One of the most delicious things about wine is the way it pairs with food. Not just any food, but food prepared from local ingredients or one's own garden. I grew up in a place with plenty of land for growing and harvesting our own fruit and vegetables. But sadly, my father did not know much about gardening. Or rotating crops. Or keeping the birds from eating our blueberries and decorating our sidewalks with purple "bird paint." Or discouraging the rabbits and groundhogs from chewing on anything he put in the ground.
But we did grow strawberries. Lots and lots of strawberries. So we had strawberry preserves, strawberry shortcake, strawberry jam. So much so that it was years before I could eat them again. Shame.
But I hated vegetables growing up. Why? Because most of our veggies came from bricks labeled "Green Giant" that my mother pulled out of the freezer. Frozen broccoli, corn, or spinach she then reduced to squishy mush on the stove. I did not truly learn to love vegetables until I moved to Houston and learned exactly how good fresh vegetables taste.
I, like so many kids from lower-to-middle income families did not have access to fresh vegetables. Sure, both parents worked, but that was part of the problem -- they were educators, and there was little money for fresh vegetables, and no time to properly grow them. Healthy food costs more. That seems pretty ridiculous when you think about it -- that "convenience" food creates generations of junkies for crap that will make them obese, with little energy to exercise, or garden, or prepare healthy food of their own.
I truly caught the gardening bug during a press trip to Napa. We visited this incredible garden on the property of a Montessori school, where we got to taste herbs just picked from where they grew. Every day the Chef from an exclusive restaurant (so exclusive that we bloggers could not get a seat unless we reserved months in advance) placed an order for the veggies and herbs that would make up the culinary creations. So I came home and bought some little herb plants, and a tiny greenhouse, and started cooking with herbs I grew myself. I was just about to write of my experience, and the garden that inspired it when I received the cookbook that said Chef had been writing when he took us on the tour. In it he disparaged bloggers and other people who took pictures of their food. Which I thought was funny in a book sent to bloggers invited to tour, write about and photograph his garden.
Recipe for Success Wants you to VegOut!
Gracie Cavnar takes a different approach. Ten years ago she started a program that celebrates vegetables and healthy eating called Recipe for Success. We visited that program back in 2010 and spent the morning with students at MacGregor Elementary, Chef Randy (Evans) and Chef Molly (then Graham now Kaminski) as they prepared lunch from the vegetables they had harvested from the school garden. Time flew by, it seems, as the program continued to grow.
"In 2005, when we created Recipe for Success Foundation to change the way children eat, not many were talking about the childhood obesity issue, let alone doing anything about it, says Cavnar. "In a decade, with the help of over 100 members of our Chefs Advisory Board, we have changed the lives of 30,000 kids in Houston."
And it's not just Houston that Cavnar's program has inspired. "Now Recipe for Success Foundation has programs operating nationwide and is at the forefront in our country of an expansive coalition that is working together to move the needle with both policies and programs. Not only have we created, measured and deployed a broad range of effective solutions from the classroom to the food basket, we have inspired others to join the effort and even changed the national conversation."
Recipe for Success doesn't singularly focus on school programs, but encourages everyone to eat their vegetables with the VegOut! Tracker & Mobile App. You can complete year round and take the Veggies! 30 ways in 30 days each March -- that means eat 30 different vegetables in 30 Days. In addition to tacking your veggies, you can find restaurant partners as well as Kid Friendly recipes like Beet Brownie Bites, Green Confetti "Pancakes" and Pumped-Up Pumpkin Parfait. For the foodie in all of us, you'll find recipes for Parmesan Fennel Gratin, Dill-Havarti Mashed Cauliflower and Summer Veg Paella.
The Next Endeavor: Hope Farms
"We realize that we can't stop at teaching kids to reach for the healthier option," says Cavnar. "We must help parents and caregivers provide it." To that end, Recipe for Success is working in Houston to establish what will be a robust urban architecture and local produce distribution system to help ensure that tasty, affordable, fresh food choices are available to everyone!
With a seed grant from Wells Fargo Foundation, Recipe for Success Foundation is building the Hope Farms Showcase and Training Center, in the heart of Houston's historic Sunnyside neighborhood. In view of downtown Houston skyscrapers, the farm will use organic methods to "generate significant crops in the midst of one of the city's largest food deserts." The farm will train U.S. Veterans to become new urban farmers, incubate their new micro farm businesses and provide jobs and internships for neighborhood youth. An on-site farm stand will provide produce, eggs and honey to the neighbors. The plans are amazing, thoughtful and inspiring! You can learn more about it here.
But just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community to plant the garden. And that's where you and all your hungry and thirsty foodie friends come in...we need your help. I say we, because after talking with Gracie about her plans for Hope Farms, I've decided to get involved! You can too!
Delicious Alchemy: Celebrating Ten Years of Recipe for Success
The last piece of this very important initiative is finalizing the purchase of the 7.58 acre farm site. So, in celebration of 10 years of Recipe for Success, and to help raise funds to buy the land, Recipe for Success is hosting a few parties.
The Banquet - Thursday, May 19th
Guests will gather 'round one long exquisite table set under the sparkling chandeliers of The Dunlavy to dine on a sumptuous ten-course Banquet prepared by 10 iconic chefs, all founding members of the Recipe For Success Foundation's Chef's Advisory Board: Bryan Caswell, Charles Clark, Robert DelGrande, Monica Pope, Ouisie, Randy Evans, Lance Fegan, Randy Rucker, Peter Garcia and John Sheely. This is a very exclusive event limited to 100 guests at $2,500 per person. Learn more and purchase tickets here.
The Art of Food - Friday, May 20th
Plan for an evening that tickles all your senses: sight, sound, taste, smell and touch, featuring The Napkin Project art show and sale, Delicious Boutiques with Magic Keys, "We're Cooking Now! The Cookbook" signing, music, poetry, performance art and delectable nosh prepared by our town's most creative chefs offered in a free-flowing party that promises to last until the wee hours. General Admission is $150 per person with VIP Salon, early entry and table service at $250 per person. You can find out more and buy tickets here.
Imagine having your wines tasted by some of Houston's foremost chefs and 500 of Houston's most AVID foodies! I've been recruited as Wine Chair for this event, and am looking for a few additional wine sponsors* in addition to our fabulous first responders: Traubenhaus Fine Wines, Gloria Ferrer, Columbia Winery and Emiliana Organic Vineyards.
The Community Supper - Sunday, May 22nd
Enjoy a Sunday afternoon along White Oak Bayou filled with music, food and friends, when we will pay homage to the kind of shared community meals--pancake breakfasts, spaghetti suppers, chicken dinners, church picnics and block parties, upon which the towns and cities across America were built. Come see the Rolling Green Market and bring a picnic lunch to share at community tables. This event is FREE!
Help Us Break Ground - Become A Grassroots Investor or a Farmraiser
Can't make it to one of our delicious events? You can still help! Every dollar counts, and we encourage all donations, with great gifts (from Hope Farms Seed Packets to a Tree in Your Name in Hope Farms Orchard) at giving levels from $25 to $5,000. You can find out more here.
Become an Underwriter or Winery Sponsor
Join sponsors like H-E-B, Whole Foods, Fiesta Mart, Silver Eagle Distributors, Coca Cola, Banfi Vintners, among hundreds more to help make Hope Farms a reality. Learn how you can become an Underwriter by downloading the Underwriter Form here. To find out how you can become a Winery Sponsor for The Art of Food, e-mail me at Email me directly.