Foodbuzz 24×24: Atlanta Food Blogger Bake Sale

On May 14, 2011, I had the pleasure and privilege to join a number of talented food bloggers, bakers and baked-good enthusiasts  at Phipps Plaza in Atlanta, Georgia for the second annual Atlanta Food Bloggers Bake Sale.
Coordinated by Tami Hardeman of Running With Tweezers, The Atlanta Food Bloggers Bake Sale was part of the larger National Food Bloggers Bake Sale, organized by Gaby Dalkin of What’s Gaby Cooking.  From the National Press Release:  “‘The second annual National Food Bloggers Bake Sale is a great opportunity for food bloggers across the country to come together, showcase our baked goods and help give back to our local communities.’ says Gaby ‘It also allows us the opportunity to meet our readers face to face and have them experience all of the baked goods they constantly see on our blogs and websites and create an awesome food blogging community in our respective states!’

Continue reading “Foodbuzz 24×24: Atlanta Food Blogger Bake Sale”

Sharing

Lime Cupcakes waiting to be baked

Here is what I know:

There are bad things in this world.  Bad things and bad people.

But I also know that there are good things and really good people.  And sometimes, more often than seems fair or right, bad things happen to those good people.

I have some friends that are going through some terrible things right now.  And my heart breaks for them.  But they are handling themselves with grace and they are moving through those terrible things and I know they will come out on the other side victorious – whatever that may look like.  And while I’d like to take away the things that are hurting them, I know that I can’t.  All I can do is try to share their burden and offer them a shoulder or a chat and a cup of coffee when they need it.

Then there are people in this world, innocent people, who are suffering.  Children who are hungry.  Not by choice, but by circumstance.  And those children deserve a chance at a better life, a healthier life.

This week, I’ve been baking in preparation for the 2011 Atlanta Food Blogger Bake Sale.  My kitchen is covered in a heavy dusting of flour and my refrigerator has been taken over by half-sheet cake boxes full of cupcakes.  My family hasn’t eaten a truly home-cooked meal in over a week (tonight was the closest we came, and that was boxed spaghetti and jarred sauce).  But all of that is okay, because this bake sale is for a very important cause.  While its true that my family may not have eaten terribly well this week, they still ate – three meals a day every day.  All of the proceeds from tomorrow’s sale benefit Share our Strength and their efforts to end childhood hunger in America by 2015.

Continue reading “Sharing”

>Light

>

As I was sitting in a line of cars at a stoplight today, contemplating the ingredients I needed to purchase at the store to make this pizza, I was confronted by the stark reality of hunger and homelessness.
There, in my warm car, with the radio in the background, I was struck by the sight of a young couple on the side of the road.  They could have been anyone – you, me, our neighbors.  The were a little dirty, a little ragged, but they weren’t that different from anyone else you might pass on the street.  She was  quite pretty, sitting off to the side, holding a sign that said “Traveling folk, hungry and broke.  Every little bit helps, even a smile.”  He was standing closer to the line of traffic, with a sign that read, “Mama said there’d be days like this.”  
As we sat there, those of us warm and safe in our cars, I started to see windows go down, and hands reach out with folded bills, waving toward the couple.  The young man would walk over, smile, say a couple of words and take the offered funds.  I sat there wishing I had a few dollars to give them.  I watched the exchanges, and I smiled as he walked in front of my car, hoping it would count for something.  As the light turned green, and I drove on, I realized I was crying – tears streaming down my face.  They were tears of sorrow for the couple and for their circumstance, but they were also tears of joy and thankfulness for my own family and our circumstance.  
Don’t think I wasn’t struck by the irony of the situation.  There I was, wondering whether I should stop at Kroger for mozzarella cheese and just use the domestic parmesan I had at home, or drive the extra distance to Harry’s for buffalo mozzarella and Parmigiano Reggiano, while at the same time this couple sat wondering where their next meal was going to come from.   

