Hungry in America

Whenever I make a meal for a gathering, I love to lay out all the plates and platters on the table and assign a dish to each one. I think it is the serenity of it that appeals to me—all these plates sitting there so peaceful and pretty before they’re filled with heaps and mounds of food.

But there’s nothing pretty at all about dishes that stand empty for one, two or even three meals a day. And there is no serenity in lying awake at night wondering how in the world you’re going to feed your child.

That is the reality of 49 million Americans who struggle with hunger. That’s 1 in 8 American families; 1 in 4 children.

In 1968, CBS aired a one-hour documentary that shocked the country with its report that 10 million Americans were facing hunger. Congressmen George McGovern and Bob Dole responded by creating legislation to form programs like WIC, a supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children, modern day food stamps and school feeding programs. Much of it worked.

But somehow hunger became a lost priority. With each passing decade, the number of hungry families in our own country climbed, from 10 million to 30 million to a staggering 49 million in 2008. That’s five times the population of Hungary, and almost the entire population of France.

What’s shocking is that most of these families have at least one adult who works full time. And none of these families goes lacks food because our country lacks the resources to grow enough. This isn’t a famine. This is an outrage.

The United States is the only wealthy, industrialized nation with a massive hunger crisis. Why?

That is exactly the question the filmmakers behind the documentary Hungry in America seek to answer.

Private food banks, pantries and other feeding programs financed through charity seek to address hunger, but the need is too great. The problems causing hunger need to be addressed on a bigger scale. We need to ask questions like why ten percent of America’s largest and richest corporate farms collect almost 75% of federal farm subsidies; and why are many of these the same farms that grow corn to produce foods sweetened with corn syrup and sold cheaply to low-income Americans.

Good Food is everyone's right.

That is a belief I share with organizations like FEED projects, Good Food Gardens, Share our Strength and Hungry in America. Last night, at Colicchio and Sons restaurant in Manhattan, Tom Colicchio {of Top Chef fame} joined FEED foundation and Vanity Fair to raise funds to finish the film that will be a game changer in the fight against hunger, and to help launch FEED USA. Many generous New Yorker’s including Natalie Portman, Katie Couric, and Jake Gyllenhal gathered to lend their support, their celebrity, or their sense of responsibility to the filmmakers.

After we all ate rounds of carefully crafted potato gnocchi with braised brussel sprouts, tuna sashimi, lamb loin with lentils, and steamed oysters with celeriac slaw, we paused to try to imagine what it would feel like to have an empty belly as we listened to the voices of hunger as filmed by Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush, the women behind  Hungry in America.

It’s a difficult thing to imagine, an empty fridge, an empty pantry, an empty plate. But it exists. In this country. No one can turn away from the true stories of those who live in that nightmare every day.

When the film is finished and shown across the country, the hope is that we can count on the passion and empathy of the American people to demand national change. In the meantime, the film, and the feeding, requires individual change and the generosity of sponsors like you. If you can, please support the film here. And you can help FEED a child here. 


Mad Hungry {books}

“Men eat differently than women—they eat more, they eat constantly, and they eat passionately.”  ~Lucinda Scala Quinn
I always thought I had the man food thing down pretty well. It was with food that I first lured András to my side, and he’s cleaned his plate during every meal since, praising my culinary prowess. But my focus has always been on quality over quantity—small amounts of exceptionally raised, lovingly braised bits of goodness that just fill us up.

Recently I learned that I’ve been going about the whole thing all wrong. Quality is key, but a hearty helping counts for an awful lot. My wake up call came when András came to pick me up at work for date night one recent Friday.  My colleague and friend Claudia, wife, and mother of two half-grown men, had just cooked up an oversized portion of pasta. She offered András a little taste before we headed to our concert, and before I knew it he was pulled up to the bar opposite her cook top, polishing off his second plate. It was more than I had ever seen him eat at home.

