Fun, healthy lunchbox ideas

— The daily routine of packing foods for lunchtime may seem boring, but the food inside those lunchboxes doesn’t have to be. Consider your students’ personality when planning school lunches.

Whether the cafeteria-bound container features Hello Kitty or Justin Bieber, the foods inside should be customized to fit age, activity level and personal style. So how do you get beyond the usual carrots and celery sticks? Noted nutrition expert, award winning food journalist and television personality, Carolyn O’Neil, MS RD LD, advises parents to think about the personality of each child when assembling lunch.

Fix finger foods for young eaters

Overwhelmed little students may do best with tiny bites of finger foods. So, if you have a shy first grader, send them with string cheese sticks, whole grain crackers, baby carrots and cut-up fruit.

Cucumber wheels, red or orange bell pepper strips, and sugar snap peas are also colorful and nutritious finger foods. Add low-fat ranch dressing or individual packs of fiber- and protein-rich hummus for dipping. The oil in these dips actually helps kids absorb more of the veggie’s fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin B.

Up the nutrition for those not focused on lunch

What about the teens and tweens focused on anything but the lunch at lunchtime? Older kids focused on friends might prefer a sandwich and a bunch of grapes.

“That table of girls checking out the new guy don’t want to be seen wolfing down large portions,” O’Neil said. “A dainty sandwich cut into quarters or half of a whole-wheat pita sandwich might be a better fit. Choose lean proteins such as sliced turkey, roast beef or deli ham to maximize nutrition and minimize calories. For something sweet, they may prefer to dip grapes, strawberries or pineapple chunks in protein-packed Greek yogurt.”

Pack plenty of food for hungry athletes

Hungry athletes need larger servings of healthy foods for lunch, such as an extra slice of turkey on a sandwich and whole grain tortilla chips with an individual pack of salsa. These energy-burning kids may also need two cartons of cold milk for hydration and nutrition.

For after school, pack a snack to keep your sports star energized. They can refuel before sports practice with fresh fruit or the extra protein in a granola bar with peanuts or other nuts.

No matter what’s on the menu for your students, follow the USDA MyPlate nutrition icon. This visual for good nutrition indicates half of a healthy plate be filled with fruit and vegetables, with the two other quarters occupied by a lean protein and a whole grain starch. To complete the meal, add a cup of fat free or low fat milk. Look for food safety tips and after school snack ideas at

Delight guests with a decadent dessert bar

— Anyone who entertains knows it takes effort to make it look effortless. For those planning to host a dinner party this holiday season — or throughout the year — incorporating special touches is part of the fun and adds to your guests’ experience.

The next occasion where you plan on entertaining, resist the temptation to delegate bringing a dessert to your guests. Instead, save the best for last by serving up a dessert pie bar as the sweet finale to a wonderful gathering. Follow these easy steps to help bring your dessert bar to life for your next event.

Decadent and decorative dessert pie bar

Create a pie bar that looks as pretty as it is delicious. Indulge your guests with an easy-to-create pie bar that delivers an unexpected, tempting twist for your event.

Shhhhh …it can be your little secret

Finding ways to save time without compromising quality is the hallmark of a savvy host or hostess. With the high-quality ingredients and handmade touches available in today’s pre-made pies in the frozen aisle of your local grocery store, your guests will never guess that the flaky crust on their pie isn’t homemade when it looks and tastes just like it is made from scratch. With more than 21 delicious dessert pie varieties, let Marie Callender’s be your extra set of hands in the kitchen and bring signature special touches to your next occasion.

Pie pairings that please

When planning your pie bar, select an assortment of three to five pies that bring complementary color, texture and flavor. For a traditional pie bar serve holiday favorites, such as Dutch Apple Pie, Pumpkin Pie and Southern Pecan Pie. Wow your guests with a pie bar full of vibrant colors by slicing into the rich Razzleberry Pie, Lattice Cherry Pie, and Peppermint Pie. If you have chocolate lovers on the guest list, satisfy their cravings with a chocolate lover’s themed pie bar, serving Chocolate Satin Pie, Turtle Pie and Peanut Butter Cream Pie.