Last week I had the privilege of participating in a virtual progressive holiday dinner party called  Share our Holiday Table along with 70 or so other bloggers in an effort to raise awareness and funds for Share our Strength.  That event has come to an end, but that doesn’t mean that Share our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign is over.  If you are like me, and find yourself with a little bit extra this holiday season, consider donating to this worthy cause.  There are so many families who are struggling – to keep the lights on, to pay their bills, to put gas in their cars.  And yes, there are millions of families struggling to feed their children.  
In light of what I’d just encountered, I chose to go the less expensive route and stop into Kroger for some fresh domestic mozzarella.  While I was there, I found some white mushrooms that had been marked down to $.99, so I bought those too.
One of the things that Share our Strength does is teach families how to cook healthy meals on a restricted budget.  I attended a volunteer orientation for their Cooking Matters program about a month ago, and I was struck by the care and planning that has gone into the curriculum for the courses that they offer.  They don’t just give people meal plans and send them on their way, they take the time to explain why one ingredient is better than another (even if it might cost a bit more).  For instance, they explain that buying whole wheat pasta instead of regular pasta will save you money in the long run, even if it costs more right now.  Why?  Because you don’t have to eat as much of it to feel full – it stays with you longer, because it takes your body more time to process.  And it contains more nutrients.  So even if it costs $.50 more per box, you’ll be able to stretch that box much further than you would a box of pasta made with non-whole-wheat flour.
This pizza I made for dinner tonight is a great example of that.  It has a whole-wheat crust, fresh tomato sauce, and uses a small amount of flavorful cheese and pepperoni.  For two pizzas, the cost was less than $9.  And we had leftovers.  Even Little Caesar’s is more expensive than that.

This is the first in a series of posts that explores cooking healthfully on a restricted budget.  The hope is to show that even people who have limited funds can afford to feed their families quality food without relying on overly processed mixes or fast-food restaurants.  The cost breakdowns are based on what my local grocery store is currently charging for a particular ingredient.  For instance, below you’ll see whole-wheat flour as an ingredient.  A 5 lb. bag of whole-wheat flour costs approximately $3 at my grocery store.  There are about 20 cups of flour in a 5 lb. bag, so to figure out how much 2 3/4 cups of flour would cost I divided 20 by 2.75, which was about 7.3.  I then divided 3 by 7.3, and came up with about .4, or 40 cents for 2 3/4 cups flour.

I know that this is more trouble than many people are going to want to go to on a Friday night after a busy week.  The point is to show that it can be done, if you choose to take the time.  I managed this after a full day at work, with two small children playing at my feet.  My husband was stuck in typical Friday afternoon rush-hour traffic, so it was just me and the kids until he got home around 6:45.  At that point, we all piled in the car and ate pizza and then drank hot chocolate while we drove around and looked at Christmas lights.  It was an inexpensive evening, but it was quality family time and I felt good about what we were eating (well, except maybe for the hot chocolate).

As we drove around, eating our pizza and happily pointing out the twinkling light displays, I couldn’t help but notice that there were fewer this year than in years past.  Whether it’s because people are trying to conserve energy or funds, I don’t know, but I suspect it’s more the latter.  We did pass a number of houses with lines of cars out front, evidence of holiday parties in full swing.  And we glimpsed quite a few lit Christmas trees peeking through parted drapes.  The celebration and the true meaning of the season continue, even if the lavish light displays have been downsized.  What I thought about most as we traveled the neighborhood streets was that couple, and the displays of generosity I’d witnessed sitting in my car in front of a different set of lights earlier in the day.  And I was thankful.

Whole wheat pizza dough
prep time: 10 minutes
rest time: 15 minutes
bake time: 5 minutes, then 10 minutes
yields: 2 12-inch crusts
Ingredients
1/4 cup water ($.0)
1 package or 1 Tablespoon instant yeast ($.50)
2 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour ($.40)
1 Tablespoon sugar ($.01)
1 teaspoon salt ($.01)
1 Tablespoon oil ($.10)
1 cup warm water ($.0)
Total cost: $1.02
  1. Preheat oven to 425F
  2. Combine 1/4 cup warm water and yeast and set aside for 5 minutes or so.
  3. Combine Flour, sugar and salt
  4. Add 1 cup water, oil and yeast mixture. Stir to combine.
  5. Turn dough out on floured surface and knead until dough forms a smooth, elastic ball
  6. Divide dough in half, form two balls, and cover with a damp cloth.  
  7. Let rest for 15 minutes or so while you prepare the rest of your ingredients.
  8. Roll dough out on a floured surface until it is 12-inches in diameter and 1/4 inch thick
  9. Bake for 5 minutes on a lightly greased cookie sheet, just until crust starts to bubble
  10. Top with sauce and toppings of your choice, and bake directly on oven rack for 10 minutes more.

