Can Marc Vetri Save School Lunch?

As a young child, much to my dismay, my mother packed my lunch every day. My homemade whole-wheat bread, natural peanut butter, and sugar-free jam sandwiches and carrot sticks seemed boring and embarrassing compared to the pizza-burgers dished out in the school lunch line or the mini bags of chips and cream-filled cake rolls that other kids carried in their lunch boxes. No one wanted to make any food trades with me. While frustrating at the time, I’m now glad that my mom (who was able to only work part-time for much of my elementary experience) valued the importance of a healthy meal – popular at the lunch table or not.

In my experience working with kids since then – in a wide variety of school,  institutional settings, and nonprofit settings – I’ve come to realize just how rare this is. And when 16% of American children live in food insecure families, school and free lunch programs often provide the only guaranteed meal a day. But these meals – due to budget restriction, red tape, and a truly appalling USDA bulk food system – are often woefully lacking in basic nutrients. And don’t even get me started on how many children have no idea what whole pieces of fruit look like, or that french friend come from a food called a potato, that grows in the ground. If you happened to catch the tv show Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, a season-long show in which British chef Jamie Oliver tried to reinvent the school lunch system in one of the USAs most obese counties, you know impossible the task proved to be. The poor man cried.

So I’m more than pleased to read about local chef Marc Vetri’s “Eatiquette,” a kitchen-table-style  eating plan at the People for People  Philadelphia Charter school. Children not only eat nutritious meals, they know what they are eating, why they are eating it, and they enjoy these meals family-style – an important sociocultural aspect of sharing food that is often ignored by institutional systems.

So what am I going to complain about? Not much. I’m just going to ask how we can implement this program, or a program like it, more broadly in Philadelphia, and around the country, so that children everywhere – especially the neediest – have access.While the $2.66 mandated per child usually provides the canned fruits and vegetables, fried and over-processed everything else, and a healthy dose of ketchup, Eatiquette offers” panko-crusted chicken tenders. Baked ziti with chickpea-and-cucumber salad. Roasted chicken with mushroom risotto. Sautéed shrimp with gazpacho. Strawberries with mint cream. Lemon granita. Melon salad.” Which would you rather eat?

Philadelphia Magazine writes that “They approached the Philadelphia School District about installing Eatiquette in the city’s public schools. But the district’s behemoth size, complicated work rules and uneven allocation of kitchens among its 200-plus buildings required far too much up-front tinkering with a lunch concept that, frankly, needed to be piloted on a much smaller scale.” Perhaps something for the new Philadelphia Schools Commissioner to consider? Or perhaps its something that we should start demanding. What do you think?

photo courtesy


Chilled Avocado-Cucumber Soup

I love avocado. And cucumber. And lemon, and add some jalapenos and some dill and I’m definitely going to try the recipe. I whipped up this easy, cold soup in the Japanese “magic bullet” we have in our work kitchen. Before I was even half-done, I had staff begging for a taste. It was, as expected, delicious. Whole Living consistently prints healthy and vegetable-friendly recipes, like this one (borrowed below).

ps. can you guys tell yet when I’m eating at my desk? I’m afraid it happens all too often.


Serves 4

* 1 English cucumber, peeled and diced ( 1/4 cup reserved for garnish)
* 1 avocado, pitted, peeled, and diced ( 1/4 cup reserved for garnish)
* 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
* 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, plus sprigs for garnish
* 1 scallion, white and pale-green parts only, coarsely chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
* 1 jalapeno, seeded and coarsely chopped
* 1 cup nonfat plain yogurt
* 1 cup cold water
* 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
* 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper


1. Puree ingredients in a blender. Divide soup and reserved cucumber and avocado among 4 bowls. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate 30 minutes. Garnish with cilantro sprigs.

Read more at Chilled Avocado-Cucumber Soup

December GRID Happy Hour Tonight

December Grid

Hey everyone! Our favorite magazine about sustainability in Philadelphia hits the stands today! Check out my recipe for butternut squash and mushroom lasagna (pictured below) in the print addition or online.