I’ve since learned that as intuitive as it is to cook for anyone we love, there really is an art to feeding the men and boys in our lives—be it boyfriend, brother, best buddy or little boy. No one knows this better than Lucinda Scala Quinn, author of the playful new book Mad Hungry : Feeding Men & Boys. You may recognize her name and face from the pages of Martha Stewart Living, where she is the Executive Food Director, but her shining role is that of wife, and mother to three active boys whom she feeds with the spirited recipes she’s created and gathered cooking her way through life.

I sent a copy of this book to my sister Jenny in San Diego, who has the joyous job of feeding her hubby and my nephew Benjamin, both excellent eaters. Last week she added one more man to that list, my dad, while my parents were out there visiting.

Tonight, upon their return, I called Mom and Dad to hear about the trip and Dad’s report centered firmly around Jenny’s chicken parmesan dinner, which came from the pages of this book.

“Where can I get mother a copy of that Man Hunger book?” Dad asked.

Right here

Date Night {Roman's}

ft. greene, brooklyn

Last night we had dinner with our friends Katie and Parker at their new neighborhood restaurant,  Roman's.  The meal was simple, satisfying, actually kind of perfect. Romans serves like kind of food that you could make at home but tastes especially good when someone else has done the work for you—things like stretched mozzarella on toasted bread, hen of the woods mushroom toasts with telleggio fonduta, and tagliatelle in a light rabbit ragu. It all adds up to a belly that’s not overly full, but incredibly satisfied.  And they have a pretty savory beer list too. Try the Aventiunus Doppelbock.

Between the four of us, we don’t each much meat, but we share a philosophy on eating humanely raised meats sold directly to the consumer.  Roman’s is the kind of place that celebrates that too, so go ahead and order the beef rib agnolotti {if it’s still there, the menu changes daily}. It helps to have your very own butcher, as Roman's does {Marlow and Daughters} but we won’t begrudge their good fortune since they’re not greedy with their resources. You can get quality meats from their butcher too, just down the road apiece.

243 Dekalb Avenue
Ft. Greene, NY

95 Broadway
Williamsburg, Brooklyn


Liège Waffles {a love offering}

Today when I was reading through the Saveur 100 {February + March issue} I got stuck on no. 92, submitted by Isabelle Zgonc of Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania. Her ode to the Chicken Paprikash her mother used to make began like this...

"In the minds of some of their Eastern European immigrant neighbors, my parents, Lester and Olga Kolozy, had a mixed marriage: he was Hungarian and she was Slovenian. It didn't get in the way too much, though; they were married for 60 years. They fell in love after my father spotted my mother at a Valentine's Day dance in Cleveland, Ohio; her parents told her not to marry a Hungarian, because all they think about is their next meal." 

I was not given such similar warnings before marrying András, who is also Hungarian, but if I had, like Olga, I doubt I would have listened. I read on to learn that Olga became an accomplished Hungarian cook and made her husband's mouth water for the flavors of home. Like Olga, I learned quickly that sometimes the best way to show a Hungarian man, or any man for that matter that you love him is with a plate full of his favorite food. This is true on any day, but especially on Valentine's Day.

Though András loves the food of his homeland and seems to feel extra loved when I sprinkle paprika on anything from fried eggs to fish, his favorite food as of late hails from Belgium —Gaufres de Liège, or Liège style waffles.

Gaufres de Liege are the crisp, sweet, dense and chewy waffles you find in the street stands in Brussels, Brugge or the city of Liège. There they are served simply with a dusting of powdered sugar,  a far different thing than the oversized, airy waffles we see on breakfast menus here at home.  According to legend, Liege waffles were brought to New York via The Waffle Guy, by appointment of the Belgian Ministry of Culinary Affairs. András fell in love with "the chewy ones" as he calls them, at the hands of the Wafels and Dinges truck who serve them at his cycling races, and has been asking me to make them ever since. 