Tomato sauce
prep time: 0 minutes
cook time: 10 minutes

Ingredients
1/2 pint grape tomatoes ($1.50)
1 carrot, grated ($.30)
1/4 medium onion, diced ($.25)
1/4 cup water ($.0)
pinch salt
Total cost: $2.05

  1. Combine tomatoes, carrot, onion and salt in a saucepan over medium heat
  2. With a fork or a potato masher, crush the tomatoes
  3. Cook mixture until tomatoes start to release their liquid
  4. Add water.  Using the fork or masher, mash the mixture until it is well combined and relatively homogeneous
  5. Remove from the heat

To assemble the pizza

  1. Spread thin layer of sauce on par-baked crusts
  2. Top each crust with 1 oz. of parmesan cheese ($.50 per pizza, total $1.00)
  3. Slice 8 oz. mozzarella cheese very thin, and space evenly on pizzas ($3.50)
  4. Top with 17 slices of turkey pepperoni (I actually used some homemade pepperoni that I had in my freezer, but turkey pepperoni works just as well – cost for turkey pepperoni: $.75).
  5. Thinly slice 4 mushrooms and spread evenly over top of the pizza ($.30)
  6. I added thinly sliced red pepper to my pizza, which would add another dollar or so to the cost if you chose to do that.
  7. Bake at 425F for 10 minutes, or until cheese is brown and bubbly and edges of crust are brown and crisp.
While this is quite a bit more work than stopping at Little Caesar’s or Papa John’s, it is certainly better for you, and slightly less expensive.  The total cost was just under $9, and it fed four people dinner tonight, and there’s enough for a couple of us to have leftovers for lunch tomorrow.   That’s $1.50 per meal per person.  And I had it ready in just under an hour. 

>Cranberry Glazed Cornish Game Hens with Wild Rice Stuffing

>

A while back, I was doing some research to learn more about organizations that focus their efforts on childhood nutrition education and hunger relief.  I had recently become a featured publisher at Foodbuzz, and through that affiliation was led to the Share our Strength website.  After reading their mission statement and seeing the work that they were doing, I knew I wanted to help where I could. 
I started digging around on the Share our Strength website, and I stumbled across a page that listed bloggers that were helping the cause in various ways.  I randomly sent an email expressing interest to the address that was listed as the contact, never expecting to hear anything back. 
A while later, I received an email from a different person  at Share our Strength – evidently they’d had some turnover – asking if I’d be willing to chat by phone  in the near future to discuss ideas and learn more about ways to get involved.  A week or so later, I was chatting with Clay Dunn (half of the duo that write The Bitten Word ), and he was asking my opinion on things like social media marketing, twitter, and ways to get bloggers more involved.  I was flattered, and at the close of the conversation asked him to keep me posted if anything came up in the future that I could help with.  Fast forward a few months, and I got another email from Clay inviting me to join a conference call with him and three other bloggers to discuss a holiday progressive dinner idea that was being floated around.  
What resulted from that conversation, and various and sundry email chains following, was Share our Holiday Table – a collection of 70-plus bloggers coming together to share their favorite holiday recipes. All in an effort to raise awareness and funds for Share our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign.  I hope you’ll choose to help them end childhood hunger in America by 2015.
 The idea behind this progressive dinner is that there are 7 courses, and each day a different course will be represented.  We’ve already done appetizers, drinks, salads and soups, and today we’re enjoying our entrees.  For a complete list of the bloggers that have already posted, along with everyone who’s posting today, you can scroll down to the bottom of this post.


I signed up to do a family-friendly entree.  The minute I put my name in that slot, I started fretting.  Family-friendly entree – what does that mean?

