Sunday, October 17, 2010

Proposed LAUSD Menu for 2011-2012

I've been talking about the new proposed 2011-2012 menu for the LAUSD and how it is a significant step forward from previous years, but unless you've been to the meetings, you haven't seen it. So, I'm posting my version of the document (since LAUSD hasn't provided an electronic copy yet). [The original wasn't much better formatted.]

Obviously, this is merely a rough first draft so we need to focus on fixing some of its deficiencies but keep the advances.

The proposed 2011-2012 menu: Here [PDF]

LAUSD Seeks Assistance with the 2011-12 Menu

This past Friday, October 15th, several members of the community met with representatives of the Los Angeles Unified School District to discuss the, dare I say, revolutionary changes to the 2011-12 school menu.

Present at the meeting was Jennie Cook of Food for Lunch, Nicole Feenstra of and Walter Smith and I represented SEE-LA and the Farmer's Kitchen. LAUSD was represented by David Binkle, Deputy Director for Menu Compliance and Florence Simpson, Senior Food Service Supervisor.

Read on for my notes on the meeting.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Observations and Suggestions on LAUSD School Menu

Below is the memo I sent to the LAUSD based on my analysis of the existing school menu.

To: David Binkle
From: Ernest Miller
CC: Mark Baida
Date: Oct 13, 2010
Subject: Observations and Suggestions on LAUSD School Menu

First I would like to thank you for the opportunity to contribute to the nutrition and health of our schoolchildren. This issue is very important to me and I am excited to be part of the process.

Second, I am aware of the extreme constraints you struggle with to feed such a large population of students with such meager resources and limited physical plant. Thus, some of my suggestions may be more aspirational than anything.

In a related note, my experience and knowledge base concerning your operation is rather limited, so my suggestions and observations may be faulty on a number of levels. Hopefully, a discussion of these issues will assist in improving the quality of future suggestions and observations.

Herewith my suggestions and observations:

1. Seasonality
I believe that seasonality is a critical aspect in menu planning and healthy eating for a number of reasons. Among other things, it ties us to the land and the production of food that seasonless industrial food production does not. In teaching good eating habits, seasonal produce is better tasting and less expensive. Quality seasonal ingredients need less cooking to produce a quality output. It forces us to think more about our food, where it comes from and how we consume it. I could go on, but you get the idea.

In addition, seasonality can be used to tie school gardens into the cafeteria. Although school gardens will never produce enough food to be anything more than a small supplement to the school meal programs (if they get in at all), it is possible to add seasonal recipes that mimic what is being grown in the school gardens, thus reinforcing what the school gardens are doing. For example, if carrots are being harvested in the school garden, we should ensure that some variation on fresh carrots are being served in the school cafeteria. This will require coordination between school gardens and FSD, but it will be possible.

Seasonality can also be used to coordinate with other programs, such Farm-to-School and Harvest of the Month.

2. Localism
There is no acknowledgment of local sourcing for any of the menu items. Though it won't be possible for the entire menu, it would be good to highlight when local sourcing is used.

3. Cultural/Historical
There doesn't seem to be much social studies built into the menu, especially considering the rich cultural history of Southern California and our diverse cultures.

4. Salads
The only salads I see on the menu are daily spinach side salads. I believe there is opportunity for more variety and seasonality in side salads. Perhaps it might also be possible to occasionally have a salad as an entree option? I'm not talking salad bar, but potentially a composed salad. There are limitless possibilities for savory fruit salads, grain salads of all sorts, bean salads and pasta salads.

5. Soup
Soup is nutritious, inexpensive and often a healthier option but is not on the menu. The possibilities for stews, chilis, gumbos, paellas, jambalayas and curries is also rather large, but not utilized.

6. Fish
Fish seem underutilized on the menu. Additionally, are the fish nuggets sustainably farm-raised or …?

7. Pork.
Outside the sausage, perhaps, pork is not part of the menu.

8. Breakfast
Hot cereal is not an option – but there is a lot of potential for hot cereals and healthy toppings.
Yogurt is not noted as a breakfast option.
Though it is undoubtedly popular, Frosted Flakes doesn't seem like a good selection for cold cereal.

9. Whole fruit?
Is whole fruit available, particularly for secondary school?

10. Beans and grains
With the exception of the bean and cheese burrito, there doesn't seem much in the way of legumes and other grains on the menu. Such items as black beans, black-eyed peas, and red beans are all excellent sources of nutrition and are inexpensive.

