Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Tales From The School Cafeteria: How I Love Thee, Cardboard Tray.

What do the following have in common?

• Bean Burritos
• Creamed Chicken on Rice
• Shredded Carrot and Raisin Salad
• Taco Casserole
• Fish Sticks

Besides all being foods that you may find in my purse on any given day, they're all things that I remember being served in the school cafeteria. If I sound wistful, I am - I'm one of the freakish few that actually liked what we were served by the hair-netted ladies in the white smocks. Of course, I like eating sardines out of the can and natto, Japanese fermented soybeans, so that says alot about me right there.

When The Parent Blogger's Network requested a post on "Tales From The School Cafeteria" I have to say it triggered only good, nostalgic memories for me. There may have been a few traumatic ones, for instance the time I asked for seconds on my Jell-O cup and was practically chased out with a meat cleaver, but for the most part I remember lunchtime being a bright spot in my day. I even worked in the cafeteria for a semester as a student volunteer, and along with receiving lots of free food, it definitely had a certain cachet to it - it's amazing how your popularity soars when your friends realize you can sneak an extra cinnamon bun out to them at recess.

My kids, now in elementary school, eat in their school's cafeteria almost every day. Where else can you get a hot meal for only a dollar? And while the other, overriding reason is that I'm essentially too damn lazy to make them a lunch every day, I think they're getting a decent balanced meal. Sure they lack on presentation - do they really have to serve their hamburgers on buns that look like they've been sitting under a stack of ten-pound weights? But I've studied the menus carefully and they always consist of a good sampling of the various food groups. Although the inclusion of nachos as a main course puzzles me, and on the days that's on the menu I always make sure I stop watching America's Top Model long enough to make them a sandwich.

And who are we kidding - our kids never their lunches anyways.

But there's another reasons I have a special place in my heart for the school cafeteria and the ladies (and let's face it, there are only cafeteria ladies - when was the last time you saw a man in there) who work long and hard to make sure hundreds of unruly kids get fed their pizza and cartons of milk.

My mother was one of those ladies. She worked for over twenty years in the busy cafeteria of an inner city middle school. Her paycheck put clothes on the backs and food on the table of five kids, especially helpful when my dad's business wasn't doing so well. She made lifelong friends there, a few that she sees regularly and others that she sees when they have their occasional reunions. And of course, she ate in the cafeteria every day that she worked behind that counter.

And now? My sprightly mom is 86 and in perfect health, with 20/20 vision and still drives a car. She works four days a week in her Senior Center, takes a computer class every Monday and always sees movies before me, since she goes out for 'movie & lunch' outings with her gaggle of girlfriends twice a month. Although I do have to admit it's a little disturbing when your elderly mother sees 'The 40-Year Old Virgin' before you and proceeds to tell you all about the waxing scene in detail.

Which leads me to believe that, say what you will about school cafeteria food but if my mom is any proof, it may just be the fountain of youth.


Check out these websites, that work together with School Food Services Directors, for helpful information regarding school lunches: School Menu, which has games for kids and an interesting feature that lets you download your school's lunch menu, and Family Everyday, which I found especially helpful for it's articles on nutrition and also recipes for making healthy lunches. It may just inspire me to get up and pack those sack lunches for my kids, afterall.

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Friday, June 1, 2007

Got Hobby?

During a brief period in middle school I remember being obsessed with macramé. I was a virtual knot-tying wizard, if you will, whipping up everything from belts to intricate plant hangers that I would then hang from the ceiling right next to my beaded curtain and Partridge Family poster. I wish I had saved one of my most prized creations, a necktie made from orange macramé cord and embedded with wooden beads that I remember wearing with my rainbow suspenders. Why I wasn't a hit with the boys back then is still a mystery to me.

Fast forward (more than ten years, less than ninety) to present day, and I am sadly, a woman without a hobby. Sure, I crochet the occasional cell phone case, or whip up the requisite emergency memorial for a deceased fish, but not with the fervor and dedication that I remember of my macramé days. And while a seatcover made out of knotted twine wouldn't necessarily fit in with our present decor, I still sometimes wish I had a diversion that I could sink my teeth into.

When the Parent Bloggers Network sent me a book to review called Get A Hobby, I was a little wary at first. Shouldn't the love for a particular activity be an organic one, and not simply plucked out of the pages of a book? But I was relieved to find that though it does have some serious advice (a foreword written by a neurologist proclaiming the health benefits of engaging in pleasurable activities ) and some bonafide hobbies (Furniture Restoration, Quilting) author Tina Barseghian's approach is pretty tongue-in-cheek. How else to explain the quiz to find your "Hobby Personality" where one of the questions is "Name one of the leaders of the peasant's revolt of 1381"?

If anything, I found this book highly entertaining and well written. From hobbies such as Dumpster Diving ("dive for tchotchkes, not classified information") to Gourd Crafting ("the versatile gourd can be used as food and as a functional readymade container!") I got a kick out of reading these out loud to my husband, whose ears perked up at the mention of Urban Animal Husbandry until I pointed out that it involved raising farm animals and wasn't slang for sleeping around.

Nevertheless, I decided to make a concerted effort to utilize the book and it's hobby-assigning powers. And then, I saw it. There, on page 74, was the one hobby that seemed like the answer to my prayers.

Deep Frying. Yes, Deep Frying.

From the magical words "...flaky coating around a soft warm interior" to the recipe for Scottish deep fried Mars bar, I felt like the author was speaking just to me. And then there's the profile titled, 'Deeply Satisfying' where cookbook author Rick Brown is quoted as saying, "Fat tastes good" and goes on to recommend deep-frying everything from fruit to Oreos.

Rick, you had me at fat.

Wanna buy some hobby supplies? Go here and leave a comment for your chance to win a $100 gift card to Michael's Arts and Crafts.

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