I’m not exactly known for making what are traditionally considered kid-friendly meals.  Our kids eat what we eat, so the notion of “family-friendly” for us might be completely different from what it is for someone else.
Even so, I figured I could come up with something.  Ultimately, I decided on cornish game hens.  Who doesn’t love a tiny chicken?  And kids love food that’s just their size.
Cranberry Glazed Cornish Game Hens with Wild Rice Stuffing
prep time: 30 minutes
cook time: 1 to 1 1/2 hours, depending on size of hens
serves 4-6
Ingredients
4 small game hens
1 jar cranberry sauce
8 oz. wild rice
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup port
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup diced celery
2 cups chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste
  1. Begin by making the stuffing.
  2. Bring 2 cups chicken stock to a boil.  Add the wild rice and cook just until the grains start to burst
  3. Heat port in a microwave-safe dish in the microwave for about a minute.  Pour over dried cranberries and let steep, covered, to soften and absorb some of the port (if you think about it, you can do this overnight and the cranberries will become even more flavorful – don’t worry, the alcohol cooks out).
  4. Melt butter in a saute pan over medium heat.  Add the diced celery and saute until translucent.
  5. Add the cooked rice and the drained cranberries (reserve the soaking liquid – you’ll need it later).
  6. Add a little bit of the chicken stock from cooking the rice.  Stir everything together and cook until the chicken stock has evaporated.
  7. Set this mixture aside to cool (I stuck mine in the freezer for a bit while I prepared the hens).
  8. Preheat your oven to 350F
  9. Remove the hens from their packaging, remove any innards, and pat the skin dry.
  10. Place them in a baking dish.
  11. Spoon the cooled stuffing into the cavities
  12. Liberally salt and pepper the skin of the hens
  13. Bake in the center of your preheated oven
  14. For the glaze – empty your cranberry sauce into a sauce pan set over medium heat.  Add a bit of the port to thin it some.  Heat it just enough to loosen it up a bit, so you can brush it onto the hens.
  15. After the hens have been in the oven for 15 minutes, brush the cranberry glaze onto the surface of the hens.
  16. Repeat this every 15 minutes or so, until hens are done cooking.
  17. Remove hens from oven when internal temperature of stuffing reaches 180F on a probe thermometer.
The verdict in my house was that the hens were very moist and tender and the skin was flavorful.  My 5-year-old begrudgingly ate the wild rice stuffing, explaining that he thought the cranberries were “strange”.  My husband also admitted that he isn’t really a fan of wild rice.  I, on the other hand, thought that it was all quite good.  The rice that was fully encased in the cavity of the bird was very tender and moist (the stuff that was fully exposed to the heat of the oven got a bit dry and crispy, so you might consider covering it with foil or something to avoid that situation).  I served it over some brown risotto with mushrooms and peas (the contrast between the wild rice and the risotto was nice).
Here are the other participants and their courses:
December 6: Appetizers
Gourmet

Family Friendly

Vegetarian

Gluten Free


December 7:
Drinks
Gourmet

Family Friendly

Vegetarian

Gluten Free


December 8:
Salads
Gourmet

Family Friendly

Vegetarian

Gluten Free


December 9:
Soup
Gourmet

Family Friendly

Vegetarian

Gluten Free

December 10: Entrees
Gourmet

Family Friendly

Vegetarian

Gluten Free

>Hunger

>

I’ve been thinking on this for a while.  Thinking, praying, debating, whatever you want to call it – I’ve been doing it for months (even years) now.
I don’t really know what to do with it or where I’m going with it, but I feel like I need to write about it.
I have become peripherally involved with an organization called Share our Strength, and they have a mission to end childhood hunger in America by 2015.  That’s a pretty big goal, but I don’t think it’s unattainable.  I’m trying to help where I can – I started by committing to donate a portion of the proceeds from this blog to them  I also took their No Kid Hungry Pledge and am brown bagging it on November 10.
This Thursday, I’m attending Caketails for a Cause at Bloomingdales in Lenox Mall here in Atlanta, which benefits Share Our Strength’s Great American Bakesale initiative.  I’m also signed up to participate in their holiday potluck-style blogathon called Share our Holiday Table this December.  Additionally, I’ve signed up to take a volunteer training course with our local Operation Fronline (now known as Cooking Matters) affiliate.
 
 All of that to say, I think this is an important problem.  One that I want to do something about. 

