June 2010 Archives

Eat This!™ Summer Campers Operate One Day Market, Thursday, July 1

Gracie Cavnar
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Recipe for Success Foundation's Eat This!™ Summer Campers have spent the month of June learning all about how food is marketed to Americans.  Now they can spot the difference between promotion and facts, read and interpret food labels, and sort their way through compelling advertising and packaging to figure out just which commercial foods are good for them.  Now they have put their new knowledge to work and developed their own healthy food products with produce picked straight from their gardens, which they will sell at their own special market at school.

On Thursday, July 1 between 12:30 and 2:00 stop by and visit these 4th and 5th graders and buy their fabulous seasonal snacks along with an abundant array of fresh picked produce.

Markets will operate at Briscoe Elementary (in the Lawndale area), Mac Gregor Elementary (in Mid-Town), NQ Henderson (near Finnegan Park) and Sylvan Rodriguez (in Gulfton.)  Come early before everything is gone!  Students plan to purchase a permanent amenity for their Recipe Gardens as a lasting legacy of their experience.  See https://www.recipe4success.org/schools.html for details of Recipe for Success Foundation programming at each of these schools.

An Advisory Panel for 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans Issues Their Report. Message for Americans: Cut back on salt, fat and sugar

Gracie Cavnar
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Obesity is "the single greatest threat to public health in this century," an expert panel declared in a report Tuesday that urges Americans to slash calories and increase their physical activity.The report calls for many changes in the food environment, including:

  • Improve nutrition literacy and cooking skills, and motivate people, especially families with children, to prepare healthy foods at home.

  • Improve the availability of affordable fresh produce through greater access to grocery stores, produce trucks and farmers' markets.

  • Encourage restaurants and the food industry to offer health-promoting foods that are low in sodium; limited in added sugars, refined grains and solid fats; and served in smaller portions.

At Recipe for Success Foundation, we are working hard on the first two recommendations, with great success.  Our Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education Program™ introduces children to healthy food in fun experiential ways that change their eating patterns for life, and Hope Farms will supply fresh healthy produce to Houston neighborhoods that are marooned in food deserts.  See www.recipe4success.org for more information.

USDA backs rewarding schools serving healthy food

Gracie Cavnar
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This is great news for all of us working to improve school lunches.  Read the full story HERE.

Hasty's Tasty BBQ Throwdown was a big hit and fitting finale to the 2010 We're Cooking Now! Gala in Small bites

Gracie Cavnar
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This week's Profile: Gracie Cavnar's food revolution goes to Hope

Gracie Cavnar
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This week's Profile: 
Gracie Cavnar's food revolution goes to Hope


By Sarah Rufca
June 17th, 2010 at 10:35 AM
Before there was Jamie Oliver, there was Gracie Cavnar.

Starting Recipe for Success in Houston in 2003, Cavnar was an early proponent of bringing healthy food and food awareness to children in school. Her passion for this cause and the future of Recipe for Success are the subject of this week's Profile (10:30 tonight and 11 p.m. Friday night on Channel 8, Houston PBS) with host Greg Scheinman.

"Gracie is pretty much leading the charge against childhood obesity through her Recipe For Success Foundation," Scheinman says. "The cool thing about it is it's not out there preaching -- it's about changing the way children understand and appreciate their food in a fun and interactive way.
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Houston Dynamos Run for Recipe July 24

Gracie Cavnar
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Recipe for Success foundation and 1-2-3 Salad

dragana
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Ever the diligent volunteers, my friend Chantal and I arrived at Sylvan Rodriguez Elementary School to support our new pet project, Recipe for Success.  Founded by philanthropist Gracie Cavnar, Recipe for Success is a non-profit charity that has been active in five fortunate Houston I.S.D. schools for the last four years. 

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The primary goal of RFS is to combat childhood obesity.  Students are taught that nutritious food comes from the ground and not at a drive-thru window or in a sealed plastic bag or box.  The Foundation hopes to increase the students' awareness and appreciation for fresh fruits and vegetables by teaching them how to garden and harvest their crops.  They then use the produce in simple recipes using basic cooking techniques.

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To help inspire the kids, well-known local chefs volunteer their time in the classrooms.  With the help of Houston's own Monica Pope of t'afia, chef participation has grown to include the likes of chefs Randy Evans, Robert Del Grande, David Luna, Randy Rucker, Bryan Caswell, Chris Shepherd, Ryan Pera and many, many more.

