Cakes Of Glop, Gruel, Gruel!

Sometime before Mr. Kiddo's second birthday passed I meant to note a few things and never got around to it, not because they weren't important but because there's not ever really a lot of time to note such things.

That's all too bad, because there's been a lot of fun stuff to note — not all of which interesting only to just a small circle of people, either. A slice's crust being a "pizza bone," for example — that will stick with us forever.

But really, the days meld together in this astonishing exponential rate of development that outpaces anyone's ability to reliably recall, let alone catalog. Most of the time it's like, "Dude, fuckin' A." We're super-fortunate. Mr. Kiddo is awesome. I'm not quite sure what we're doing to encourage it, but I'm pretty confident we're not doing anything to discourage it, either, which is probably not a bad place to begin.

Over the last year it's sort of like a fog has been lifting, and this miraculous monkey has come into focus. He's joyful, playful, willful, manipulative, talkative, energetic and impulsive; even the "bad" qualities are good signs for us. He's gentle, focused, inquisitive, bright and empathetic. Oh, and he's really fucking cute. Like I said, I have no idea how any of this happened.

I want to believe diet is a key factor in all this. I happen to think Mr. Kiddo eats pretty well. I feed him, of course, so it could be a bit of circular logic, but whatever. To that end, I would like to share my recipes for glopcake and gruel — otherwise known as "breakfast" and "lunch."

"Glopcake" is basically an inartful term for what is basically a quasi-frittata. The difference, as I understand it, is that where frittata ingredients are folded into the raw egg mixture, the ingredients in glopcake are pulverized into a sort of slurry. Both are cooked the same way.

Glopcake started as a way to incorporate calcium-rich collard greens into eggs. It took off from there. A good glop, I found, incorporates vegetables — whatever you can cram in there — with a small amount of protein. You don't need a lot of protein, but even just a little something helps it not taste like a strange Chinese take-out dish. (I've used many proteins — beef, pork, lamb, chicken, chicken liver, shrimp, mild fish, even leftover sushi — almost anything works.) Add some milk, then pulverize into a thick slurry with an immersion blender. Add one egg per person, pulverize some more, then cook over medium heat in a skillet with olive oil until slurry is firm. Eat with sliced avocado. Milk for child, some kind of caffeinated beverage for adult.

Most who try glopcake enjoy glopcake. They dislike the name. At one point I suggested "skillet-cooked vegetable-protein slurry," but that never quite stuck. So "glopcake" it is.

Continuing the tradition of off-putting names, gruel is what's for lunch, and it's another winner, if I do say so myself. That said, it's a good thing Mr. Kiddo has little context for language. But look, the way I see it, if you're going to spend any amount of time wiping crap out of a human's butt, you owe it to yourself to make that crap as non-offensive as possible. Most people know the blunt-force calculus inherent in consuming too much fatty, junky food: Ensuring a child's diet has sufficient fiber is a gift to everyone. The less said about that the better.

So anyway, gruel is comprised of equal parts quinoa, red lentils and bulgur wheat. Well, not totally equal — usually a little more lentils and a little less quinoa, but that's only because I'm being cheap about it. You add seasoning, then serve. It's in the category of foods we refer to as "S.L.A.K." — "shit like a king." It works. Recipe follows — adjust measurements as necessary.

2 cups water
1/4 cup quinoa
1/4 cup red lentils (replace equal amount of quinoa with red lentils, if cheap)
1/4 cup extra fine bulgur wheat (can use oats or other grain, if desired)
1 tsp garam masala powder (or some such spice) (somewhat optional)
1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsp cider or rice vinegar
Several pinches garlic powder
Several pinches dried herbs such as basil, oregano or thyme
Pinch ginger powder
Several dashes Sriracha or other hot sauce
2 tbsp cheese such as cheddar or ricotta (optional)
Meat and/or bone (optional)

Add quinoa and red lentils to two cups water. Add leftover bones with meat, if desired. Turn on heat to high, bring to boil, then lower to simmer for five or six minutes.

Add bulgur wheat and garam masala powder and stir, let cook for nine minutes.

In bowls divide soy sauce, vinegar, garlic powder, herbs, ginger powder, hot sauce and cheese.

When gruel is finished, spoon into bowls, mix, let cool and serve.

