Michelle. You know I love you. And the bangs look great. But you know who really needs a makeover right now? MyPlate.gov. Seriously. Someone go get Tim Gunn.

Mrs. Obama aka Mrs. Worldwide aka Mrs. 202 aka The Closer aka Love-You-In-Salamander in Chief. You know so much more about America than I do. You have shaken so many hands, held so many children, danced in so many school cafeterias, eaten in so many local food establishments, have probably been to South Dakota, and could most definitely pull off one of these. Whereas I drove through South Carolina that one time.

Tomato and avocado were booked, so USDA invited pineapple and papaya to the pita puke party instead!

But I am pretty sure that if you are trying to get Americans to eat healthier, you don’t want to open with this monstrosity. Canned fruit, spinach, cilantro, peanut butter, fat-free cream cheese, soy sauce and ‘reserved canned fruit juice’ all in a whole wheat pita pocket? It sounds like we are a packet of jello away from the culinary dark ages.

This would make a great Lady Gaga hat.

Lady Gaga, call me. I have an idea for your next hat.

Oh, I’m sure the Fruity Thai Pita Pocket is healthy and on budget. There are probably other things you had to take into account while designing these recipes that I am overlooking. But show me the person that is going to put that pita pocket disaster in their mouth, especially if they aren’t used to eating fruit and veggie based meals? With enough beer I could maybe eat 3/4 of one, but I’m willing to bet that the kids who order fries and chicken nuggets at lunch every day are not going to dive head first into a spinachcilantro-cannedfruit-soysauce-peanutbutter fiesta. Did someone at USDA just throw darts at a wall of ingredients to come up with this one?

There are a few good recipes on Myplate.gov’s recipe page, but the Fruity Thai Pita Pocket is not the only recommendation that sounds like the side dish that one aunt brought to Thanksgiving from 1953 to 1967. Sweet and Juicy Raisin Tapenade, Shrimp Confetti Salad Sandwich with Grapes, Celery with Apricot Blue Cheese Spread, Curried Chicken with Raisins and Mushrooms, and Ham and Swiss Breakfast Casserole are all raising red flags. Also, the Fruity Thai Pita Pocket is the first one you list. And about that list.

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Who designed this webpage? I know its the Federal government and there has been a pay freeze forever and the squester has been a major buzzkill, but no one pays interns anyway. Could you really not find anyone to look up photos of food on Pinterest for 15 minutes and spruce this baby up?

In all seriousness, there is so much potential here. What if Myplate.gov was a free resource with easy to use recipes that all met nutritional guidelines and were on budget with a reliable search engine organized by meal, ingredient, season and cost? Myplate.gov could feature celebrity chef recipes and video demos, partner with cooking schools and farmers, and there could be a place for people to upload photos when they try a recipe (#MamaObamaWouldBeProud).

Imagine a go-to site for families trying to figure out what to do for dinner. Because we need one of those. While its easy to find a recipe online, most sites don’t indicate a price tag or nutrition info for their recipes and searches as simple as “fruit salad” come up with results as godawful as this one.

Basically what I am saying, Mrs. Obama, is hire me. I will make this website look like the a .com instead of a .gov and then we can go have brunch and you can tell me about South Dakota.

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This weekend in cooking adventures:

Tragically, Thursday’s Pasta Carbonara was made, scarfed, and fondly remembered before having ever been immortalized on my iPhone. If a foodie prepares a meal and doesn’t take a picture, was the food ever really made at all?

At least Saturday’s Sourdough Pancakes & Mexican Sausage (recipe here) and Sunday’s Cauliflower & Butter Bean Salad (recipe here) both enjoyed stylish 10 second-long photo shoots before promptly being turned into energy.

I had never made either recipe but quickly found things to love about both. Sourdough pancakes? A bread maker’s life saver. Something about sourdough starter that you may or may not already know: if you don’t use half of it every week, you have to throw that half out. Not a huge deal, since it is just flour and water, but still a bit of a bummer and a waste. And since bread takes time and a bit of scheduling to bake, and some weekends there just isn’t enough sunshine to get through the kneading, fresh loaves don’t happen as often as I would like them to. Sourdough pancakes to the rescue: swap out the baking soda for starter, throw the batter on the cast iron, and try to remember to chew at least a little. Now, I finally have an excuse to make emergency pancakes. Feeling left out? Let me know if you want any of my starter or, if you just want to get straight to the pancakes, to come over for brunch 🙂

I got the recipe from a great blog called Frugal Feeding, which makes an effort to profile delicious recipes that can be made cheaply. According to Frugal’s math, two servings of the pancakes would set you back about $4 (I swapped in tomatoes and arugula for spinach, but used a cheaper meat).

The butter bean salad is worth adding to the recipe rotation for the same reason–its main components are cheap and filling. The barley, canned beans, head of cauliflower, parsley and lemon cost me about $16 for 8 servings. I doubled the beans and barley and still had over half of the barley, parsley and tarragon left. The cost doesn’t take into account the price of the olive oil, mayo, and mustard. And no, a serving isn’t the tiny amount pictured below–I just thought that it might look a little nicer in a white ramekin than in the plastic tupperware I was actually eating out of when I remembered to take a picture…

But most importantly, I am now set on lunch for the week and have enough left over pancakes for tomorrow’s breakfast which means at least 76 minutes worth of sleeping in over the next 5 days. Delicious.

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Coconut Bread of Champions

Photo from SmittenKitchen.com. Since my tea towels aren’t as pretty I thought I would just borrow Deb Pearlmans’s pic instead.

 

Having a slow week? Looking to refuel? Find yourself wishing that March would hurry up and go to hell, where all of its pseudo-snow and icy rain would melt and leave you and the month of April free to make out and get your first tan of the year on a bed of fresh peas, bike rides and sundresses? Maybe you weren’t, but I bet you are trying to visualize it now.

In any case, do yourself a favor and make this coconut bread from Smitten Kitchen. It is amazing. It keeps, slices and toasts easily, and tastes like 75 degrees and sunny with some honey and butter for breakfast.

FYI, for anyone looking to ease into cooking from scratch, Smitten Kitchen has some great weekday night recipes, lots of low-budget meals, and recipes that push grocery lists out of comfort zones with fun produce combinations.

Small tangent before I mention some tweaks I made to the recipe: the last thing I want is to come across as a health nut on this blog. I love butter and chocolate and short ribs and olive oil and booze and cream as much as any one, and while I enjoy trying to figure it out, for the time being at least, balanced eating remains neither effortless nor obvious.

So when I say that, in general, you can get away with reducing the butter and/or sugar in Smitten Kitchen desserts by at least a fourth without altering the taste (in this case, unsweetened coconut flakes and only 4 tablespoons of butter worked great), and that in this recipe, swapping in a half a cup of whole wheat flour turned this bread into a much heartier breakfast, I hope you won’t think that I chase my chia seeds with wheatgrass shots before my 5am cycling class every morning.

If you are not convinced, my last recipe suggestion should do it. Inspired by one of my Mother’s Theories On Life (affectionately known as MTOLs growing up) that used to drive my dad crazy, because she always used the good stuff, I recommend that you add a tablespoon of rum along with the vanilla extract. MTOL #1: desserts are always better with a healthy dash of liquor.

Happy baking!

Sunshine Bread

Ingredients: Flour, water, starter, salt, thyme, dates, sunshine.
Directions: Knead outside for 20 minutes on the first warm weather day of the year. Let rise, bake, and enjoy with honey and butter on the subsequent, not so sunny days. March can be a real tease.

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