eggs, sausage and toast and then begun their work. It is so comforting to see people eat food and actually enjoy the food. I live in a world of food limitations, no carbs, no sugars, no TASTE! Not in this school, no there is food being prepared with artistic skill and the love that goes into taking care of a new puppy. How exciting it is to see it all.

Finally, it has been an absolute joy talking to the people of this city. Hearing the excitement come from their voices just gives me tingles. I live in a city with depression. I love Memphis and there is a reason that I wanted my daughter born there. However, it can be a little upsetting hearing people “welcome” newcomers to the city with “why Memphis” or “hope you don’t get jacked” every single time. Coming to Chicago has lightened my mood considerably.

I am actually sitting in a coffee shop right now writing this blog. The married couple that bought this place after working in the medical industry has been extremely helpful to me since my arrival. Offering restaurant suggestions, neighborhood suggestions and my favorite, “Chicago is a world class city and it deserves a world class mayor” wow! To have yourself describe your city as “world class” took me back a little. I NEVER hear that about other cities.

Congratulations Chicago for being the world class, innovative, artistic, food-centric and my personal favorite proud city that you are. I can’t wait to be a part of it and really become a food professional. Thank you for the amazing stay. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lunch box drama

You may have noticed by now that there has been something missing from all of my posts, meat. Meat has slowly been coming out of my diet for a few years now. I have had the misfortune of having four kidney stones in the last decade. I was told by my doctor, that meat is a big culprit to causing such ugly little deposits to form. That and sodas, which I do not drink either.

When I became pregnant with Millie, I was living in Pittsburgh, PA. I do not know why, but they love meat (especially processed pork products) there and they had a bizarre way of cooking it. They would take the sausage looking tube of pork product and boil it! ICK! I am from Memphis, and if you do anything to meat, you smoke it, not boil it. Well, because of their style of food preparation mixed with my first trimester morning sickness, meat became an off limits affair. So, between the kidney stones and hormones, I decided to raise my daughter land animal free.

Many many many people would tend to disagree with me on this, however there was something that I read that really stuck me on why not to feed my daughter meat. When introducing meat into their developing diets, it can cause serious stomach cramping, digestive issues and nausea. I just could not do it. All the signs where there to not do this, so I haven't.

To be clear, this is how I do things and would never tell other parents what they should or should not be doing in their own homes. A lot of my recipes can have meat added to them very easily, I just choose not to do so in my home.

One of the places where not eating meat can be difficult socially is the lunch box. I remember going to school and everyone would pull out their He-Man and Barbie lunch boxes to compare all the neatly wrapped goodies. And there was always the "weird' kid whose mother would constantly embarrass him, by sending him to school with a paper lunch bag filled with apple slices and peanut butter. Not the cool pre-packaged, assemble your self lunch kits. I look back on that and think, man did his mother get it right. Apples and peanut butter are awesome, but not when you are a kid trying to fit in. I always think about that when I pack my daughter's lunch for school. So, I have devised ways to make the food fun, interesting and what all the other kids would want in the timeless lunchtime food swap. Also, it is the best way to save money. Whenever you buy those lunch kits, you are paying for the packaging, which is wasteful on your budget and mother nature.

Even if you do eat meat and your kids eat meat, these are some fun ideas for a meatless lunch day. Cheers!

Humus and mixed greens pinwheels 

  • One large whole grain tortilla
  • Humus spread, homemade or bought, does not matter. 
  • Mixed greens washed well.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
Take large tortilla and spread the humus in a generous layer. Sprinkle mixed greens over the humus and then ad the salt and pepper. Wrap the tortilla up in a burrito style and seal the edge with a little more humus so it stays together. Cut the wrap into pinwheels and place in cool container for lunch. 

Broccoli cream pasta salad
  • 1/4 cup of sour cream
  • Four broccoli "trees" steamed till soft.
  • Pinch of garlic powder
  • Italian blend cheese
  • Olive oil
  • Penne pasta noodles
Boil noodles until soft, then drain and rinse off any extra starch. In small skillet, combine olive oil and sour cream until perfectly blended. Then in a blender or processor, pour the oil/cream mixture in with the cheese, garlic and broccoli. Process until the broccoli has been broken up into tiny green dots. Add the cream mixture to the penne, mix and store in the fridge over night, place into once again, cool container and send off with your little ones. The broccoli is high in fiber and will sustain your child threw the rest of the school day. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day

I have to admit that in my twenties, Valentine’s Day was not my favorite holiday. I know that I really loved it as a child, but at some point my pessimism must have set in and my love turned to loathing.

Well, I am happy to report that I am back in the spirit of this fascinating holiday. Just the idea of bringing treats and cards to make a child smile is such a wonderful thought. I love how happy kids get when they receive their Valentine cards, candy and small presents.

