Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Lunch at the Someday School

Percolating idea # 763: my someday school will have an all-school (teachers and students) family-style lunch each day.  That's right.  At big tables.  With family-style serving bowls, which will be passed.  We will sit down together, as a school family community, and we will dine, commune, share, and feast.  On healthy food, no less.  No fake food on styrofoam trays.  Instead, we will feast on a meal that students have helped prepare and will help to clean up.  And then we will have grown-up recess--a siesta or a reprieve--before resuming our afternoon studies.  You are invited to partake someday, too.

Depending on who you are, different portions of this proposal will sound crazy to you.  Are you the type who believes students cannot cook for and feed other students due to health code violations or lack of experience?  Or are you the sort who believes students and teachers have no interest in sharing a daily meal together?  Or, that we can manage healthy and delicious food for entire school full of children--food they will happily eat instead of fries and soda?

Where to begin?  First off, forget all the logistics.  Eating is important.  Sharing meals together creates family, culture, trust, and community.  Those of us who were fortunate enough to eat dinner with family, around a table each night know this.  My someday school will be small--around 300 kids, maybe.  And these kids, they will most likely need some extra family and love, and a safe place to find trust.  So, having lunch together each day is a lovely breeding ground for all that.

As for the food--well, we know how important good food is to healthy kids and a strong education.  Clearly Michelle Obama has brought this issue to the forefront with the White House garden and her "Let's Move" campaign.  Luckily, First Lady Obama is not the only one on the food move.

A fabulous teacher I know has just started up a new organization, FoodFight, designed to fight childhood obesity through food education and advocacy.  This August I'll be taking a week-long FoodFight training course at Columbia University and then teaching this food advocacy elective at my school to juniors and seniors in the fall.  (Carolyn--cofounder of FoodFight--and I have already agreed that I simply must use Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma for Kids as a main text for the course.  Hooray!)  On its homepage, FoodFight starkly states the problem: "poor nutrition correlates with low academic performance and directly affects the life chances of students from low income backgrounds" and "over 50% of African American and Latino children born in 2000 are expected to develop Type 2 diabetes in their lifetimes."  It's a problem, people.  But one we can try and tackle.

What's more, there's something of a school child food frenzy going out there among celebrity chefs.  Jamie Oliver won a TED prize in February of this year for his visionary proposal to bring healthy food to school cafeterias all over the country.  Really, if you have a few minutes, you've got to watch his acceptance speech, a.k.a. almost-over-the-top inspirational plan to change the world one school lunch at a time.  His performance is a whirlwind adventure, let alone the actual ideas he lays on the table, so to speak.

And if Sir Oliver weren't enough celebrity for one movement, Rachel Ray has thrown herself into the mix.  Now, let's be clear here.  I am not a Rachel Ray fan.  I find her cooking overly simplistic, her voice shrill and nasal, and her overall personality to be...well, lacking.  That said (rather ungraciously, too, I admit), she has also thrown down her gauntlet to help kids learn to grow, cook, and eat better food.  Her non-profit is called Yum-o!  Really?  The exclamation point in "Yum-o!" isn't even a true punctuation mark--it's a whisk.  Really?  Okay, enough cattiness on my end.  She wants to help the young people.  I like that.  I want to help the young people, too.

Which brings me back to my someday school and our lunches.  It's gonna be beautiful.  And the kids will cook for one another.  (You want to see a fantabulous somewhat related documentary?  Check out Pressure Cooker.  It's worth a watch, and finally available on Netflix.)  I know it's not the same for everyone, but I love to feed people--literally and metaphorically.  Feed the soul.  The mind.  The belly.  In other words, I like to grow people.  And I think that my students will someday like to feed, and grow, each other.  Around big tables.  A delicious school family.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


A bit of radio silence on my end for the past week or two.  Honestly?  The brunch kinda took it out of me.  Don't get me wrong--we all ate and drank ourselves content.  But getting ready for that kind of gig can leave a person a little worse for wear, it turns out.  Thank goodness my friend Erika, her new puppy, Molly, and my favorite boy toy (a.k.a. Greg) were there to save the day.

The weekend started out calmly enough.  I played a bit of hooky and took off early from work on Friday.  Saturday morning we took Molly to the park to play with all the other dogs.  Molly responded to this by hiding between Greg's legs in an adorable sort of fashion.  Next: to the farmers market for flowers, etc.  Off to kickboxing and back home again to spend the afternoon in the kitchen.  I made two quiches, two batches of scones, and a strata.  Doesn't sound like much laid out in a single sentence like that, but I was delirious by the time I finally found the couch late that evening.

Sunday morning rolled in and Erika and I were up with the sun--and the puppy--to get everything ready.  By the way, puppy and 4th floor apartment?  Not completely disastrous, but not the best case scenario, either.  Molly did not once use our apartment to do her business...but the 1st floor lobby and hallway were another matter.  We can only surmise that Molly had decided she was no longer completely inside, thus permitted to do as nature intended.  This is why Erika owns a neon green backpack with a spray bottle of carpet cleaner and a scrub brush.  She's good with a scrub brush.

So, Sunday found us cutting mountains of fruit.  Peeling and slicing sweet potatoes.  Juggling one oven and three dishes that needed last-minute baking.  Erika, in her generosity, made twice the waffle batter expected.  Her job henceforth was to push waffles on every soul through our door.  I'd like to report that she was quite successful on this front.  Erika also cleaned our bathroom and the washed down the furniture on the roof deck, lest it leave unseemly black marks on our guests' clothing.  Meanwhile, Greg swept, moved furniture, gave valuable tablecloth placement insight (not kidding--he's got a knack for it), and generally acquiesced to any whim or directive I had to give.  And I decided to forgo the mascara after all.  Too much fuss, ya know?

And it was beautiful.  Jammie, our friend from LA, arrived as a surprise, bearing a fabulous bouquet of lilacs.  The weather was pleasant and the roof deck a splendid escape.  We learned that mimosas made with fresh ruby red grapefruit juice most definitely surpass the traditional orange juice variety.  Twenty people and five hours later, I felt happy.  And ridiculously exhausted.  Note to self: more than a handful of friends, potluck is a must.

Unfortunately, we didn't get photos of everything, but here is the brunch menu in full.

Fresh Fruit Salad
Blueberry Scones with Lemon Glaze
Cherry Almond Granola with Yogurt
Banana Bread
Buttermilk Waffles with Syrup, Strawberry Sauce, and Whipped Cream
Strawberry Muffins (a la our lovely friend, KJ)
Mushroom and Leek Quiche
Smoked Salmon Potato Crust Quiche
Turkey Sausage Strata
Thick Cut Bacon
Sweet Potato Fries
and to drink?
Juice Spritzers, Mimosas, Bloody Marys and Coffee

The strata went first, followed closely by the quiches and KJ's strawberry muffins.  Greg and I are still making our way happily through the granola, and we just polished off the last of the bacon and waffles this past weekend.  A brunch to be remembered.  And not repeated any time too soon.