Rodriguez Elementary is lucky to have chef Mark Wilson as its full-time instructor.  Here he assists students with the dressing for 1-2-3 Salad.

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A former Broadway actor, musician and playwright, chef Wilson does an excellent job of capturing the students' attention!

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Students took turns at whisking the vinaigrette to the count of 10.  As an added bonus, the ever enthusiastic Chantal, a Belgian Francophile, broke out into her native French and taught the kids to count from 1 - 10!  They also learned a new word - emulsion.  They're not just making any old salad - this is a gourmet salad with balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, feta cheese and walnuts.  Love it!056 v1

At each participating campus, the Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ program uses an organic garden as an outdoor classroom.  This expansive garden at Rodriguez Elementary has about 18 raised beds.  Each grade level is responsible for three of them.  I came away with a bunch of the most beautiful flat-leaf parsley that you will see in my next post.

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Let's see how big this pumpkin can grow!

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These basil plants are setting their seeds.  Here the students learn about perennials and planting from seed. 

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Newly harvested sweet potatoes and delicate lettuce leaves.  Look at the size of those tubers!

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Eggplants!

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Believe it or not, after the dressing was made, there was a mad dash to do the dishes, which I'm sure rarely happens at home!  Chef Dwain, an intern with RFS, prepares sweet, salty, bitter and sour ingredients for a tasting of flavors - and a fancy new word entered their culinary vocabulary:  UMAMI

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The view from the dishwashing stand is to this pretty atrium: bird feeders, a small pond, fruit trees, potted herbs, raised beds, a compost barrel and a busy teacher named Mrs. Silverstone!

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Decorated pots in the atrium.

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This cutie enjoyed sweeping the floor. 

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All in all, the students are exposed to healthy cooking ingredients which have sadly become foreign to many households.   Most students loved the salad and also the feta cheese and asked for more - a sure sign that young palates are much more receptive to delicious and healthy fare than we give them credit for. 

Our beautiful Houston fall weather prompted a fun picnic between the vegetable beds.  Students lined up for a 'wrap' of salad greens served with their own home-made salad dressing served by Mrs. Silverstone and Chantal.  Many came back for more...and more.  It was an encouraging sight!

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This 1-2-3 Salad includes fresh mixed salad greens and is supplemented with nuts, grains, cheese and just a little bit of sugar (in the form of honey in this recipe).  It provides more precious nutrients than the oppressively sweet cereals and processed foods targeted at our school-aged children.

1-2-3 Salad, adapted from the original recipe by chef Monica Pope

4 servings

2 - 3 large handfuls of mixed lettuce (choose a mixture for color, texture and flavor), washed and patted dry on a towel

¼ cup nuts (walnuts, almonds, pecans)

½ cup fruit (dried or fresh)

¼ cup cooked grains or pasta (quinoa, orzo, couscous)

¼ cup cheese (feta, parmesan, blue cheese)

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For the dressing: (use about half of this recipe for 4 people)

1/8 cup balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon honey

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

¼ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Make the dressing by putting balsamic vinegar, honey, mustard, salt and pepper in a bowl. Whisk quickly to combine. Add olive oil, drop by drop, as you whisk the dressing quickly. The dressing will thicken and emulsify and resemble a deep caramel color. Set aside.

To assemble the salad place in a bowl the lettuce mix, nuts, fruit, grains and cheese.  Check the dressing: if it is very thick, add a little lemon juice or water to it.  Add 1/4 cup of dressing and toss to combine all ingredients. Add more dressing, if desired. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, if necessary.

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Childrens Salad

Steph Walker
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Hello readers! I'm not over here standing on a high-horse (more likely an IKEA step stool), but I do have some Mommy-tricks up my sleeve that I hope to share. I love to involve my children Paige and Graham (6) and Evelyn (2) in the meal prep at our house.  

It all starts outside, not in the kitchen! We have an herb/veggie/whatever-Wabash-is-selling garden, too, that we like to putter around in on the weekends, or whenever Houston isn't getting it's second or third freeze of the season. You don't need much space to grow herbs - even an old kitchen colander set outside in a sunny spot will do the trick with a little composty organic dirt and a few choice herbs (try starting with oregano, Italian flatleaf parsley, chives and rosemary for a useful mix)  

My favorite garden centers are Wabash Feed Store, Buchanan's and Thompson+Hansen. Right now we've got blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, herbs, tomatoes and sweet peas growing. We also planted a small orchard that is bursting into flower as I type and the dog is stalking the bees as they work around those buds. 