I don’t want this post to become political, as I tend to avoid volatile subjects on this blog.  I mean, I write about food, not politics or social issues.  However, when those things collide, sometimes you have to take a stand.
The reality of the situation is there are millions of children in this great country of ours who are hungry.  Children who were brought into this world without a choice, but who deserve a chance at a happy and healthy life. 
And the parents, guardians, caretakers of those children deserve an opportunity to learn how to provide an environment that will foster that happy and healthy life.
Last year, I took some time off from work so that I could spend time at home with my oldest child while he recovered from open heart surgery.  During that time, my husband and I lived on his income alone.  Just out of curiosity, I did some research (this was during the health-care debates that were at the forefront of American politics at the time) and discovered that we weren’t too far above the cutoff for being eligible to receive Medicaid benefits for our children.
Now, we’re fortunate to have health-care through my husband’s job (and through mine, now that I’m working full-time again) so this research was purely to satisfy my own curiosity.  However, the research into Medicaid led to a similar inquiry regarding food stamps.
I’m going to take a moment here to insert a disclaimer.  I am not going to advocate for or against government sponsored social programs on this blog.  I am taking a purely observational point of view here.  The reality is that there are millions of Americans receiving these benefits (35.5 million per month in 2009, according to the statistics on the Share our Strength website), and I believe the only way for the programs to be successful (and for people to eventually graduate from them, which I would hope would be the goal) is for someone to take the initiative to teach people how to survive, and even thrive, within the limitations of the system.
This means teaching people how to use the resources that they do have to purchase the most healthful foods that they can, and then showing them how to prepare those foods within the time limits that they face due to their work schedules, children’s activities, and transportation limitations.
I recognize that it also means making sure that those people have access to affordable fresh food options in their neighborhoods, which means working with grocers, food distributors, and local growers and farmers to ensure that access.  This is not a problem that will be solved in one day. 
The maximum food-stamp (or SNAP as it is called now) benefit available for a family of four is $680 in Georgia.  Now, this gets quickly reduced depending on your actual income, how much you pay for rent, how much you pay for child care and so forth.  I’ve looked at a number of different sources (from other blogs, to Share our Strength, to the state family services site), and from what I can find the average is about $4 per day per person.  So, for a family of four, this would be about $480 per month.
I did find it interesting that the government expects that you will use 30% of your residual income (after taxes, rent, childcare) to supplement your food-related buying – they don’t expect you to be solely dependent on the program.  Whether this ends up happening is another matter altogether.
I plan to do a series of posts focusing on healthy cooking and eating on a restricted budget.  This will include sourcing inexpensive kitchen equipment to make the job easier, since I don’t expect that those people feeding their families on a food-stamp budget have access to a Kitchen-Aid mixer with a meat-grinder attachment or to a food processor.  It occurs to me that many of these folks might not even have knives or pots and pans.  It’s possible that some of them don’t even have access to a fully functioning kitchen, so that poses another challenge altogether. 
Additionally, I’m issuing a challenge to other Georgia food bloggers to join me in January for a week of meal planning and execution on a food-stamp budget.  This has been done in other parts of the country (I know that a number of bloggers in Austin, TX participated in a Hunger Awareness Blog Project back in April of this year), but I don’t believe we’ve done it here.  If someone has already done something like this, well then let’s do it again.  The goal here is to show how difficult it can be to feed a family healthfully on a restricted budget, but to also show that it can be done (because I believe it can).
What I’d eventually like to see happen through all of this (my dream, if you will) is for small communities of like-minded people to come together to help end hunger in their own neighborhoods.  It used to be if your neighbor was hungry, you went down into your cellar and brought up a can of beans and some potatoes (or whatever you might have had extra) and you shared it with him.  It’s time that we got back to those days – the days when we saw someone in need and did something about it.  I live in one of the most affluent areas of metro-Atlanta, and yet our local food pantry is constantly putting out emergency calls for donations.  Rather than relying on government programs to solve the problem (and again, I’m not advocating for or against, I’m just saying it can’t be the only answer), we have to start helping each other.  I believe it takes individuals reaching out a helping hand to other individuals to truly make a difference. 
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.  And, if you are an Atlanta-area or Georgia food blogger (or even in a neighboring state) and would like to join me in a Hunger Awareness Blog Challenge in January, let me know.