Top it all off

Let your guests get in on the fun with a toppings bar that allows them to tailor each piece of pie to their tastes. Consider presenting a wide selection of toppings for mixing and matching like Reddi-wip, ice cream, chocolate syrup, chocolate chips, marshmallows, coconut, crushed cookies and fresh fruit.

A delightful display

Show off the signature special touches of each pie with a display of elevated pie stands. Keep some pies sliced in the pie dish and some served onto dessert plates for added dimension. You can always replenish the plated slices as needed to avoid a cluttered table. Add to the festivity by displaying the array of toppings in martini glasses or Mason jars and feature pie slices on small, square platters to complement the round pies. Don’t forget to add a pie server next to each pie and spoons for each topping.

Tie together with a tag

Once your pies and toppings have been creatively displayed on your table, add custom labels that fit your theme so guests can easily determine what the selection includes. Distinguish your pies with foldable tent labels or tags for each variety served. These can be easy to make and personalize if you are feeling crafty, or purchased at a local paper goods or craft store. Label each topping selection by simply tying a tag around the martini glass or Mason jar with ribbon.

The time you save on making pies will allow you to savor every delicious moment of the evening with friends and family. For more inspiration on pie pairings, visit

Visit www.baltimoretimes-online for Thanksgiving recipes of all kinds

Howard County Firefighters contribute to cookbook

Howard County Firefighter Kevin Weisenborn has become used to cooking for the group of guys he describes as “10 very picky eaters” that he regularly feeds at the local firehouse.

His firefighter brother, Barry Griffin, once worked as a chef in Washington, D.C. and both had inklings that their cooking prowess would serve them well one day— and, that day has come to pass. The two have made it into a national cookbook, “Playing with Fires: Firehouse Recipes and their Chefs.”

“Playing with Fires: Firehouse Recipes and their Chefs” is available on

“Playing with Fires: Firehouse Recipes and their Chefs” is available on

“I got a telephone call from Jackie Kotei, the public information officer for the Department of Fire and Rescue Services in Howard County, who told me that a cookbook was being published for the Fallen Firefighters Foundation and she asked me to put together a recipe,” Weisenborn said, noting that he happily submitted his famous Sun-dried tomato and basil chicken recipe for the new book, which is available for sale at and

Griffin, who enjoys making pasta, counted it as an honor to be a part of the cookbook to assist the foundation, which is located in Emmitsburg, Maryland and whose mission is to keep the memory alive of those who lost their lives while serving others.

“I don’t really have a favorite dish, I just enjoy cooking,” said Griffin, who is married with two daughters.

Griffin says that he and his wife share cooking duties, but when asked whose meals his daughters enjoy most, the unabashed firefighter said, “Dad’s.”

The cookbook, which sells for $16.45, is a collection of recipes from firefighters in each state and several foreign countries.

From small volunteer responders to some of the largest departments in the nation, every recipe counts as a favorite for those who partake, according to the book’s authors, Washington State Firefighter and Chef Steven Siler and Jennifer Westerdoll.

With the introduction, “Life of a Firefighter,” the book contains the history of each firefighter organization with full color photos of firefighters in action, interesting facts and quotes about the fire service.

“Our department was selected as the finalist to represent the state of Maryland,” Kotei said. “Not only is Howard County the best in EMS and all hazards but now we are also on the map for throwing down in the kitchen,” she said, playfully adding that it might be time for a cook-off between Weisenborn and Griffin.

“I think we’d do better when we cook together,” said Weisenborn, who said he also enjoys preparing Rosemary Chicken for his fellow firefighters because usually there isn’t much time before an alarm sounds and the meal is quick and easy.

Each of the men is quick to reveal a menu for every meal.

“For breakfast, I like a nice biscuit and gravy and for dinner, anything with bacon such as a loaded baked potato, mashed potato, baby spinach, steak or chicken breast,” Weisenborn said.

For Griffin, breakfast starts with an omelet with roasted potatoes and perhaps kielbasa. “Dinner contains meat and potatoes, heavy cream pasta, spinach, chicken and herbs,” he said. Both agreed that when it comes to lunch, everyone has to fend for themselves.