We make standard Belgian waffles regularly, but the two of the three ingredients that give Liège waffles their distinctive texture—bread flour, large amounts of butter kneaded into a yeasted dough {like brioche} and pearl sugar that caramelizes on the hot iron—aren't things I always have on hand. But thanks to the internet and a little advance planning, I was in the running for wife if the year. 

After the dough was made, butter and pearl sugar kneaded in, and iron pre-heated, I set a simple table with the tulips he'd brought me and useless forks, and cooked up batch after batch of hot "chewy ones." {recipe hereWe ate them by hand, one after another, first with sugar then Nutella, as I pulled them hot from the iron. András lapped me several times, rubbed his belly, kissed my hand and retired to the couch where he seemed contended for about a half hour before he asked, 

"Are there any more?" 

In a world of glass slippers and glittering castles, a question like that might make a girl feel forlorn. In the world of Lesters and Olgas, the world to which I belong, that's a question that sounds a lot like love.


Sweet Nothings {chocolate}

"Love is a canvas furnished by nature and embroidered by imagination."

It seems that chocolate for Valentine's day never goes out of style.  A well-dressed bar from Mast Brother's Chocolate, the Brooklyn chocolatiers whose chocolates come hand-wrapped in vintage paper, would certainly make a suitable offering for your beloved. But why should they have all the fun? Hand-wrap your own, as I have, in one of the pretty papers you saved from your last paper spree {my favorites come from here}. A handmade sweet nothing that speaks volumes in love.



{a love letter}

A few years ago, I wrote an ode to an old love that was picked up by Chow as their favorite love letter of the season {flattering!}. When I ran across it the other day, I found it still stirred feelings for a flavor that's gone remiss on my table; I thought it worth reprinting here in honor of rekindled flames and the coming of cupid. 

There is something about Octopus that always makes me feel like love. It wouldn’t have seemed so when I first tasted the eight-armed creature back in the second grade when my classmate brought in cold Korean-style octopus for show and tell. I stepped right up to taste, but the texture was foreign, and the flavor did nothing to quiet my concerns that the suctions would stick to the insides of my cheek. The experience was memorable, but not in the way a food wants to be remembered. It wasn't exactly love at first bite.

Years later, at a dinner with Japanese delegates from the UN, my hosts insisted I’d find love in a bowl of baby octopi, heads and all. Like an ill-matched pair on a blind date, we sat at an awkward distance, the octopi and I, until etiquette necessitated I eat them in their entirety, with nary a lick of sauce or soy. It seemed there just was no chemistry. 

Several years later, the cephalopod waived its flirtatious arms my way again, this time more successfully, at a dinner prepared for me by my dear Valentine. An adventurous eater who’d spent several years near the sea in Spain, my Valentine and I shared a deep affection for foods that swim. When he placed the octopus before me, its skin glistened through the generous layers of olive oil, lemon juice and parsley; I couldn’t resist. It was delicious— tender, juicy, and meaty in a way I’d never thought seafood could be. 

Though I had never cooked octopus myself, I'd heard storied techniques for tenderizing that ranged from beating it with a rolling pin to cooking it with a cork. I saw my Valentine’s success as valiant, like wrestling a bear in the wild. So infatuated was I that I didn’t think to ask for details about how he’d prepared it (beaten and bruised?), where he had bought it (Chinatown?), or why he had gone to all of that work for just two itty bitty portions. I was in love.

Several months later, during a Central Park picnic, this Valentine produced a Spanish tin of Pulpo in Olio (Octopus in Olive Oil), a lemon, and a set of toothpicks. He pulled the tin back the pop-top handle, halved the lemon with his well-worn Opinel knife and squeezed the juice that quickened into the oil as an impromptu dressing. Having not the habit of eating foods from a can, I was skeptical but still amorous, so I partook. With one bite I knew I’d been blinded by love—the canned octopus had the same succulent tenderness as the one I’d tasted at his house. I should have known that my Valentine had more suave than skill.