11. Whole Grain Pastas
The menu doesn't indicate that the pastas are whole-grain. If not, I'm sure you've considered the switch.

These are some of my more general comments, I have a number of more specific questions and observations about particular menu items, but will reserve those for our discussion if appropriate.

I apologize for the poor formatting and organization, but I wanted to get these notes to you before our conversation this afternoon.


LAUSD - Cafeteria Improvement Committee Meeting Notes - 2010-10-11

The monthly Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Cafeteria Improvement Committee meeting took place this past Monday, October 11th. This committee has been meeting for several years, but recently there has been an increase in interest in the issue of school nutrition, and the committee has become more popular. It is open to the public, so parents and other concerned citizens can provide their input as well.

Now is actually quite an exciting time to participate on the committee because not only is there increased interest in the topic, but the LAUSD is preparing to make some of the biggest changes in its school menus in its history.

The committee is chaired by Dennis Barrett, director of LAUSD's Food Service Division. David Binkle (Food Service/Menu Compliance) also represented LAUSD FSD.

Unfortunately, other (should be) interested parties from LAUSD were not represented. Facilities Service Division, which is responsible for the construction of new schools and modernizing existing schools was not present. There was some discussion about getting them involved, but it seems that Facilities hasn't been much interested in hearing the committee's suggestions on providing adequate kitchens, food distribution designs and eating accommodations.

Did you know that in many of LAUSD's secondary schools there is no indoor seating for students to eat? There might be a few covered, but unwalled areas, but no seating area free from weather (yeah, it doesn't rain much in Southern California but, sheesh) and competition from pigeons. Yes, school plans take years to come to fruition, but the childhood obesity epidemic isn't going to be solved in a couple of years. We need long term planning. We need Facilities Service Division to make adequate access to good food for students one of their priorities.

Also conspicuous by their absence was anyone representing principals and other school administrators. One of the biggest problems for students having adequate access to good food is that they don't have time to eat it. Principals are notorious for limiting meal hours in order to maximize classroom hours. Instead of several lunch periods, administrations will schedule a single lunch period, forcing thousands of students to overrun the cafeteria at once and leaving many hungry at the end of the thirty-minute period. On the other extreme, some schools are scheduling lunch as early as 10am, well before students are hungry for lunch. Frankly, the way some of these schools schedule lunch, if the students were employees the schools would be in violation of state labor standards for adequate breaks.

There were many representatives of community organizations. Matt Sharp of California Food Policy Advocates was there, of course, along with several of his co-workers. Elizabeth Medrano of Occidental College's Urban and Environmental Policy Institute (UEPI) and head of the Healthy School Coalition was also there along with other members of her coalition. I could go on, but lack of time prevents me from continuing.

There were a number of students of Professor William McCarthy, Adjunct Professor of Public Health at UCLA, present as observers (for class credit). Hopefully, many of them will choose to move from observation into action.

The beginning of the meeting was an overview of the lunch program and the financial status of the Food Services Division (dire) for those who were new to the committee. Just a couple of years ago, the School Board determined that part-time employees of the FSD, who usually worked 15 hours a week would work a minimum of 20 hours a week and be entitled to full medical/dental/vision benefits for them and their families at no cost. While this might have benefited the employees, it meant that the money available for student meals dropped from 86 cents a meal to 57 cents. It has since climbed back to 77 cents due to contracting reforms and other efficiencies implemented by FSD, but that is still less than adequate for healthy meals for children.

The most important item on the agenda was the unveiling of a proposed 2011-2012 menu for the schools. It is amazing. Not perfect, by any means, but a revolutionary move forward. Seriously, revolutionary. No longer will pizza, chicken wings and bean/cheese burritos be the mainstay of the diet, but increased fruits and vegetables in a wide variety of culturally relevant preparations. Jambalaya, quinoa salad, black bean soup, black-eyed pea salad, and vegetable manicotti are just a few of the healthy dishes proposed for this new menu. Of course, this is just a proposal, and it will be the mission of the menu planning committee to see to it that the menu is implemented as much as feasibly possible.

The menu planning committee is meeting this coming Friday, Oct. 13th. I'll report more on the new menu then.