For more information about the National Firefighters Association or the cookbook, visit or

Summer foods: Okra love it or hate it

— In this series for the Southern Foodways Alliance, I am examining iconic Southern foods that so completely belong to summer that if you haven’t relished them before Labor Day, you should consider yourself deprived of the entire season. My plan is to share a little history and a few recipes that I hope you will enjoy.

This week, it’s all about okra.

Ok, I know, I know. Stop. You either love okra or you absolutely hate it, and you’ve already decided to click away. Stay. Please, please stay. I’ve got this, really, I do. Okra is the new asparagus. Seriously. I’m certain of it.

I’m an official okra missionary. I am here to convert—and I can even help you past the slime. Coincidentally, I’ve recently written an entire book about okra for The University of North Carolina Press series called “Savor the South” that will be out in spring 2014. Other ingredients that are featured in the series include tomatoes, buttermilk, pecans and sweet potatoes. The deal is, I asked for this crazy, argumentative topic. I chose okra over bourbon! And, through this blog post for SFA you have a sneak peak at what I’ve learned becoming one with okra.

This is what I know: Okra is a controversial vegetable. It is as much a part of Southern cuisine as collard greens and fried chicken. But in the Southern kitchen, it is far more controversial. Folks love okra or they hate it. No one — veritably no one — is in the middle.

I also know this: Okra lovers passionately love okra in all manners of all shapes and forms. Boiled, fried, steamed, grilled, broiled, pickled, whole, sliced and julienned. I love it raw in a salad. You name it, okra lovers love okra. Those who hate it think it’s slimy, gooey and gummy. Some even go as far to call it “mucilaginous ick.”

In my opinion, they haven’t met the right okra.

According to The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, African slaves brought okra across the Atlantic Ocean during the slave trading era. Little is known about the early history and distribution of okra, but it is thought to have originated in equatorial Africa. It eventually made its way into Northern Africa, the Mediterranean and India before its journey across the Atlantic to the New World.

Okra is a main component in gumbo. There are two main considerations for the etymology of the word “gumbo.” The first suggests that in Bantu, the language family of Southern Africa, which includes Swahili, okra is called ngumbo, and this is where gumbo originates. The second is that “gumbo” is believed to be a corruption of the Portuguese corruption, quingombo, or the word quillobo, native name for the plant in the Congo and Angola.

Okra is not, however, solely found in the American South or in Africa. The ancient routes by which okra was taken from central Africa to Egypt to the eastern Mediterranean and to India is not certain, but we do know that okra is found in abundance in three major areas today — East Africa, India and Southeast Asia. It is also found in pockets in the Caribbean, as well as in South America.

One thing is for certain: If the weather is hot, okra will grow.

There are actually 50 species of wild and cultivated okra around the world. According to the USDA, okra grows best in zones 4a through 11 in the United States. One acre of okra usually produces 200 to 250 bushels of okra, or approximately 600 to 750 pounds. That is a lot of gumbo! Depending on the variety, the plant will tower up to 12 feet in the Southern garden. Clemson Spineless is the favorite hybrid of Southern gardeners, but many heirloom varieties are reemerging from the garden shed, including Star of David, a stumpy star-shaped pod; Hill Country Red, a vivid velvety red okra from Texas; and Perkins Mammoth Long Pod, an okra varietal that produces pods up to 16 inches in length — and still tastes good!

On that note, most okra doesn’t taste good when it’s that long; it becomes tough and woody. In general, look for young, small pods no longer than 4 inches, depending on the variety. There is a reason okra is called ladyfingers in some countries. Seek out pods smaller than a lady’s finger! At the market, buy okra that is firm, unblemished and brightly colored. Green is the most common color available, but you may also find red or deep burgundy varieties, even pale green, almost white, especially at local farmers markets. Make sure to avoid limp, bruised, blemished and moldy pods.

To get you started, here are my top five tips to get you past the slime, followed by a very unorthodox grilled gumbo that keeps the both the slime — and time — factor to a minimum.

Top Five Slime Busting Tips:

Choose small pods.

Wash and dry okra very, very thoroughly.

Don’t cut okra into pieces; cook whole pods.