That’s how I got stuck on octopus. Like every good love affair, it’s had its ups and downs, but there is always something new to discover. I’ve had octopus in paella and ala plancha, hot and sizzling, grilled and charred, sushi style, Spanish style, simple and sublime— always at the hands of a trusted chef, but never in my own kitchen.  Many things deterred me from trying it at home, the hours of beating and braising, seasoning and saucing that are required, the posture of the octopi lining the streets of Chinatown.

Last week, in a fit of Valentine’s nostalgia, I ordered Grilled Octopus with Fagioli Diavoli Beans and Cavolo Nero at Del Posto, across the street from my kitchen at work. It was captivating—skillfully charred and curled on top of earthy braised greens and buttery beans. Leave it to Mark Ladner, the man behind the menu of Mario Batali's Del Posto to create such simple goodness. I've rubbed elbows with Mark enough during the taping of Iron Chef {where he's Batali's sous chef} to peek into the kitchen and ask him his secret, inspiration to try it at home. But then again, I could cross the street, a far simpler proposition.

And then, there is always the tin can.

Recently, dear friends moved from Madrid to New York. As a token of love, I made them a meal with flavors from home—sardines, Branzino, braised lamb in TempranilloManchego cheese, and pulpo.

They praised all, but best of all the pulpo. They didn’t ask how I’d made it so tender, where I’d hid the remains, or which local fishmonger I preferred. And like my old valentine, I didn’t tell.

Maybe that’s the secret to love.


lazy lady churros {donuts}

l.i.c., ny

For the first time in my six years working at Food Network, the office is closed today for snow. Hooray for Snow Days! They’re a perfect excuse to take good care of yourself— soak in the tub, boil up a pot of water to steam your face, and make good use of your leftover churro batter. If you’re feeling lazy, like me, forgo the piping bag and lower little spoonfuls of batter into the hot oil to fry up little donut holes. Smother them in a blizzard of cinnamon sugar and snuggle in. Skip the guilt; I’m sure you’ll work it off with some vigorous play in the snow later today. 

Igloo making anyone? 


Postcards from El Morro

mexico city, mexico

I can’t quite recall exactly how András and I chose Mexico City as the starting point for our honeymoon, but I can recall the thing that made it hard to leave— hot chocolate and churros from Churreria El Morro. It could be argued by locals that these are actually the second best churros in Mexico City, but nothing could match the atmosphere in this 1930’s institution. There we could sit for hours, waiting for our churros and hot chocolate {Spanish, French, or Mexican style}, watching waitresses come and go in pink pinafores and pearly white loafers as gentleman snapped sections from ring upon ring of freshly fried churros.  Soaked in cinnamon sugar, each stack lasted only half as long as we hoped and seconds were a sure thing.

We’ve have been talking about those churros so much lately that one day recently when we were pedaling back from Brooklyn on a too-cold day, András pulled into the parking lot of Costo to share a dirty little secret with me—$1 a bag churros in the Costco cafeteria.

I’d like you tell you that I slapped his wrist and steered him in a different direction, and that absolutely everything we eat is always and forever more hand made by me. That’s only about 85 % true. The truth is, my lame attempts at a protest weren’t successful. I was too frozen stiff to argue, and besides, have you ever tried to take a toy from a toddler?

Costco’s churros have nothing on the crispy columns with melting interiors we experienced in Mexico. Not even $1 worth. So tonight, while the rest of the world was immersed in the superbowl, I set out to do some quality rewiring on András taste buds with a fresh batch of my own.  

{click recipe to enlarge}

My photo
New York City, United States
Sarah Copeland is a food and lifestyle expert, and the author of Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite, and The Newlywed Cookbook. She is the Food Director at Real Simple magazine, and has appeared in numerous national publications including Saveur, Health, Fitness, Shape, Martha Stewart Living and Food & Wine magazines. As a passionate gardener, Sarah's Edible Living philosophy aims to inspire good living through growing, cooking and enjoying delicious, irresistible whole foods. She thrives on homegrown veggies, stinky cheese and chocolate cake. Sarah lives in New York with her husband and their young daughter.