Some notes: Don't get distracted by the subordinate ingredients — the main thing here are the three grains. The rest of it just adds salt, sweet, sour and protein flavors; use whatever you want. Bulgur is supposed to have a low glycemic index (for a grain). The garam masala powder happened because we amassed a ton of it for some reason; before I was using up a big thing of curry powder; neither is necessary; that said, garam masala powder lends a sweet flavor, almost like brown sugar and it's good. I don't know that I can even discern the ginger powder but I began using it in gruels back when Jen was pregnant because ginger is supposed to be good for morning sickness, or something. Ricotta cheese began because it's really high in calcium; it also mixes easily. Adding something like a chicken bone with meat on it adds flavor. Mr. Kiddo likes meat in his gruel, too.

Oh, and for Pete's sake, if you're able to do so, eat with your kid. One, it's awesome. Two, it makes it easier when everyone eats the same thing. Three, you eat healthier if you eat the same stuff as a toddler.

Now that Mr. Kiddo is firmly in the realm of "toddler," it all becomes a little different. And once you feel comfortable with things, it's time to change them up again. This time, I feel confident enough to admit that I'm scared about what happens next. And so it all begins again.

Posted: December 31st, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: The Cult Of Domesticity | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Federal-Level Milk Sops And The Need For National School Lunch Program Reform

Last week I had the opportunity to visit two school cafeterias while tagging along with Jen on a work-related outing. Both places we saw were doing fantastic stuff with school meals (which includes breakfast, lunch and after-school and mid-afternoon snacks), and it was inspiring how cash-strapped districts are doing the best they can to serve high-quality meals to students.

We hear a lot about the virtues of home cooking and avoiding processed foods, and a lot of it starts to feel fatiguing, if not annoyingly preachy, but it's important to remember that knowing how to cook for yourself and eating healthy foods is the first and best thing we can all do to keep ourselves healthy. (Better to do this than have the mayor of New York City arbitrarily decide which food additives are OK to consume. We shouldn't have to have the city health department banning food additives. We should know, or want to know, what to eat ourselves. That should be uncontroversial, but people seem to get confused about this.)

A large part of education in general involves modeling good behavior, and school cafeterias have the power to serve as a good model for healthy eating. School lunches aren't going anywhere and it's important to show kids what a balanced meal means, especially at an early age. School systems have done a great deal of good recently making simple and obvious choices like not selling soda pop or eliminating chocolate milk. The second part of that is developing high-quality, good-tasting food, which is easier said than done, but no less obvious.

The actual food schools serve has emerged as an important issue for those concerned about nutrition and childhood obesity. And although it's always a mistake to use your own outdated, imperfect memories of how school is to inform your current views of education, you probably remember the tater tots and chocolate milk that you got as a kid. You probably remember more fondly the prepackaged pies and soda pop that your weekly lunch allowance afforded you. I remember the stuff served in cafeterias being generally disgusting, and by high school I either took my lunch or microwaved burritos at 7-Eleven — or skimped in general to give myself extra money to use at the record store that weekend.

One thing about the school lunch experience that hasn't changed for anyone is the standard-issue half-pint carton of milk. If you peruse the National School Lunch Program website, it seems that a standard-issue carton of milk has been part of school lunches since the National School Lunch Act was approved by Congress back in 1946. Which basically means that everyone your parents' age and under has been served a carton of milk with their school lunches. And if you go to a school cafeteria today you'll see the same little cartons of milk — federal regulations call for six ounces for smaller kids and eight ounces for older students.

And while I do believe that it's always a mistake to use your own outdated, imperfect memories of how school is to inform your current views of education, one thing about school lunches can be extrapolated across the board: Simply, drinking milk is disgusting.

I suppose the images of milk at the dinner table on shows like the Brady Bunch or Leave It To Beaver are supposed to telegraph a societal standard of drinking milk, but I can think of few, if any, personal examples of children I knew who were forced to drink it. (Interesting: I just Googled "Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving," and it appears that each member of the smiling happy family getting ready to devour that big turkey in Freedom From Want has full glasses of water in front of them, not milk.)