Add an acid like tomato, lemon juice, vinegar or wine when cooking.

Overcooking produces more slime! Don’t overcook okra.

Grilled Shrimp and Okra “Gumbo”

Serves 6

Leave the soup pot in the cupboard! Succulent shrimp and spicy Andouille sausage team up with sweet onion, tomatoes and okra for a delicious dish that tastes like gumbo but doesn’t take hours to cook. This dish is going to absolutely knock your socks off.

1 pound large shrimp (21-25 count), peeled and deveined

12 ounces fully cooked Andouille sausage, halved lengthwise

1 pint grape tomatoes

12 ounces finger-size okra, stems trimmed

1 onion, preferably Vidalia, sliced into 1/4-inch rings

1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into strips

1 poblano or green bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into quarters

1/4 cup pure olive oil

2 teaspoons Creole or Cajun seasoning, plus more to taste

1/4 cup ketchup, warmed

4 green onions, white and pale green parts only, chopped

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Hot cooked rice, for serving

Prepare a charcoal fire using about 6 pounds of charcoal and burn until the coals are completely covered with a thin coating of light gray ash, 20 to 30 minutes. Spread the coals evenly over the grill bottom, position the grill rack above the coals and heat until medium-hot (when you can hold your hand 5 inches above the grill surface for no longer than 3 or 4 seconds). Or, for a gas grill, turn on all burners to high, close the lid and heat until very hot, 10 to 15 minutes.

Combine the shrimp, sausage, tomatoes, okra, onion and bell peppers in a large bowl. Add the oil and Creole seasoning, and toss to coat the ingredients. Thread the shrimp, tomatoes, okra and pepper onto separate skewers. (The onions can go directly on the grill.) Or, use a grilling basket instead of skewers for the vegetables.

Place the vegetables on the hottest part of the grill. Arrange the sausage over slightly cooler heat and the shrimp at the edges of the grill. Cook, turning once or twice, until the shrimp is opaque, the sausage is heated through and the vegetables are tender and slightly charred, 8 to 10 minutes (the shrimp will take less time to cook). Slice the sausage, onion and bell peppers into bite-size pieces, then transfer them, along with the other ingredients, to a large bowl.

Toss the meat and vegetable mixture with the warmed ketchup and green onions. Cover the mixture tightly with plastic wrap and let the vegetables steam and wilt slightly, about 5 minutes. Remove the plastic wrap from the bowl. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper and Creole seasoning to your liking. Ladle over cooked rice in warmed serving bowls. Serve immediately.

As American as apple pie – the origins of picnic favorites

— There’s nothing quite so American as gathering your friends and family to celebrate Independence Day with a classic cookout.

We polled Eatocracy readers a while back, and nearly 38,000 votes later, it seems that the ultimate summer menu would consist of a burger (cooked medium and topped with cheese, lettuce and onions), potato salad, corn on the cob and watermelon, washed down with plenty of ice cold beer.

Only in the U.S.A., right?

Well, not quite. While those dishes may now be synonymous with American life, liberty and the pursuit of a really great picnic, like most of the citizens themselves, often their origins are elsewhere.

Let’s start with that burger. Time Magazine’s Josh Ozersky asserts in his 2008 book, “The Hamburger: A History” that the modern day incarnation of the formed patty between two halves of a bun is “an American invention” with endless regional variations like the Connecticut steamed cheeseburger, Mississippi slugburger or Oklahoma onion burger. Various inventors have laid claim to that innovation, from Charles “Hamburger Charlie” Nagreen, a vendor at the Seymour Fair in Wisconsin in 1885 and Fletcher Davis in Athens, Texas in the 1880s, to Frank and Robert Menches at the Erie Agricultural Fair in Hamburg, New York in 1885 (they also take credit for the invention of the ice cream cone at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904), or possibly Louis Lassen at Louis’ Lunch in New Haven, Connecticut in 1900.

While it took some American ingenuity to slap meat on some bread and render it a hand held sandwich, the concept of the patty itself was brought to the United States by German immigrants who had become fans of the Hamburg Steak. This cheap, chopped or roughly ground beef was mixed with fillers like breadcrumbs, suet and onions, bound with eggs and seasoned with nutmeg. The meat, often salted and smoked for preservation, was brought over to the United States by immigrants on the Hamburg America Line and became a popular menu item on New York City restaurants that catered to German sailors and European immigrants, hungry for the flavors of home.

