Watermelon Seeds

So, what does Italy have that America doesn't? Watermelon seeds! For years now, I've been in search of scarlet watermelon studded with the black seeds that informed my youth. They were the polka dots on white fabric, the visual cue of summer, the pop art work of nature. They have simply gone missing. Whereas seedless grapes were a welcome idea, seedless watermelon is not. Today's watermelon looks toothless and dull, lacking a certain life force. In short, it is without whimsy and sense of purpose. A picnic table lacking black seeds on red-stained paper plates is almost un-American. Still-life masters of fruit bowls would look sickly without the majesty of these ebony seeds. In Italy, on the other hand, watermelons have black seeds. It doesn't hit you right away, but it accounts for a good measure of drama at fruit stands and makes the ending of a summer meal feel complete. I can't imagine how unsatisfying it would have been to gaze upon slices of seedless watermelon on the tables of Ravello or Atrani, Naples, or Rome. Black seeds are the visual reward of the watermelon experience. Why would anyone want to take that away?  Black watermelon seeds are nature's beauty marks, like the tiny adorable black dots that made us fall in love with kiwi; some things should be as they are.

In some parts of the world, watermelon seeds are "food." They are eaten in China and made into soup in Nigeria. In other parts of the world, like in America, spitting out watermelon seeds is a sport. Like so many other questionable ideas, the proliferation of seedless watermelons is about convenience.  People here mostly eat watermelon cut-up in fruit salads.  In Italy, they still eat it out of hand.

That said, here is a recipe for delicious, refreshing, "Watermelon Ices with "Seeds."   The seeds may be chocolate, but they make you smile, and remember.

Watermelon Ices with Chocolate "Seeds"  (adapted from Kids Cook 1-2-3) The riper the watermelon, the more delicious this tastes.  Watermelon and chocolate taste great together.

4 heaping cups diced ripe watermelon 3/4 cup sugar 1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips

Remove any white (or black!) seeds from watermelon. Put watermelon in a food processor and process until very smooth.  Add the sugar and a pinch of salt and continue to process until sugar is dissolved.   Transfer mixture to a metal pie pan and place in the freezer.  After 30 minutes, break up ice crystals with a fork so that they are of uniform size.  Continue to break up ice crystals every hour until the mixture is frozen, about 3 hours.  When ready to serve, chill the bowl and blade of food processor.  Put frozen slush into processor and process until very smooth.   Conversely, the mixture can be chilled and made in an ice cream maker. Spoon into chilled glasses or dessert dishes and top with chocolate chips.  Serves 4

My Lunch Companions

Here we are at Junior's having a great time.  The kids all made some healthy food choices and brought any extra food home. Instead of soda, they ordered juice or iced tea and everyone had a fresh green salad or fruit salad that came in a very large goblet.  Yum. With some good luck ahead, these beautiful children may all find wonderful homes.

The folks at Junior's also felt inspired by the day and treated us to lunch.  Many thanks to Colette and Mr. Allen Fleming for making everybody feel very special.  In addition to my lunch bunch, the guests included Laurie Sherman Graff, the director of Heart Gallery, the angels at HeartShare, and many of the foster moms.

Every child received an autographed book of his or her choice.  Eat Fresh Food or Kids Cook 1-2-3.  One wonderful young man, aged 21, who sadly placed out of foster care (he never found a home) is now in college and just found his own home -- a nice studio apartment.  His dream is to become a big event planner and I know he will reach his goal.  He's elegant, classy, and was a big help with the kids that afternoon.  Can't wait to help him find an internship this summer.  And I know just the person to ask!  (Preston Bailey, expect a phone call from me!)

Now, I'm cooking up a storm this morning for an all-day photo shoot for Lenox.  It's wine-and-food pairing day.  The recipes will be available on their site next week. Have a great weekend!

Celebrity Photographers (and me) Celebrate Foster Kids

I'm on my way to a special press conference launching the Brooklyn opening of Heart Gallery NYC in honor of National Foster Care Month.  Marty Markowitz, Brooklyn Borough President, will proclaim May 18th, 2011 as Heart Gallery NYC Day in Brooklyn.  This extraordinary non-profit, headed by Laurie Sherman Graff, combines the artistic talents of notable photographers with children in need of families and a place to call home.   At Brooklyn's Atlantic Terminal, the Long Island Rail Road will host a large scale installation of 50 such photos -- capturing the heart and spirit of these kids -- to inspire potential adoptive families.  There are more than 15,000 foster children living in New York City.  Together with HeartShare Human Services of New York, the NYC Administration for Children Services, and the President of the LIRR, I will join six of the city's foster children to entice families to become adoptive parents.  There will be opportunities for the media to interview the children, the celebrity photographers, the Heart Gallery staff, and listen to some of the guest speakers:  I am honored to be one of them.  Just 3-1/2 years ago we became adoptive parents to an 11 year old girl.  Ushering an older child into, and through, her adolescent years brings lots of challenges, but my husband and I have never been happier, nor more alive, nor more certain that life is deeper and richer for it. In the parlance of Heart Gallery, we have become a "forever family."  If I can inspire even one family today to take action, I will be more than satisfied. After the program, I will whisk the kids off to Junior's for lunch to celebrate the day. We will talk about how to make healthy food choices wherever they go and I will sign copies of two of my cookbooks -- Kids Cook 1-2-3 and Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs  for them.  My lunch companions will range in age from 4 to 15 (unless the Borough President plans to join us!) What fun!  In addition to eating a delicious meal, we will chat about respecting food and ourselves (and how interdependent they are), and enjoy the lost art of having a conversation around the table.  Heart Gallery's unique project, A Home for Kids, will be on display from May 18th through June 15th.  Dedicated to raising awareness of children in foster care, the message to all New Yorkers is that it is possible to change the direction of a child's life and thereby enrich your own.  Take a look at their website to read about the many success stories, to see the beautiful faces of these kids, and to be wowed by the list of celebrated photographers, including Amy Arbus (daughter of the renowned Diane Arbus) who have made so many "forever families" a reality.