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Now to the kitchen. Whatever I'm making, we try to incorporate something from our little plot of land. Even if it's just spaghetti night, the kids run out to the oregano and snip a few clips with their school scissors. It is amazing to see their eyes as we sprinkle in the very herbs they grew; they definitely feel more inclined to LOVE what they are eating! The whole neighborhood of children love to come over and munch out of my garden, too, especially if I've got dill or stevia. They help me plant it, and they love to pinch of a leaf and pop it into their mouths. 

Another thing we do around here with consistency is MAKE our own salad dressing. If you've got cheese, oil and vinegar in your fridge and pantry, you really don't need to buy dressing EVER. Did I say cheese? Yes. It makes the dressings a little creamier and takes away some of the bitterness in greens that children sometimes dislike. A word on the cheese: staples like a soft blue, a fresh goat will do the trick, and I love the Houston Dairymaids at the Midtown Market on Saturdays for sourcing good local cheese. So the basics of the dressings are some sort of oil, some kind of vinegar and something to give it body (cheese being our choice, sometime mustard, too) My children like coming up with their own mixtures. Graham likes agave syrup, mustard, oil, rice wine vinegar and herbs. Paige likes to mix up fresh goat cheese olive tapenade, olive oil and white balsamic. Give them a small whisk and let them mix the ingredients into their own emulsion of dreams! Then don't forget their dressing deserves a terrific name conjured up by the little chef. 

Here are some pictures of Evelyn making a simple herb, olive oil and rice wine vinegar dressing for her micro greens from Wood Duck Farms at the Eastside Farmers Market. 
Also, it's good to think beyond the greens -- that "salad" can contain a sprinkling of their favorite berries and nuts for added nutritional bunch. Lately mine have had pine nuts (which they MASH in a Ziploc bag with a meat tenderizer), slivered almonds, sesame seeds and blueberries. Kids love to sprinkle toppings; let them layer it on! 

I don't eat tomatoes

Maya Ford
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"I don't eat tomatoes. Or beans. Or cabbage." Lian tells any guest at the dinner table that. Lian is my 10 year Recipe for Success diva who loves to be adventurous with every other foodie, but me. She stands her ground at home regarding foods that she will and will not eat unless she prepares it herself.  

Her pickiness when I'm in a rush to feed them real food after a full day of work un-nerves me. "Really, Lian? REALLY?! You don't eat tomatoes, but you love to make salsa at school." She looks at me with a secret smile. "I love it when I make it." AHA! So, the secret is to put my ego aside for a moment and realize that this kid's got IT. She's got the foodie bug AND she wants to do the work! How can I say no?  

Raising 3 kids in a junk food free household ain't easy. They are bombarded with faster, cheaper and worse for you alternatives in foods, apparel, technology and social relationships. My goal as a mom who values quality over quantity is to encourage their appeal for long-term satisfaction; and for them to enjoy the process of an emotional, financial, and socially responsible connection with everything they do.  

Lian's personal connection with her food makes my job easy. Because of her hands-on knowledge with food from "seed to plate", she's quite apt at making fantastic decisions about her food choices. She appreciates foods with a variety of colors and textures. She's also hip to what's in a processed food, and while I do find an occasional sugary treat (I call it "kiddie crack") wrapper in the back pack, she often chooses something fresh that she can prepare the way she wants. Her healthy and happy demeanor and outlook on life prove that she's satisfied with being in control of her own foodie world. In our home, an apple a day keeps your momma off your back, so Lian eats that and some oranges.  

The standard has always been that we have a green salad and seasonal fruit salad every night with dinner. Protein and another vegetable are usually on the menu, and vary depending on budget, prep time, and availability. Lian and her sister, Tiye, prepare the two salads nightly. When we find items in the grocery or farmer's market that Lian knows how to prepare, she gets to make those recipes as well.  

My favorite is the quinoa salad that she makes. Of course, I made her recipe once, and she wouldn't touch it. Oh well. I'll have the rest of my life to make it for myself once she's off to college, I guess. Thankfully, so will she!