That beloved potato salad, too, was the provenance of primarily German immigrants who brought over the endless regional variations that became popular in the U.S. in the latter half of the 19th century. While Spanish explorers introduced spuds to Europe in the 16th century and a few French and British potato salad recipes can be found in the texts of that time (see Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery and Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cookbook), the German versions – characterized by warm dressings featuring a heavy vinegar bite – prevailed. It took good old fashioned American engineering to add mayonnaise to create the creamy, often egg-laden versions seen in delis and gracing picnic tables across this great land today.

Corn on the cob – now, that’s one for the home team. Sweet corn – the variant of maize or field corn with a particularly high sugar content, which we use for cob consumption – was cultivated by Native Americans in the 1700s and shared with European settlers around the 1770s. It’s also extremely popular served as a Mexican street food called “elote.” In this preparation, cobs are grilled or roasted and slathered in condiments like lime, mayonnaise, cheese and powdered chiles.

Watermelon, ubiquitous at picnics from coast to coast, is believed to have originated in the Kalahari Desert of Africa. The melons were depicted in Egyptian heiroglyphics as far back as 5,000 years ago and were placed in the tombs of pharoahs to nourish them into the afterlife. Merchant ships brought the fruit to China by the 10th century, and that country remains the largest watermelon producer in the world. In his book “Southern food: at home, on the road, in history,” food historian John Egerton writes of watermelon’s introduction to the United States via African slaves, who also brought along okra, black-eyes peas, collard greens, yams and benne seed – also known as sesame.

And finally, to round out the feast: beer. Oh hoppy, malty, happy-making beer. Civilization has been brewing and quaffing permutations of beer since at least 6000 B.C., and studies show that Apache, Pueblo, Navajo and Tarahumara tribes in Northern Mexico and Arizona were no slouches, themselves – brewing a weak, corn-based beer called tiswin at least 1000 years ago.

Archaeologists also found evidence of fermented residue associated with beer production in 800 year old pots belonging to Pueblo tribes in what is now New Mexico. This contradicts previous assertions that the area had remained dry until the Spanish arrived in the 16th century with grapes and wine.

And as for that apple pie? English, Dutch and Swedish recipes go back centuries, but it’s believed that mock apple pie – made without apples – was invented by pioneers traveling out West in the mid-1800s. The ingenious travelers used similar spices to evoke the taste of the bounty they missed from back East.

Now that’s the flavor of good ol’ American ingenuity.


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Paula Deen and Southern food: Critics say credit is past due

— No matter how you slice it, Southern food is complicated. Some detractors dismiss the whole menu as an over-larded, gravy-drenched, carbed-up monolith; they clearly just haven’t been invited to the right homes for supper.

At its core, Southern food is one of the most multilayered, globally-influenced and constantly evolving cuisines on the planet. It’s inextricably and equally tied to the rhythms of the seasons and the lives of the people who cook it the way their grandmother did, and her grandmother before her, and so on.

No one cooks Southern food alone; there’s always a ghost in the corner giving guidance. For millions of people, that’s Paula Deen, a celebrity chef whose sugary, bubbly bonhomie has earned her the moniker “Queen of Southern Cooking” – as well as her share of critics.

Deen has come under fire in the past for promoting aggressively unhealthy recipes, then failing to disclose her diabetes diagnosis for three years before picking up a lucrative endorsement deal for a drug to treat it. Her more recent admission of a racial slur in the past and that she had once discussed putting on a “plantation-themed” wedding party – complete with waiters dressed in a manner reminiscent of slaves – has proven even more sickening to some.

Internet backlash was fierce and pointed, and at least four of Deen’s major sources of revenue – the Food Network, Walmart, Caesars Entertainment and Smithfield Foods – have cut ties with her and condemned her words. Although many fans have gone out of their way to express support for her online and at her flagship restaurant in Savannah, Georgia, Deen apologized in online videos and in a teary appearance on the Today Show.

