leaving well enough alone

I can’t leave well enough alone.  I like to tinker.  And test.  And obsess over a single recipe for months on in, until I perfect it, and then I move on to agonizing over something else.

Shrimp and grits.  My grandfather is from Charleston, so I grew up assuming that everyone had some variation of grits, meat, and eggs for breakfast.  Fried fish, bacon, sausage, ham steak, pork chop, steak, shrimp, crab, whatever.  We had it for dinner Saturday night, and saw it again next to grits Sunday morning.  You can imagine my surprise during college, when I discovered more than half of my friends had no idea what grits were.  The horror!

On to brunch.  Inspired by some prodding and this post from Joy the Baker, I decided to make shrimp and grits this Sunday for brunch.  This is where I stop and make my pitch for sustainable seafood.  I will save the soapbox for later, but suffice to say, the Monterrey Bay Aquarium has a great guide to what you should and should not be buying.  So after two farmers markets and my second grocery store of the day,  I found some delightful Gulf shrimp, and brought a pound and a half home.  Coupled with some saffron (thanks to my sister, who brought it back from her trip to France), it made for an extra divine Sunday brunch.

This is a bit of a synthesis of 2 recipes, the aforementioned Joy the Baker, and this Grits casserole.  I made a version without pork, a version just vegetables, and another with all the bacon porky goodness I could muster.  I’m pleased for a first attempt, but there is work to be done here.

Shrimp and Grits, adapted from Joy the Baker and Serious Eats

2 cups of water
2 cups of whole milk
2 cups of grits
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup asiago cheese
1/4 cup cheddar cheese

4 bell peppers, minced
1.5 lbs shrimp, cleaned
1/4 cup champagne, cava, or prosecco
4-6 slices fresh bacon
1 scallion, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon chili powder

Combine the water and milk in a saucepan, bring to a simmer.  Whisk in grits, and cook, uncovered on low heat, until creamy, about 20 minutes.  Be sure to whisk often, as there is nothing worse than lumpy grits.  After the grits have finished cooking, throw in the cheeses and butter.  Salt to taste.  Keep warm on low heat (or in today’s case, a crockpot next to the dining table.)

Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a pan until crispy.  Remove the bacon and set aside.  Drain off half the remaining fat and toss in the peppers and scallions, garlic, and spices.  Saute until soft, then add in bubbly and shrimp.  Cook on high heat until shrimp is done and wine has almost completely reduced.  Crumble bacon in with the shrimp, and serve over grits.

sophomore slump

I have a confession.  I don’t much like fruit based desserts.  If I’m going to be sucking down sugar, I don’t want any fruit involved.  Give me chocolate, give me ice cream, give me things that did not come from a tree.  Except pecans.  In pie.  With bourbon.  And maybe Key limes.

But I digress.  We are in the throes of peach season, including my personal favorite- white peaches.  I like things that are not the color they’re supposed to be (or at least the way they were in my kindergarten books)- golden raspberries, blue potatoesred okra, yellow tomatoes….

Back to the cobbler.  Well, slump really.  Not a buckle.  Or a crisp, or a grunt.  A slump.  What’s the difference?

I’m not sure myself.  I think it depends on what your grandmother tells you, because grandmothers are experts in such things.  According to mine, a cobbler is a biscuit-like topping, a slump is a little more cakey, a buckle is essentially fruit in cake, and a crisp is like a cobbler, but crunchier.

As for the recipe, I started out with this one, by Ellie at Vintage Victuals, and went from there.  Many thanks to Brock for the bourbon and vanilla suggestions (and for confirming my cardamom obsession).  Cobbler it was not, but those peaches!  Can’t go wrong with that.

Peach Slump, adapted from Vintage Victuals

6-8 medium sized white peaches, peeled, pitted, and thinly sliced
1/2 cup sugar + 3/4 cup sugar
bourbon (up to 1/4 cup, depending on how juicy the peaches are)
1 vanilla bean
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
zest from one lemon (I used a normal one, but I bet a meyer lemon would be divine)

1 stick unsalted butter

3/4 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of kosher salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine the peaches with a hefty splash of bourbon (I used Jim Beam, a little less than a 1/4 cup).  Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds, add to the peaches along with the cardamom. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of sugar over the top, add the lemon zest, give ’em a quick stir and set aside.  (Stick the vanilla bean in some sugar and make your own vanilla sugar)

Heat the oven to 350.  While it is heating, place the stick of butter in a 9×13 pan and let it melt.  While it’s melting, mix remaining ingredients.  Once the butter has melted, take the pan out of the oven, and pour the batter in.  Do.  Not.  Spread.  Dump the peach mixture on top, and gently spread it towards the edges.