Julia Casbarian On Lunch

Julia Casabarian
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      OK, I'm going to do a little comparison here:  home cooked meals vs. school lunch.  Recently I had a Girl Scout meeting at my house, and we, meaning the girls in the troop, each had to bring either an appetizer, a main course, or a dessert. The dishes each had to be from a different country, and we were assigned courses according to the alphabet, so we had plenty of each.  It was delicious!!!  For appetizers we started with avocado sushi and labneh, a middle-eastern cheese made with yoghurt, with olive oil and herbs ( ...made by yours truly! My Granny showed me how. Then came the most delicious homemade eggrolls, and tamales.  Main courses were tacos we made ourselves, couscous with dried cranberries and turkey, and pasta with Pesto Genovese.  Dessert was chocolate peanut butter pecans and melon agua fresca. Our around - the - world meal was so healthy but so yummy! It just shows non-believers that healthy food can be great.  If everyone could taste this dinner they would all know what I mean!

      Now, let's take a trip to my school cafeteria during lunch - I know you're probably thinking this will be horrible to contemplate.  Well, aside from the average P B & J, there is a pretty wide selection of greasy and sugary items in the lunch line and in lunch boxes, too.  Pizza is the most popular in the lunch line, so why not make it thin crust with veggie toppings?  People also bring bags of chips, so what about exchanging for baked chips or pita with hummus?  And I'm personally switching from microwave mac-n-cheese to that wonderful couscous Geneva brought to the Scout dinner. 

PS - Over Christmas weekend at my family's restaurant in New Orleans, the chef served an appetizer of chilled raw broccoli stems, peeled and cut like cucumber wedges, with nothing but a little salt.  I thought everyone threw away the stems, but this was fantastic!

Recipe for Success Visits the White House

Gracie Cavnar
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Less than a week after First Lady Michelle Obama launched her Let's Move!  Initiative to eradicate the childhood obesity epidemic, I was sitting in the East Room of the White House with her chef, Sam Kass.  We were visiting about the idea of a national "shout out" to the country's professional chefs.  Something to encourage them to get involved in improving lunches and nutrition education at their neighborhood schools.

Chef Kass had heard good things about Recipe for Success and our Chefs in Schools™ program.  He especially like the way we make it easy for busy professional chefs to just drop into class for an hour, have big impact on kids and get back to work quickly.  Our framework of support takes the burden out of volunteering for 60 of Houston's best chefs and our Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education Program™ for elementary students is delivering impressive results. 

"When are you going to national scale?" was the question I had been fielding all week in meeting after meeting with federal agencies from Department of Education to Department of Agriculture.  And now Chef Kass was asking me, "If I do some sort of event with chefs in May, will you have your national program ready?" WhiteHouse_Kaas.JPG "No. But, we can have it for them by the time school starts in the fall," I assured.  Then I raced home to put our National Affiliate program development into fast forward. It seemed like just a few days after, but it was three months later when Sam and I started playing telephone tag in late-May. We finally connected, as he was climbing on a plane to Chicago for Memorial weekend with the First Family.  "Gracie, come to the White House and bring all your chefs! I'll email you the security forms right now and I need them back by Monday morning."   His call to action--Chefs Move! To Schools would be on June 4. His goal: to fill the South Lawn with white jackets, get the attention of national press, and whip up some excitement.  Imagine the sight!  June 4th--my 58th birthday. 

Was the timing inconvenient? Yes.  Was it going to be expensive? Yes. Was it going to be tough to round up enough folks to participate on such short notice? Yes.  Did I have the time to drop everything and get this organized? No.  Was I going to miss it? Not on your life. 

I have been working on childhood obesity since the mid-nineties, establishing Recipe for Success Foundation in 2005 to launch a school based nutrition education program designed around the volunteer engagement of professional chefs.  Our Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ is now the largest program of its kind in the country--we teach 3050 children each month; and I spend all my time trying to shed light and public awareness on this stealth killer.  Having the First Lady of the United States espouse a national call to action that sounds like it was written from the RFS playbook is like experiencing a lifetime of birthday celebrations rolled into one and handed up on a silver platter.

It took me about 10 minutes to rip out an email to my 24 board members and 60 Chefs Advisory Board members.  Only minutes passed before answers started coming back: Board members Bob Cavnar, Steph Walker and Rick Terry, the first to say yes; then chefs Monica Pope (t'afia) who would bring daughter Lili; Randy Evans (Haven); Michael Kramer (Voice) and Barbara McKnight (Catering by Culinaire) in short order. In an extraordinary act of generosity, Beth Madison decided to postpone her long-planned June 3rd Gala in Small Bites dinner, so that Chef Peter Garcia (El Meson) could join the group.  Then the news that Kiran Verma (Kiran's) would be with us, along with board members Melanie Wilson Lawson and Lucia Hamilton.  Before the sun set, we had our merry band of thirteen ready to roll.