But some African-American food and culture scholars find it’s what Deen didn’t say that’s the bitterest pill to swallow. They claim that she has profited off the culinary legacy of African Americans, a group she’s repeatedly failed to credit in her cookbooks or on her television shows. Their contributions to American cuisine are often marginalized in the food world, despite having introduced rice cultivation techniques to the South, along with watermelon, okra, chile peppers and other foods that were already part of the African palate. Representatives for Deen weren’t immediately available to comment on the issue.

In the wake of the controversy, pre-orders for Deen’s cookbook are red-hot, but some feel frozen out.

“We’re burned by this,” says writer and image activist Michaela Angela Davis. “Why does she get all the money and fame around the food that our ancestors created and sweated over?”

Davis argues that minimizing the role of the African-American culture’s contributions to Southern cooking isn’t unique to Deen, but fallout from a cultural system that needed to dehumanize slaves to keep the status quo. “Completely divorcing us from our history, our cuisine, our languages – that’s just all par for the course. You can’t let people have pride and then have them be your slaves.”

Culinary historian Michael Twitty agrees. “Our ancestors were not tertiary to the story of Southern food,” he says. “Whenever our role is minimized to just being passive participants or just the ‘help,’ it becomes a strike against culinary justice.”

“Paula Deen once did hoecake on her show and never once mentioned that this was the hardtack and daily bread of enslaved people,” he adds. So were, “gumbo, okra soup, red rice, fried chicken, black eyed peas, various greens, sweet potatoes, boiled peanuts, cala, jambalaya, hot sauce, barbecue, the list goes on.”

In Deen’s autobiography, “It Ain’t All About the Cookin’,” Deen touches on her dealings with the African-American community in her hometown, saying, “None of us were strangers to the black community, although they seemed to live their lives and we lived ours. I would say we lived a pretty unexamined life in terms of politics or civil rights.”

Perhaps if Deen were just “a cook” and not “the Charles Barkley of food,” as Syracuse University scholar Boyce Watkins argued in a discussion with Davis on CNN’s AC360, that lack of context around her food would be understandable and even acceptable. But as Davis pointed out, “She’s a brand.”

That brand reportedly pulled in more than $17 million dollars in 2012 alone, and Davis ascribes Deen’s lack of connection in some part to that level of success.

“We all related to her when she was at the bottom and worked her way up, ” Davis says. “When you put money in it and you’re in a different class, you get all the benefits of being white and privileged. Your sensitivity and need to know about us goes away. There’s nothing in your life that brings about the urgency of knowing about the culture you’re benefiting from.”

Twitty and Davis are both eager to have some potentially difficult and painful conversations – over a meal.

Twitty is on a mission of reclamation and healing in a project he calls The Cooking Gene. He spent much of 2012 on the “Southern Discomfort Tour,” visiting the former plantations where his ancestors were enslaved, meeting the descendents of the people who claimed ownership over his family, and sharing meals together. Through breaking bread in these haunted locales and having difficult conversations with people of all races, Twitty seeks to dispel any romantic notions of slavery, and begin to heal.

“I think the enduring myth is that slavery was a time when blacks knew their place, didn’t make trouble and served as the perfect status symbol of Western superiority and white supremacy. Nothing could be more un-American or untrue,” Twitty says.

“People who worked in the ‘big house’ didn’t have it easy. Women and men who cooked and served usually had one of three fates. They were often treated abusively and savagely punished; they could be family figures of great respect and trust or they were autocrats who used their unique role to carve out a special power niche with lines and boundaries not to be crossed.”

Cooking meant power in many cases, Twitty says, and per plantation records, good cooks were often “worth” more than a “plain” or “tolerable” cook.

There’s power in owning your culture’s narrative, Davis says, and it’s painful when a thing that should be a great source of pride and joy is instead used as a vehicle for shame. “Fried chicken is creative. Collards with smoked neckbones is creative,” Davis says.

“This generation gets to say, ‘No! Fried chicken is amazing!’ Everybody gets to participate in it, but let’s be clear about whose brilliance made this thing be popular.” It worries her that Paula Deen and Colonel Sanders are seen as “the face of fried chicken,” and sees it as a failure of an educational system that diminishes African-American contributions to history.