I'll allow that maybe at some point parents believed that drinking several glasses of milk a day — no matter how icky it was — was "healthy," but they also served "healthy" and "nutritious" food that we know now to be kind of unhealthy — I'm thinking of liver in particular. I like liver fine — you can do cool stuff with liver — but I can't imagine getting a giant pan-fried slab of it each week.

Even if milk is healthy, let's admit that it's disgusting to drink and work on ways to replace the calcium in milk, which as far as I can tell is the only benefit of consuming milk in liquid form. Here's a good Harvard School of Public Health article about calcium and milk, and here's a list (.pdf) from the USDA of calcium-rich foods. The worst-case scenario if you eliminate full frothy glasses of milk is that you will need to replace approximately one-third of your recommended daily allowance of calcium. The good news is that potatoes-au-gratin tastes awesome (and in all seriousness, leafy greens are good for you and eating cheese is that much more delicious than drinking milk).

Here's why all this matters. Schools across the country depend on the federal National School Lunch Program to reimburse the significant costs of feeding children each day. Take a look at this fact sheet (.pdf) — in 2009, 31 million children took advantage of school meals that the federal government helped subsidize. And while the regulations tend to provide general guidelines for nutrition in the meals, one thing stands out — "A reimbursable lunch must include at least three menu items. One of those menu items must be an entree, and one must be fluid milk as a beverage" (see page 26 of this .pdf, for example). Notice that it doesn't say what the entree has to be, only that you have to serve fluid milk with it. Even if schools do some "alternate menu planning," they still must offer fluid milk with the meals (page 33).

In general I don't mind the federal government attaching strings to federal assistance. There are many examples of this — No Child Left Behind instituted conditions to receiving federal education funding and the National Minimum Drinking Age Act famously restricted federal highway funds for states that didn't raise their drinking age. It's federal money; Congress has a right to say how it should be used. But in this day and age, the USDA's milk requirement seems ridiculous.

Here is another thing you might not have realized: Those little cartons of milk account for one-quarter of food costs for schools. A USA Today article outlines the breakdown:

School cafeterias get up to $2.47 a student from the U.S. government to serve lunch. After expenses such as labor, transportation, utilities and equipment, schools are left with a little more than $1 to put food on a tray. Costs typically include 25 cents for a carton of milk, about 25 cents for fruit and additional money if they also serve vegetables. About 50 cents is left for an entrée. Many students pay for at least a portion of their lunch, and as the student contribution rises, the part covered by the government drops, which leaves schools to cover the difference.

Even when food costs go up, schools are still on the hook for covering milk costs. I thought the administrator we talked to last week said that milk accounted for half of his cafeteria's food costs, but even if a carton is one-quarter of food costs, that is a significant and disturbing number. Especially for something that is as disgusting to drink as milk.

I suppose we could blame the dairy lobby, but it's not like drinking milk suddenly appeared out of nowhere. That said, discouraging children from getting substantial calories from beverages has to have long-term benefits, and drinking more water seems like a healthier choice for everyone. But then we'd have to go back to that onerous federal mandate that every meal feature a serving of fluid milk.

And don't think I didn't ask the logical next question — fluid milk has to be served at the table in a carton; it can't be dumped into a side dish or converted to fresh mozzarella or served as yogurt (yogurt is actually considered a meat — see page 31 of the regulations in the link above) or really anything that might make milk more palatable. And unless Congress acts to change this, that carton of milk will stay on the trays of your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, probably outlasting even tater tots (sooner rather than later, apparently).

So when you think about how difficult it is to battle childhood obesity, increasing rates of diabetes and a general lack of healthy eating habits, remember that that stupid carton of milk that the federal government mandates be included on every cafeteria tray accounts for at least one-quarter of school food costs. Let that sink in. I'll repeat it, because it totally shocked me: That stupid carton of milk that the federal government mandates be included on every cafeteria tray accounts for at least one-quarter of school food costs.

Nutritionists, chefs, educators, parents and many, many others are spending a great amount of time and effort teaching children to eat better. Think about what we could do without that carton of milk. And while the federal government has no problem enforcing milk regulations, for some reason it still dithers on fully funding the 30 percent of special education costs that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act promised, funding that could probably actually do a lot to "fix" education in the United States. But that's a different issue for a different day.

Posted: November 15th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Feed, For Reals No For Serious | Tags: , , , , , , ,