Learning As I Chop

An Inner Debate

Posted in Food Philosophies by R @ Learning As I Chop on April 12, 2011

About an hour ago, Mark Bittman tweeted this article and my jaw dropped. Then I read the article and proceeded to have an inner debate with myself. For those of you who haven’t clicked, a Chicago school has decided to ban homemade/brown-bagged lunches. The students can either eat at the school cafeteria or skip lunch. (Because skipping lunch is healthy, right?) As I see it, these are the main points of this decision:

1)      In an effort to curb childhood obesity, the school will give your kids “good lunches” rather than allowing you to pack unhealthy ones. The article contends that poorer families feed their children unhealthier lunches because that’s all they can afford to buy. But is making them pay more the answer? What about re-hauling our entire food system? What about making whole grains and fruits/vegetables cheaper than Chef Boyardee? Or what about raising the minimum wage so poorer parents can work less hours to earn the same salary, hence providing more hours with their children and more time in the kitchen?

2)      These school lunches cost $2.25 a day, which is more than some families can afford to spend.  However some families might be able to qualify for a reduced fee. Given this country’s policy on financial aid/scholarships/public assistance, I am dubious. There are many families that fall within the purgatory of not making too little, while simultaneously not making enough. I doubt it will be different here.

3)      Allergies are the only exception to this rule.  So if you are severely allergic to nuts or wheat, you may bring your lunch. But what about families who are kosher? Vegan? Vegetarian? Paleo? Whatever their eating preferences, why should children be forced to eat a lunch that contradicts their familial beliefs? Doesn’t feel right.

4)      As we’ve seen with Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, school lunches might be moving in the right direction, but they still have a long way to go. According to this article, these Chicago school lunches require one vegetable per day.  Is that healthier than a parent who packs carrot sticks, a sandwich and apple for their child? Not so sure. At the same time, I am aware that not all parents pack these type of lunches. However wouldn’t some kind of food education or half-way point be better? For example, you can choose to pack or buy, but each kid gets a free piece of fruit each day?  Sure, a girl can dream. Especially when so many NYC schools currently can’t even afford proper textbooks.

5)      Lastly, is this rule crossing a line? I am pretty liberal person, but is it our country’s right to tell you how to eat? Sure, the government provides nutritional pyramids (which by the way are often swayed by food lobbyists and tend to change every few years) and enforce a drinking age, but should they force parents how and what to feed their children?  Are we going too far?

Some food for thought on this rainy Tuesday. If you are interested in following the larger school-lunch issue, a Chicago schoolteacher has started a blog. I look forward to hearing more about this decision. Thank you.


Food I Don’t Like

Posted in Baking/Cooking, Food Philosophies by R @ Learning As I Chop on October 21, 2010

I don’t know why I force myself to eat food that I don’t like. Maybe it’s because I aim to be “healthier” or have a more well-rounded/adventurous palette. However I often find myself in the same precarious position – what I want to eat vs what I should eat. I don’t know why this is such a problem for me, as I like various healthy dishes that include things like spinach and chickpeas. But most leafy greens elude my taste buds. They are “not for me,” as one might say. And yet I force myself to eat them. I’ve now decided it’s time to stop, and here’s the reason why.

Cannellini Bean Soup with Kale


  • 6 to 8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced, plus 1 or 2 more whole cloves
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 quarts chicken stock, water, or a combination
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large bunch kale, large ribs removed, chopped


Heat oil in a large pot. Add garlic and oregano and cook no more than a minute. Add tomato paste and vinegar, and cook another minute. Add beans and stock and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper. Add kale and simmer, partially covered, for 1 hour. Season, to taste, again with salt and pepper before serving.

Technically, there is nothing wrong with this soup. I found it on the Food Network, and if you like kale and oregano, I am sure you will love it. It’s also pretty easy to make. However, as I ate this soup, spoonful after spoonful, I kept asking myself what I was doing. I don’t like kate, I definitely don’t like oregano and yet I keep forcing it down my throat. Sure, it was nice to use the beautiful purple kale I found at the green market

But who I am kidding? This isn’t me, and it sure as heck isn’t H either. So kale, it was nice knowing you, but we’re done. I’m gonna stick with some other tried and true paramours instead.

Roast Chicken: The Easiest Dish You’ll Ever Make

Posted in Baking/Cooking, Food Philosophies by R @ Learning As I Chop on October 9, 2010

I remember when we first moved into this apartment about a year and a half ago. I loved it at first sight and we took it right away. The kitchen was gutted – there wasn’t even a refrigerator- but it was big-ish (at least for NYC standards) and had a lovely window. I was sold. Then our first dinner guest came over. She was someone I really wanted to impress, especially with my cooking prowess. So the day before she arrived, I polled my office for a neutral, yet delicious and impressive dish. “Roast chicken” was a popular response. The one caveat? I had never made one before. Lucky for me, as I’ve mentioned, my office is chock full of foodies. In fact, my boss has gone to culinary school.

Now I try not to get preachy so please indulge me. A little while ago, I mentioned Michael Pollan’s Food Tips. Here’s another:

“It’s Better to Pay the Grocer than the Doctor”

I feel kind of bad, since I have a nice amount of doctors in my family, however it’s really quite smart if you think about it: spend a good amount of money on food. Cheap food will lead to adverse effects. And I don’t mean you shouldn’t buy beans or rice –  things that are naturally inexpensive. Rather I’m saying you should focus on quality vs quantity, especially when buying animal products such as chicken

Is this chicken twice the price of Perdue? You betcha. But was the chicken raised more humanely? Was it fed antibiotics? Can you sleep at night, knowing that you’re supporting an ethical farmer? The answers are yes, no and yes. Now I’m not saying better food will prevent diseases. It’s impossible to predict the future. But will it give you a better chance? I believe so. And you’re treating your dinner with respect. Lastly, naturally raised chicken tastes better and has more flavor. Kind of like you get what you pay for? Ok, stepping off soap  box

Back to the chicken. I really cannot think of anything easier. I’ll spare you the recipe since basically it’s as easy as follows:

Clean the chicken and dry with papertowel

Cover with seasonings of choice – make sure to do this inside the cavity as well, or the chicken will come out bland

Stick some lemons inside, as this trick adds juice. Thank you “boss-chef.”

Put in oven at 350 per 20 minutes per pound. But start by preheating the oven to 450 and then lowering to 350 once the chicken enters. This will nicely brown the skin. If you pour paprika over the top, you’ll also get a nice red color that makes it look more professional.

Here are some items I used for success. Whisk everything together and pour over the bird. I especially like covering all of the chicken by way of my paintbrush. Makes me feel artistic. And don’t forget my olive oil plus butter method. Works every time.

(The label-less container is paprika.)

I took many pictures of my roasted chicken but none of them did it justice. So I’ll let you use your imagination. Next time you have someone over for dinner, serve said chicken with mashed potatoes and green beans. Sure to please the toughest of critics. Enjoy!