Monday, November 23, 2009

Feed a Hungry Kid In San Diego. Now!

As challenging as the past year has been, one thing this food writer never ever worried about was going hungry. And it was far from an issue when I was growing up. If anything, my plate was always full and the parental directive was always to clean it. As in, "Finish it now. There are children starving in China."

While we never heard much about child hunger in America, sadly, it's always been with us. But now child hunger -- or, as it's euphemistically called, "food insecurity" -- is in the suburbs as well as the inner city and rural towns. And, none of it is acceptable.

The San Diego Food Bank launched its Food 4 Kids Backpack program in 2007 to provide food for chronically hungry elementary school students through the weekend. Every Friday, participating children receive a backpack filled with child-friendly foodstuff, such as peanut butter, pop-top canned goods, cereal, juice boxes, raisins, fruit cups, granola bars, shelf-stable milk, and macaroni and cheese.

They need this weekend bag because while they receive free or reduced cost meals in school, food may not be available to them on weekends or school holidays. Can you imagine having nothing to eat for two days?

To qualify, students must attend a school where at least 80 percent of the population receives free or reduced cost lunches, and receive a teacher referral. During the 2008-2009 school year, the program served just 200 children in eight schools throughout San Diego County. The need is so much greater now.

And, it's harder for the Food Bank and other organizations to help. As the economy has sagged, charitable donations have gone down while hunger has increased.

Those of us who love food and find pleasure in it are in a position to help keep kids from going hungry. Our local food bloggers and other members of the community are coming together for the next few weeks to raise funds for the San Diego Food Bank's Food 4 Kids Backpack Program. Starting now.

It doesn't take much. The program costs approximately $7 a week per child to fund. A donation of $250 will fund a full backpack for a child for the entire 36-week school year. Giving what you can afford will help ensure this program continues to keep young bellies full.

Need some incentive? We'll be hosting prizes to be awarded in a drawing at our live food and backpack drive at our San Diego Food Bank booth at the Little Italy Mercato on Saturday, Dec. 12. To see a full list of the prizes (and I'm seeing some fabulous contributions), visit the aliceqfoodie blog.

My contribution will be three cookbooks: Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg, M.D. and Zoe Francois, The Pioneer Woman Cooks by Ree Drummond, and Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook. I also will be giving away a $25 gift card to the Ivy's Ultra Lounge and Wine Bar and a market tour with me at either Balboa International Market or 99 Ranch Market. The winner's choice.

So, here's what we need you to do:

  • Donate and/or enlist friends and family to donate a plain medium-sized backpack (no logos, please; keep it simple and gender neutral; FYI, the kids like red). If you'd like to fill it, consider school supplies (pencils, paper, pencil sharpeners, markers, crayons), nutritious kid-friendly foods (fruit roll ups, juice boxes, pop-top foods like applesauce or fruit, ready-made mac and cheese, granola bars, and boxed items), useful items like toothbrush and kid toothpaste, and coloring books.
  • Donate online at our website.
  • Spread the word via email, Facebook, Twitter, your own blog -- whatever.
  • Then bring all your backpacks to the Little Italy Mercato at Date and India Sts. on Dec. 12, along with any non-perishable food you'd like to donate to the Food Bank. If you cannot make the drop off that day, contact me and we'll figure out a way to get your contribution to the Food Bank.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Cooks Confab Takes to the Street

Think of this as San Diego's version of the Reese's peanut butter cup. Two favorite culinary events -- the Saturday Little Italy Mercato and Cooks Confab -- come together for the perfect foodie treat: street food.

On Saturday, Dec. 5, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. the chefs will be at the Little Italy Mercato to create their renditions of their favorite street foods, from hot dogs and tacos to ceviche and pizelle. And, who knows what else!

Participating chefs include Amy DiBiase (Roseville), Andrew Spurgin and Donald Coffman (Waters Fine Catering), Antonio Friscia (Stingaree), Brian Sinnott (1500 Ocean), Christian Graves (Jsix), Jack Fisher (Jack Fisher Confections), Jeff Jackson and T.K. Kolanko (A.R. Valentien), Katie Grebow (Cafe Chloe), Nathan Coulon (Quarter Kitchen), Olivier Bioteau (Farm House Cafe), Paul McCabe (Kitchen 1540), and -- in his Cooks Confab debut -- Trey Foshee (George's California Modern).