“We are the fried chicken makers – everybody’s grandma, Sadie, whomever, can make some fried chicken that would make your wig fall off,” she says. “African-Americans being ashamed to eat fried chicken or watermelons is heartbreaking and in complete alignment of the philosophical alignment of oppression and slavery. You’re made to turn against yourself and abandon your culture.”

Davis combats that in the kitchen, she says. While she doesn’t fry chicken every Sunday like her grandmother did, she corrals her daughter a couple times a year to show her how it’s done. Her daughter is from the lean-chicken-breast-on-the-grill generation, Davis jokes, but there’s a serious point: “We lose our food, we lose our stories.”

“I would sit in the kitchen while my grandmother told the story about her grandmother made this pound cake – as she’s making it and I’m watching,” she recalls. “I remember that she would use the notches in her fingers as measurements.

“It wasn’t precise, but there were all these stories and our history was completely folded up in telling these stories as you’re sitting in the kitchen and watching your grandmother and your mother cook. This happens with everybody. That’s why they call it ‘soul food.'”

And that’s what Davis wishes Deen would acknowledge – that she’s peddling and profiting off the food part, but leaving the soul behind.

Deen writes frequently about learning in the kitchen at her Grandma Paul’s side, and shares that story with a wider audience. African-American food traditions were often shared orally, and only within the community, Davis says. She now believes they need to take control over their own story, document it and spread the gospel. Cookbooks by African-American celebrities like Pearl Bailey and Patti LaBelle are a great start, but there needs to be more, and in cooks’ own words.

“If our stories aren’t told correctly and through a proper lens, we get cut out of the narrative,” Davis says.

“In those kitchen moments, my grandmother and grandfather’s life became real to me. We have to write it down. We’re not living in a time where people are eating fried chicken for four or five hours on Sunday, with anybody. This is the perfect time to take our oral history, film it, write it down so it’s not lost.”

Food justice activist and podcast host Nicole A. Taylor, a native Southerner, said in a recent video blog that she’s “done with Paula Deen,” but that the incident sheds a light on the food world needing more African-American representation on Food Network and in mainstream media outlets.

“We need to show that the South is just not Paula Deen,” she said. “The South is me. The South is immigrants who are moving here. We need to lift these people up so that Paula Deen does not become the poster child for what is Southern in terms of food.”

And Twitty would like to sit down and talk about it over a meal. In a much-read open letter to Deen on his website yesterday, he invited the embattled chef to a gathering at a historic plantation in September when he’s hosting a fundraiser for Historic Stagville, a North Carolina, plantation that once held 900 slaves and is now a historic tourist destination.

“I want you to walk the grounds with me, go into the cabins, and most of all I want you to help me cook,” Twitty wrote. “If you’re brave enough, let’s break bread…This isn’t publicity this is opportunity. Leave the cameras at home.”

Davis, too, believes in the power of food to soothe and stitch painful rifts. “Food and music are the foundations of African-American – and American culture. They’re a perfect way to talk about race and move forward. And they’re a thing that people love about us, and we love about us – but it’s been abused,” she says.

Davis continued, “The first thing you have to do is admit that it’s happened, talk about it, move on and forgive. Have a conversation over a meal with some music. These conversations: This is the work. This is how we heal.”

Want to know more about African American contributions to Southern cooking? Dig in:

Books (note: some are out of print, but available through used book stores):

  • The African American Heritage Cookbook: Traditional Recipes & Fond Remembrances – Carolyn Quick Tillery

  • Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine One Plate at a Time – Adrian Miller (Coming August 15)

  • Mama Dip’s Kitchen – Mildred Council

  • The Taste of Southern Cooking – Edna Lewis

  • High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America – Jessica B. Harris

  • Hog and Hominy: Soul Food from Africa to America – Frederick Douglass Opie

  • A Taste of Heritage: The New African American Cuisine – Toni Tipton-Martin and Joe Randall

  • The Dooky Chase Cookbook – Leah Chase

Teen chefs battle in healthy cooking competition

— HealthCorps, a national non-profit co-founded by Dr. oz and his wife Lisa to combat the childhood obesity crisis, hosted a regional Teen Battle Chef (TBC) cooking competition on Tuesday, May 7, 2013 in Baltimore. The annual event brought together five teams of HeatlhCorps high school students from Delaware, Maryland and Washington, D.C. in competition to cook, plate and present a healthy meal.

