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WND – Is It Spring Yet?

March 12, 2009

garlic-rosemary

At least half the time I find the wives of the presidential candidates more interesting than the actual candidates. I thought that Theresa Heinz Kerry and Elizabeth Dole were much more dynamic personalities than John Kerry or Bob Dole, which possibly has something to do with why neither of them won an election. While I don’t think that Michelle Obama is more interesting than her husband, I do think she’s at least as interesting as the President. Given the amount of media attention on her, I don’t think I’m the only person who feels this way. And just to say, if I had biceps that looked like hers I would wear sleeveless dresses too, even in March.

The latest article about her in the New York Times is about her agenda for healthy eating – with an entertaining aside about how even when it’s prepared by the White House chef 8 year olds just aren’t excited about spinach. I completely feel her daughter’s pain, I didn’t get excited about spinach until I was in college and realized that it came in shapes other than pureed and frozen in bricks*. The article talked about how not only was she using locally grown, organic produce at the White House**, but that part of her agenda for healthy eating was to try and extend access to that kind of food to low income families. She started by spotlighting a local DC drop-in center for the homeless called Miriam’s Kitchen which only serves fresh food – nothing canned or processed. She served lunch there, and brought with her eight cases of fresh fruit donated by White House employees. I have to imagine that when the new First Lady casually mentions that she’d like to run a fresh food drive at the White House, everyone turns up the next day with fruit and vegetables.

A couple of years ago four Congressmen challenged their colleagues to live for a week on food stamps to highlight how difficult it was, and to raise awareness for the reauthorization of the Farm Bill, which includes the Food Stamp program. Shamefully almost nobody took them up on their challenge. The few who did blogged about it (of course), and one of the things that they highlighted most was how much they missed fresh food.

I’ve thankfully never had to try and really strictly budget my grocery bill – I don’t buy blueberries in January at Whole Foods, but I also don’t have to worry about the price of apples. However, I do know that more than half of my grocery bill every week is spent on fruits and vegetables. Even the mass produced, wildly tasteless peaches and tomatoes that you can get at your local grocery store are expensive. They are a luxury item that I tend to take for granted.

Earlier this year the President called for a 13% increase in the national Food Stamp budget (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, aka SNAP), as part of his economic stimulus package. To try and understand what this would mean in real term Sean Callebs, a CNN reporter, challenged himself to live on Food Stamps (at the then current rate) for a month. He contacted the Department of Social Services in his home state of Louisiana and determined that the maximum an individual can receive is $176 for a month of groceries. He also (of course) blogged about it. His biggest take away from that month was that the amount of thought and effort it took to successfully live on $176 was exhausting, and that while he had managed it he’d also had an end date and that he couldn’t imagine doing it for months or years.

When the stimulus package was passed it included $19.9 billion in funds for SNAP, $150 million to help fund and refill food banks, $100 million for programs like Meals on Wheels, and $100 million for free school lunch programs.

I’m not Catholic, but I’ve always appreciated the motivating sentiment of Lent. Current Catholic teachings suggest that rather than giving up something for Lent, you should instead give something for Lent. Not just money, but something that costs you in terms of your time and your attention. We’re about halfway through Lent at this point so I’m a little late to make a Lenten commitment. Then again despite two stints at Catholic schools and a sneaking fondness for Catholic pomp and circumstance, I’m firmly rooted in the Protestant ethos, so it shouldn’t really matter. So, I’ll make a Lenten commitment to buying more local, seasonal products even if that means going out of my way to do it. And, I’ll make a commitment to finding a way to donate fresh foods to local area food banks. Because I’m lucky; I don’t love my job, but I have a job and every time I open up the newspaper I’m reminded of for how many people this is no longer true.

* It was my mother’s last minute vegetable. It came chopped, pureed and frozen in briquettes. She’d throw two or three in the microwave, and voila! instant vegetable. Apart from the fact that it was flavored with nothing – no garlic, no olive oil, no salt, no pepper – the real problem was that it made this plopping sound as it slid off the spoon and on to your plate. I can say with perfect sincerity that it is one of the only things my mother has ever made that I still find revolting, even ten years after the fact.

** This is actually not a new phenomenon at the White House. Laura Bush also insisted on fresh organic food in the White House kitchen, she just didn’t publicize the fact.

Grilled Chicken with Greek Spices
Roasted Potatoes
Asparagus
Salad

Grilled Chicken with Greek Spices

I marinated the chicken overnight in some olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and Greek spices. Then I threw it on a grill pan to cook.

The wonders of Greek spices previously cited:  Not Leftover Turkey

chicken-composite

Roasted Potatoes
Potatoes are the comfort food of the Western world. Mashed, fried, roasted, scalloped, everyone has a favorite preparation – except for a former co-worker of mine who admitted that he just didn’t like potatoes and immediately had half the office clustered around him asking in hushed horrified tones, “but what about mashed, or scalloped, or French fries?” Turns out, he really just didn’t like potatoes in any shape, size or format, which is beyond weird but at least has the virtue of logical consistency. I’d be hard pressed to settle on just one form of potatoes as my favorite, but this week it’d definitely be potatoes cut into a small dice to make sure there’s as much surface area as possible to get crispy, and then roasted with lots of garlic and fresh rosemary.

cooked-potatoes

Potatoes (white, Yukon gold, baking, red – whatever floats your boat)
Garlic
Rosemary (or thyme)
Olive Oil
Salt/Pepper

I use one medium potato per person, plus an extra potato ‘for the pot’ for ever 6 people served (for 6 people, I’d use 7 potatoes – for 10 people I’d use 11 largish potatoes) .

Unless you’re using baking potatoes there isn’t any real need to peel your potatoes, but you can if you prefer. Cut the potatoes into an even dice – the smaller the dice the faster they’ll cook, but really what you want is for all the pieces to be about the same size so they all cook at the same time. I did about a ½” dice.

Mince a vampire defeating amount of garlic. I used about 2 heads of garlic last night, although they were small heads of garlic with small cloves.

Chop 1-2 Tbsp of rosemary (to taste). Sprinkle garlic and rosemary over potatoes, and season generously with salt and pepper. Douse with 3-4 Tbsp olive oil and toss the potatoes to evenly coat them with all the seasonings. Spread the potatoes out into one layer on a sheet pan, and roast in a 425 oven for about 35-40 minutes, turning the once.

potatoes-composite

Asparagus
Still wildly out of season here in Massachusetts, but we’ve reached the stage of winter where it’s almost Spring and Mother Nature is taunting us with 50 degree weekends followed by snow on Monday, and if I thought it would help I might be tempted to commit homicide for some locally grown, sun ripened fruit that wasn’t an apple.

asparagus

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4 comments

  1. You know, the Asparagus Festival will be returning to Stockton in April. It’s one of the few (very few) reasons I miss Stockton and am willing to return. You should come! The Tubes will be playing at the Main Stage! It’s one in a million (she’s a beauty)!


  2. Eva, we should go! I’m totally down with an Asparagus Festival. Stocktons not tooo far.


  3. Woohoo! We totally should. The Tubes are playing on Sunday, April 26th at 4pm. I basically spend the day in the shade (what shade there is) listening to music, eating Lockford Sausages, and contemplating getting in the fried asparagus line, then deciding not to. Very low key, but fun. Email if you want to go. ^_^


  4. […] Recipe previously given: Is It Spring Yet? […]



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