Jammin' with Teen Battle Chefs

There is an extraordinary troupe of young chefs in several states who "fight" under the rubric of Teen Battle Chefs. Created by teen-health advocate and educator, Lynn Fredericks, this concept deserves a tv show of its own.  I've watched these kids compete and they are tops! Professional, passionate, and competitive.  Here is an example of  what goes on in the kitchen trenches.  Written by Hannah Cohen, the HealthCorps Coordinator at North Bergen High School in New Jersey who teaches Teen Battle Chefs, as witnessed on the battlefield  one recent afternoon:  From Carrot Sweets to Sweet Success. One afternoon at Teen Battle Chef, I decided to attempt Sweet Carrot Jam with my chefs. My co-workers and I had discussed cooking something totally unfamiliar to us with our students, to show them that we are not afraid to take chances. I stick to Rozanne Gold's Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs because I know her recipes are teen tested and approved, and reliable. She has a recipe for Sweet Carrot Jam, so I decided my chefs and I would cook the jam.

I've never made jam before, so we were all in for an adventure!

"The first time we made the sweet carrot jam was interesting. Instead of jam, we made candy." -Milagros

I'm not going to say it failed, but we didn't make jam.... The recipe said to cook for 1 hour, but the induction burners cook much differently than regular burners. The jam cooked too fast, and all the water evaporated. So, the sugar crystallized and hardened. We made carrot candy instead! My students became intrigued, so we put the mixture on wax paper to harden. I let the students take the candy home, and we each tried to find a way to eat it without cracking our teeth!

"It tasted better than expected! My mom melted the hardened candy and shaped it into baby carrots. She loved the candy so much, she wanted to keep it all to herself!"- Lyli

"Next week, we tried a second time. This recipe was a success. " - Tevin

The second try, we successfully made Sweet Carrot Jam! Of course, not without a little snafu….

A chef accidentally added twice the amount of water than the recipe called for. Not to worry! I knew we could leave the lid off while simmering, allowing the water to evaporate. This process took a little while. My students had to leave, so they didn't get to see the final product. (We will just have to make more!)

"I was not able to munch on it, but it was delicious enough just looking at it! " - Zeinab

Eventually, a nice syrup formed. I spooned the jam into jam jars then tied a black and white checkered ribbon around them. The jam was given to the teachers who successfully completed a Personal Wellness Challenge.

"The chunky texture of the carrots makes this jam great with crackers & cheese! "- Ms. Reilly

One teacher's husband devoured it.

"You don't need to make it exactly by the recipe to enjoy." - Lyli

Sweet Carrot Jam

Adapted from Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs. Ms. Gold said she sometimes adds ground cardamom for added interest and flavor.  Just a pinch will do.

1 pound carrots
2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Peel the carrots, cut them into 1 ½ inch pieces, and put in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until they are coarsely ground (about 1/8-inch pieces). You will have about 3 cups. Put the carrots in a heavy 4-quart medium size pot. Add the sugar, lemon juice, 1 cup water, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a rapid boil and cook for 1 minute. Lower the heat to medium and cook for about 1 hour, stirring frequently. To see if it is ready to jell, place 1 tablespoon of the mixture on a small plate and put in the freezer for 1 minute. If it becomes firm and doesn't flow, it is done even though it will still look quite liquid in the pot. Remove the pot from the heat and let cool. Spoon the mixture into a jar. Cover and refrigerate.



In the never-ending national debate about childhood obesity and getting children to eat healthier, here's a way.  Put fresh food on a stick and call it a snack...or dessert.  This compelling photo from The Economist (Feb. 5 issue) references a new book called The Taste of War: World War Two and the Battle for Food, written by Lizzie Collingham.  And while food shortage does not enter today's dialogue (there are ample calories available), it is the availability of fresh, unprocessed, whole foods at affordable prices that is in short supply or, worse yet, unavailable in the neighborhoods that need it most.  But maybe that is only part of the fractured mirror that reflects the eating habits of most Americans. I suggest we change our idea of what delicious and desirable is.  Not long ago, I had the pleasure of cooking with a young man, about 8 years old.  He loved to cook and he loved to bake.  My book for children, Kids Cook 1-2-3, had just been published and young GB was eagerly awaiting our appointed time in his kitchen in his family's country home.  We laughed and measured and whipped and beat whole eggs, and carefully melted chocolate and sweet butter for our flourless chocolate mousse cake.  It was magical to watch three simple ingredients (all organic, too!) transform themselves into a delectable form that oozed in the center yet could be cut with a knife.  After baking the cake and waiting for it to cool, the time had come.  With great anticipation, I cut the warm confection and offered a nice slice to GB. With the grace of a young prince, and all due respect to me, GB simply said...I'd rather have carrots. Now that's a way to win a war.

With all the work that Ms. Obama is doing, and it's great work, the real battle resides at home.  It's marvelous for food manufacturers to reduce salt and sugar and taper portion sizes, but the criteria for "healthy eating" is a moving target.  At home, and in my book for teens called Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs, our mantra is simply this:  FRESH. F=farmer-friendly, R=ripe-ready, E=easy, exciting, S=sustainable, H=honest-healthy.  If your cooking at home represents at least two of these factors, then you, too, may win the war.