Each student team had to rework a classic American meal into a healthier recipe that included at least three fruits and vegetables. Teams then presented their dishes to a panel of judges and explained the recipe’s origin and how they improved the meal’s nutritional value.

The student teams made everything from healthy crab cakes to smoky sweet potato burgers. Judging the tasty fare were local chefs and foodies who volunteered their time and expertise including John Shields, Chef/Owner of Gertrude’s; Rachel Yong, Healthy Food Coordinator; Sheri Sanders, Manager of Donna’s Café; Zach Chissell, Project Manager of Real Food Farm; Lisa Turner, Chef of Phaze 10 and Riq Glispy, Chef for Reinvent U Empower Maryland, Inc.

The food and the fun that define a glorious summer

— When the weather warms, there are plenty of fun outdoor activities to enjoy, which means there’s also a bounty of summer fare to eat. From the traditional to the intriguing, you never know what interesting food choices you may find while out and about. What better way to kick off summer than with a few fun activities that pair good times with the foods that define the season?

Try these ideas for fun and fantastic food to maximize your summer months:

  • The food truck scene

The fun: Summer is prime season for food trucks— this trendy, quick-dining option allows you to explore different flavors while on the move. Do a little online research to find out where your city’s best food trucks like to set up shop – they tend to frequent parks, gardens and even busy city blocks. Whether you grab the kids for some playground action or just want to spend your lunch hour relaxing outdoors, food trucks can be a big hit.

The food: If you think you’ll be limited to fries and burgers, you are mistaken. The sky is the limit when it comes to food truck cuisine. From spicy tacos, to authentic Italian dishes, to delicate crepes— favorite food trucks develop quite a following. Fear the spills of eating on the go? Pack a few “Tide to Go” stain erasers. These powerful, disposable pads are small enough to fit in your wallet or purse, and can quickly eliminate any unintended drips so you always look your best.

  • The beach and the boardwalk

The fun: If you’re lucky enough to live by the ocean or a lake or if you’re visiting one on vacation, the ultimate in summer fun is easily within reach. The sand, the sun and the water are some of the best parts of the summer months, so slather on some sunscreen, grab your towel and a few tunes, and head to the beach.

The food: Classic boardwalk food

Hot summer days at the beach call for cool, sweet treats. Hit up the boardwalk and you’re sure to find a variety of frosty concoctions. Sip on a colorful slushy or fruit smoothie. Lick your way through a creamy cone or refreshing frozen treat. You might even find frozen fruit kabobs, an icy treat packed with vitamins.

  • Festivals, fairs and fields

The fun: Big outdoor gatherings are great ways to spend a summer day. Whether you’re heading to see your favorite bands at an outdoor music festival, visiting the state fair to see the animal exhibits, or cheering on your favorite baseball team, you’ll find plenty of activities and memory-making potential.

The food: Festivals, fairs and ball fields are all known for good food – people not only need to stay fueled for these all-day events, they also want to indulge in a few special treats. So grab those salty fries, crispy corn dog, or sugar-dusted mini donuts – you only live once, right?

  • Picnics and barbecues

The fun: Whether impromptu or formally planned, picnics and barbecues with friends are a welcome part of summer. People of all ages enjoy socializing casually outdoors, playing classic yard games and of course, indulging in grilled delights. Planning a gathering? Have everyone bring an outdoor game or food to share to cut down on hosting hassles.

The food: The grill is the focal point of any picnic or outdoor party. Whether it’s ribs, chicken or brisket, saucy barbecue is the star of the show. Add some fresh grilled veggies and you have a meal that will be quickly devoured.

Summer fun paired with fantastic food is the perfect combination to create long-lasting memories. So get out and enjoy some of your city’s events, or call a few friends over for a patio party. Then Tweet to share the foods and fun activities you’re enjoying during the long, beautiful summer days.