Bake until golden brown and puffy, about 40 minutes.

robbing peter to pay paul

Goddamnit, I am giving up on today.

On the heels of Sen. Richard Lugar’s op-ed in the Times today, comes news that via a manager’s amendment, the offsets for the $4.5 billion Senate  child nutrition bill will come from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps).

That’s right, the best way to pay for school lunch and breakfast is to cut food stamps.

(head explodes)

The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA, aka the stimulus bill) provided more money for SNAP by increasing benefits for those already in the program, relaxing requirements for the childless unemployed (because adults need food too), and providing more admin money to work through all these changes.  The increase was to be gradually phased out by 2018.

Makes sense, right?  Higher unemployment=more food insecure* hungry Americans=more on or needing food stamps.

The manager’s amendment would end the increases in 2016, full stop.

Let me assure you, there are many, in fact too many, kids who depend on school meals (breakfast, lunch, summer feeding programs, and after school/weekend feeding programs) as an important and sometime primary source of food.  That’s why we see food insecurity hunger rise among kids during the summer- no school means no lunch.  Since 1969, the number of children participating in the school lunch program has increased steadily, along with the number of kids eating free and reduced price lunches- the kids whose families are most likely to need SNAP.  SNAP participation rates have fluctuated a bit more, but have been on the rise since 2000.

I am left sputtering and incoherent.  The Senate has proposed a raid on SNAP to fund various other projects- the unemployment extension, higher Medicaid payments to states, even a small business bill.  Say what you will about these plans(I, for one, take issue with some of the tax credit extension in the unemployment act), SNAP is not the way to fund them.

That pales in comparison though, so allow me to repeat myself: the best way to pay for school lunch and breakfast is to cut food stamps.

Ugh.  I give up.

*- I despise the terms “food insecure” and “food security”.  You are not food insecure, you are hungry.  However, this has become the accepted terminology, so I provide it.  Also, the concept of food security, to me at least, encompasses far more than whether your stomach is full when you go to bed at night.  And it differs dramatically depending on whether the debate is domestic or international.

Michelle Obama and Child Nutrition Reauthorization

Michelle Obama has added her voice to the many others calling for passage of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill.

A quick recap, if you haven’t been following:

The current bill expires September 30.  The president’s 2011 budget requested $10 billion over 10 years to fund child nutrition.  The money would serve two purposes- increasing participation rates and increasing the quality and nutritional standards of the food being served.  Federal child nutrition programs include the school lunch and breakfast programs, summer and weekend feeding programs, and WIC.

In March, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AK), chair of the Senate Ag committee introduced the Senate version, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.  It provides $4.5 billion over 10 years in funding.  As of late, she’s been demanding that the bill be brought to the floor (I am certain this has nothing to do with her somewhat dire reelection prospects) for a vote.

In June, Rep. George Miller (D, CA-07), chair of the House Ed and Labor committee introduced the House version, the Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act of 2010.  It provides $8 billion in funding over 10 years, a figure significantly closer to the president’s request.

Both of the bills have made it through committee, and Sen. Harry Reid has even said he wanted to get the Senate version to the floor before the August recess (ahem).  Obama Foodorama, who has been following this in great detail, has fact sheets on both the House and the Senate versions of the bill.

My thoughts?

Between Rep. Miller unveiling his bill with Rachel Ray, Tom Colicchio testifying in front of the House Ed and Labor Committee and Michelle Obama’s op-ed, there’s been plenty of star power directed towards improving child nutrition.  In the case of Michelle Obama, the either bill (the House version would be preferable, as its close to the original $10 billion number) would be an improvement.  And, while at the end of the day, all that matters is that we get a bill, I do wish that she had lent her voice earlier.  Coupled with some extra push by the administration, perhaps we could have gotten the full $10 billion.

*full disclosure: as I’ve mentioned, I work for an organization that deals in food policy, and we have been actively campaigning for the passage of a child nutrition reauthorization bill, preferably the House version.


I set a series of goals for August, and the rest of the year.  Eventually, I’ll add a page with my goals, and cross them out as I get to them.  The idea was inspired by a host of things, among them this post from Nicole at Making It Lovely, one of my favorite home/design blogs.

At any rate, one of my goals is to blog more again.  And to be more thoughtful about it.  So I’ll try and post once a day, maybe more, maybe less, and we’ll go from there.

Nice to meet y’all.