This Cooks Confab event is special for another reason, too. All proceeds will be donated to A Reason to Survive (ARTS), a local non-profit located at the NTC Promenade in Point Loma dedicated to healing, inspiring, and empowering children facing life challenges by providing innovative arts-based programs. The 7,000-square-foot space includes visual and ceramic arts studios, a dance studio, music room, digital media room, and art gallery. Plus, it provides community outreach programs to children at hospitals, residential treatment facilities, shelters, rehab centers, community groups, schools, and more -- all for free to children facing life challenges.

You can do something in addition to buying tickets to Street Food. Bring a new or gently used musical instrument or unwrapped toy for the kids at ARTS.

Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 day of -- but buy yours in advance because it's likely to sell out. Call 619.297.2787 x2002 Arathi. (All donations are tax deductible.) The Little Italy Mercato is on Date and India Sts.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Great News Class Benefits JFS Adoption Program

I know we haven't even reached Thanksgiving yet, but for those of us who celebrate Hanukkah, there's a class being offered by Great News cooking school that will also help the adoption program of San Diego's Jewish Family Service.

The class, Celebration of Light - Hanukkah Party for Charity -- is being taught by Great News executive chef Katherine Emmenegger. It features a Jewish-style menu that included Roasted Eggplant and Sesame Lavosh Rolls; Arugula and Orange Salad with Caramelized Shallot Vinaigrette; Yam and Rosemary Latkas with Applesauce; Kasha, Leek, and Wild Mushroom Stuffed Cabbage Rolls; Israeli Couscous with Harissa; and Cranberry and Pine Nut Doughnuts with Citrus Honey Glaze. All of the ingredients used in the class are parve.

The class will be held on Thursday, Dec. 3 at 6 p.m. at Great News in Pacific Beach. The cost is $49 and all proceeds from the class will be donated to JFS Adoption Alliance for programs here in San Diego. Register online at

And, on a related note, JFS's Hand Up Youth Food Pantry is getting a boost from a Thanksgiving Food Drive. Sammy's Woodfired Pizza restaurants is partnering with the group to help feed San Diego's hungry this season. The food drive takes place from Wednesday, Nov. 18 through Monday, Nov. 23 at all of the chain's locations.

You're encouraged to drop by any of the Sammy's locations and donate non-perishable canned-food items. In return, you'll get a coupon good for one free giant Messy Sundae dessert.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Strange Experience of Cooking for Kids -- Who Aren't Your Own

Parents reading this will surely snicker at me, but what the heck. I spent last week in Tempe staying with my nieces while their parents were enjoying a little holiday in New York. The girls are amazingly self-sufficient so there was little for me to do but be transportation and security. I, of course, also wanted to be cook.

The challenge was that these pre-teen kids are on the run. They're in school early in the morning and then come afternoon and evening activities (each night the younger one had to leave at 5:30 for soccer practice that wouldn't bring her home until 8:30 and the older one had tennis lessons and other obligations on a couple of nights). And they're not big eaters. They're not fussy so much as disinterested for the most part. Oh, and, they claim to be vegetarians. Sort of. But it's more along the lines of not eating meat as opposed to choosing to eat vegetables. In other words, they like baked potatoes stuffed with cheese.

Night number one was a surrender to frozen dinner: manicotti. But, my older niece made a nice salad to go with it and let's just say we were fed while discussing options for subsequent dinners. They both like pesto, so the following night I made that with pappardelle from Trader Joe's, along with roasted eggplant with garlic-infused olive oil and parmesan cheese melted on top. I liked the eggplant. They weren't so keen on it. Thursday's meal was something I'd started making years and years before when their cousins were little: chicken legs dipped in a mixture of Italian spiced bread crumbs, garlic, olive oil, and grated parmesan cheese. Bake it at 400 for about an hour and you get a nice crisp coating and moist chicken meat inside. That went over pretty well and the younger one got to make her favorite baked potato filled with grated cheddar and jack cheeses.

By Friday, the girls were over home cooking so we picked up dinner at Pei Wei. And that was it. They made their own breakfasts and lunches for school. They had snacks their mom had left for them. No muss, no fuss.

But still. I cook all the time and yet felt I didn't have a clue for these kids who aren't keen on a lot of vegetables and limit their protein to chicken and shrimp.

So, on behalf of childless aunts and uncles who are sometimes asked to cook for their nieces and nephews, I'd love for you to share some of your kids's favorite meals that we could prepare when called on.

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