GRID Cover December 2009 And join us to celebrate its release:

WHERE: The Abbaye (3rd and Fairmount)
WHEN: 5-8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 9
$3 drafts and ½ price appetizers!

See you there!

Butternut Squash and Mushroom Lasagne

September GRID: Goat Cheese and Basil Ravioli with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Goat Cheese and Basil Ravioli with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
Goat Cheese and Basil Ravioli with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

The September issue of GRID is hitting the stands today with a special, larger than ever, “Back to School” issue.

Ever conscious of in-season produce (both me and GRID!), I contributed a recipe using September’s still-bountiful crop of bell peppers. The fresh basil and goat cheese ravioli with roasted red pepper sauce, pictured above, may seem complicated, but it’s really just all about multi-tasking. If you’re in a big rush, just use wonton wrappers instead of making your own pasta!

I’ll add the full recipe later tonight.

August Grid: Fresh Sage Gougeres

Abbaye Bloody Mary
Abbaye Bloody Mary

The new GRID magazine is out – hurray! I went to a a happy hour at the Abbey to celebrate the print release of the August issue. I was in the mood for a bloody mary and the dear bartender, who had to go all the way back to the kitchen to fin me tomato juice, went all out on the garnish. That a slice of lemon and a slice of lime, three olives, a carrot stick, a dill pickle spear and a stalk of celery. And is was extra spicy, just liked I asked for it. So pretty, I had to take a picture.

Grid Issues
Grid Issues

Look at all those great issues of GRID, lined up on that table.

I have a recipe in the August issue, though its generally attributed under Farm to Philly. To make use of all the sage in my garden, plus some great local unsalted butter and whole wheat pastry flour, I made these fresh sage gougeres. I little bit naughty, they’re a delicious first course – crunchy and salty with an earthy sage aroma and flavor, I love them alongside a lighter main course, like a soup or salad.

Fresh Sage Gougeres
Fresh Sage Gougeres

Fresh Sage Gourgeres

1/2 cup water
3 Tbs. unsalted local butter
1/2 tsp. salt
4 Tbs. whole wheat pastry flour
4 Tbs. white pastry flour
2 fresh local eggs
3 oz. hard, sharp local cheese (like Lesher or cheddar)
4 Tbs. fresh sage, thinly sliced then chopped

Preheat the oven the 425 degrees. Heat the water, two tablespoons of butter, and salt in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until the butter melts. In a small bowl, combine the flours and empty into the saucepan. Whisk quickly, until the mixture forms a loose ball that pulls away from the side of the pan. Continue to stir over low heat for another minute, then remove from the stove. Empty the dough back into your flour bowl and let it cool for a few minutes. Meanwhile, melt one tablespoon of butter in a small skillet and add the sage. Stir well and cook over medium heat until the sage becomes slightly crispy.

Add one beaten egg to the dough, mixing entirely, then add the next egg. Add the cheese and the fried sage, mixing well. Place the dough in a pastry bag of sealable bag with one corner cut. Cover two cookie sheets with parchment paper and then pipe the dough onto the sheets. Make each gougere about two inches in diameter, and leave at least an inch of space between each puff.

Place the cookie sheets in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375 and bake for another 15 minutes. Remove the gougeres from the oven and immediately pierce them in the side with a small, sharp knife to release steam. Serve immediately, or reheat for five minutes in a 350 degree oven before serving.

Grid: Local Food Issue

Grid - The Local Food Issue
Grid - The Local Food Issue

As I wrote over at Farm to Philly today, the lastest issue of Grid magazine is out! I love this new local freebie – it’s all about urban sustainability, with each magazine issue devoted to a different “spoke in the wheel,” as it were. This issue has interviews with people doing the good hard work of making healthy local food a reality, and some recipes from great restaurants and Other good stuff abounds, from composting to rock ‘n roll. Check out Grid in print, or online, and let them know you support what they do!