My wonderful husband Robert took over bath time detail tonight and I poured myself a glass of wine and begun the task of assembling the treat bags for Amelia’s class. The idea of receiving these little bags of treats and heart-shaped stickers really fired up my creative juices.

I have been searching for earth-friendly, healthy and creative ideas for this Valentine’s Day and I have to say that there is a movement out there to create better and more handmade treats and gifts. Here is an idea I had for an interesting treat to put in your child’s Valentine’s card or to share with the classroom. While this may not be the most wholesome recipe I have posted, it does use fresh fruit and cuts out and preservatives and icky foreign packaging. It is made from your heart and therefore is always good for your child.

Candied Oranges and Cranberries

  • One orange per person
  • ¼ cup dried cranberries
  • ½ stick of unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup of granulated sugar
  • One tsp of good vanilla
  • One tsp of fresh cinnamon

In a large skillet melt unsalted butter until it coats the entire pan. Pour your pealed and sectioned oranges and dried cranberries in. Combine your sugar and cinnamon and then pour on top of the orange and cranberry fruit. Let the heat caramelize your sugar and butter over the fruit. Let the fruit sit over the heat for about 7-10 minutes until soft and golden. In the last minute of cooking, add your vanilla.

Place on paper towel and let cool for 30 minutes. Sprinkle a little sugar over the fruit and then place in the refrigerator over night. You will have a delicious candy alternative that is bright and colorful. You can place these treats in pretty bags and tie with a pink and red ribbon. Voila you have your Valentine’s Day candy! And if you are extra adventuress, you can dip the oranges in melted dark chocolate. Let cool for 10 minutes in the refrigerator and the chocolate will be firm. Yummy! 


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Brunch,.. not just for adults.

Have you noticed lately how brunch is really taking off in the "foodie" world? Brunch in the South has always been the meal after church, the meal where family and friends can sit and talk over a combination of sweets, savories and of course mimosas! However, lately I have noticed that brunch has become much more than the traditional Sunday family get together. It is a culinary explosion of so many different takes on classics. One of my favorites is the calorie busting "French vanilla crème brulee French toast" YUM!

I love the idea of brunch. You never spend this meal with people you dislike. No this meal is very special and needs to be shared with the ones you love. For us parents out there, it can also be a wonderful morning to share with your little ones. A meal of tasty treats that can be prepared with your kids in the kitchen. My suggestion is you turn off the TV, computer, phones and any other device that would damper the ability to communicate face-to-face. Wake up, make some coffee, tea or juice (heck all of them) and start exploring this very versatile meal.

Here is a menu that we love in our household. Hope you enjoy your Sunday tomorrow and remember no need to spend a tone of money here, just a tone of love.

Brunch Menu:

Drinks: Coffee, fresh grapefruit juice sparkling cocktail and razzmatazz fizzy for the kids.

Grapefruit juice cocktail:

One large grapefruit squeezed one split of Italian Prosecco.  

(Prosecco is less expensive than California sparkling wine or French Champagne)

A splash of orange juice (fresh or bottled) 

 Pour into champagne flutes and enjoy! 

Razzmatazz Fizzy: 

One can of your favorite lime flavored sparkling water

Cranberry/raspberry juice (not cocktail, it is icky with corn syrup)

Pour juice into nice cup first, followed by your sparkling water and garnish with a raspberry and let the kids have a healthy but fancy alternative to soda.

First course:

Cranberry orange mini pancakes, garnished with mint whipped crème

  • One cup all purpose flower
  • One cup whole milk
  • One Egg
  • One tsp of orange extract
  • ½ cup of dried cranberries (you can choose to rehydrate them for a more moist pancake)
  • Orange zest
  • Mix wet ingredients first then add the dry.
  • Cook on griddle till golden brown
  • Half pint of heaving whipping cream
  • ¼ cup of confectioners sugar
  • One tsp of mint extract
  • Whip in mixer until stiff garnish the pancake with a dollop and mint leaf to be extra fancy!

Second course:

Seasonal Fruit Salad:

Be creative! Pick fruits that are in season, cube them and serve!

Third course:

Spinach, mushroom and red pepper egg scramble:

The egg ration depends on the size of your family. The general rule, two eggs per adult, one egg per child.

  • Fresh or frozen spinach
  • One cup mushrooms
  • One red bell pepper
  • Pinch of salt and pepper
  • ¼ cup milk or milk alternative
  • Beat in a large bowl until all the ingredients are well incorporated.
  • Get your skillet nice and hot and make sure the butter has melted nicely, but has not turned brown.
  • Pour the egg mixture into the hot skillet and then with a good spatula start scrambling the eggs.
  • Serve and enjoy!