June 4, 7:30 a.m. What a spectacle we are--resplendent as we stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue in our Recipe for Success branded aprons and chef jackets, on our way to a breakfast hosted by Share Our StrengthMonica&Marcus.jpg. Monica, swarmed by the Bravo TV crowd as she enters the room, is our megawatt star.  But not the only one who is recognized.  Everyone is hailing colleagues from all around the country and the air is thick with excitement and celebrity spotting.  Here is Marcus Samuelsson, there Art Smith, over there, Daniel Boulud and Tom Colicchio.   Is that Rachel Ray talking to Cat Cora??   Food Network stars are here in force and huge groups of chefs from IACP, Les Dames Escoffier and other clubs, circulating like large schools of fish.  US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan addresses the group about how important good nutrition is for learning.  Author Janet Poppendieck talks about the problem with school lunch.  Chefs are fired up to help and looking for a way to plug in.
Recipe for Success is definitely the little engine that could.  We are featured in the program on a short list of recommended resource for interested chefs alongside such national heavyweights as Share our Strength, Center for Ecoliteracy, Center for Science in the Public Interest, The Lunch Box, and the First Lady's own Let's Move! website. Our team takes it a step further--our pockets full of RFS information cards that we hand out like candy.

White House security gate opens at 10:30 and we are thinking it would be good to be there early and first in line, so we duck out of the breakfast and scoot across the street. It is already 90 degrees as we cluster outside the gate under a nice shade tree and "glow."  Five minutes later, the line stretches 500 hundred chefs around the block. 
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Chit chat, take pictures, Sam comes out and talks to us. It becomes a game, people coming up to Monica . . ."I know you, weren't we at the xyz Food Festival together?" No. "Didn't we meet at this that or the other place?" No. "Wasn't it . . .?"   Well, maybe you saw me on Top Chef.  "Can I get a picture with you?"  

There is a buzz about Recipe for Success. "These guys make it easy for us to help," brags Randy Evans to a group as he hands out our cards.  Many had heard about us, saw us in the program, or read about us on the Obama Foodarama blog. WhiteHouse6.JPGI feel like The Godfather; chefs are pressing their cards into my hand. "Call me when you are ready for LA . . . .Are you coming to New York? . . . .I'm in Oregon . . . We need this in Miami . . . .Las Vegas is ready to roll, we would like to roll with you."  We are hot in more ways than one.
Finally, security ushers us through the gates and into the famous White House Kitchen Garden.  Everyone mugs among the eggplant and squash takes photos of each other and swelters, waiting until the last moment to peel away from the shade and breezes and take a seat in the blazing sun. 
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Our posse snares row two.  Apparently you have to have a TV show to score the first row.  We'll have to work on that one.  I am right behind Al Smith and we visit about meeting when he was in Houston to speak at the Jr Forum Dinner. We fan ourselves with programs, with promo cards, with the souvenir paper chef toques. We peel off our aprons and hold them overhead for shade.  We make relay runs for water and ice so that no one grabs our primo seats.  And then like a cool gush of fresh air, Michelle Obama walks out and takes the stage.  She is gorgeous and miraculously cool as a cucumber.  Everyone marvels.  She never breaks a sweat.
Mrs. Obama lets everyone else talk first and we politely listen, but it is the First Lady we want to hear and she doesn't let us down.  
WhiteHouse1.JPG Sam Kass & Mrs. Obama.JPG"You know the central role that food plays in the moments that make us happiest. Food is always there, whether it's at a birthday party, or Thanksgiving dinner, or quiet moments with friends. Food is at the core of what makes life wonderful." Mrs. Obama talked about all the reasons chefs should get involved in this issue--all the reasons our 60 chefs are so engaged at Recipe for Success.  They know about the adulation of a 4th  grader; the smiles when a child creates something yummy that brings rave reviews; the energy and excitement that permeates the class when they visit; kids treating them like rock stars.  Who wouldn't want that experience sandwiched with knowing you are doing a good thing--teaching kids to cook, leading them to healthier lives, establishing traditions and routines for a lifetime.  "You can make a salad bar fun -- now, that's something -- and delicious. You can teach kids to cook something that tastes good and is good for them; and share your passion for food in a way that's truly contagious." We know about that. Now Let's MOVE!



We were there on row two . . .

Gracie Cavnar
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