See my next post for the recommendations that I made based on the old menu.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Grape Jelly - You Really Ought to Try Making Some - Weekly Email


It has been a busy week at the Farmer's Kitchen as I settle into my new job. I'm really having a good time.

This past Wednesday the Farmer's Kitchen and SEE-LA were participants in “Good Food for All,” a fundraiser for a dollar matching program for farmer's markets. EBT (aka “food stamp”) holders will soon be able to come to a farmer's market and get a matching dollar for every dollar they spend in the market. Not only do those in need get access to more fresh produce, but the farmers also benefit from the increase in spending. It is a win-win-win program (those who donate win because their donations do double duty).

The benefit was also the public unveiling of the report from the LA Food Policy Task Force: “Good Food for All” and the launch of the Food Policy Council, which is tasked with implementing the recommendations of the task force. The report is a must for anyone interested in creating a viable, local and sustainable foodshed here in Los Angeles. Read the whole report here:

I was excited just to be at the event, meeting and interacting with some of the top chefs and farmers in the greater Los Angeles metropolis. And, heck, LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa ate some of the food I prepared.

Just to let you know, we prepared Baba Ganoush (using some of the last of the summer eggplant) and Muhammara (peak of the season red bell peppers and walnuts just coming into season) with farmer's market crudités (in order to really highlight the wonderful produce we get from local farmers). We also made goat cheese crostinis topped with roasted cherry tomatoes. The goat cheese (from Soledad Goats) had not been refrigerated, since it had been made just that morning. How cool is it to work with ingredients like that?

We brought some of our preserves to display, of course, but I was excited to see some other preservers at the event as well. Chef Akasha Richmond of Akasha Restaurant fame was sampling some of her preserves there. They were all excellent, but her McGrath Strawberry Jam was amazing!

Last word on the event … I just want to give a shout out to all the members of this email list I saw there! How wonderful that so many of you care so much about food policy here in Los Angeles. Thanks for coming!

Ok, so perhaps these emails will digress a bit from food preservation, I can't help but be excited about my new position. On to the food preservation.

Go into any supermarket and look at their preserves. Inevitably, even in the smallest store, you will see two items: strawberry jam and grape jelly (usually made from Concord grapes). Most preservers try their hand at a homemade strawberry jam and discover how much better homemade is compared to the commercial product. But how many of you have made grape jelly at home?

If you haven't, you really ought to give it a try. The stuff in the store is flavorless compared to the incredibly rich, deep flavors you can achieve at home.

First, if you want some amazing grape jelly, you need to start with good grapes. Supermarket Thompson Seedless isn't going to cut it. Go into your local farmers market to find grapes with real flavor (and don't worry about grapes with seeds, you're going to be juicing them anyway). Concord is the classic, of course, but there are many other grapes varietals that can blow your socks off when turned into jelly.

And don't forget to check with your gardening neighbors. I know someone who is growing Gewurztraminer grapes on a North-facing slope in the City Terrace neighborhood. Maybe next year I'll get a chance to harvest some for jelly making. Or, check Craigslist. I saw an ad a few weeks ago from someone with homegrown grapes they needed taken off their hands here in the LA area.

Of course, I have access to some amazing grapes thanks to the Hollywood Farmer's Market. This week I got to turn two cases of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes (yep, the ones they make wine from) into jelly. Thank you, Mill Road Orchard.

Probably the most intimidating thing about jellies is that you have to juice the fruit and then filter it. I'll admit, it does take more time and effort than mashing some berries for jam, but your efforts will be rewarded.

In the case of my wine grapes, I first ran them through a food mill to get the juice out. I diligently saved all the skins and seeds however. That is where most of the color and flavor are. Many people are surprised that the juice from red grapes is actually pretty pale, almost clear. The color in red wines comes from the grape skins. The same with jellies.

Next, I took all those grape skins and seeds added enough water to almost cover and then boiled them for about ten minutes so that they would release their color and flavor. And then I pressed and strained. And strained again. And again. And one more time.

You see, for a crystal clear jelly, you need to really strain the heck out of the juice. I use progressively finer strainers every time. I start with a large perforated strainer, then a smaller one, then a smaller one and so on, until I finally strain with a fine-mesh strainer or jelly bag (yep, that's what jelly bags are for).

The final step is to let the juice rest overnight in the refrigerator. Smaller particles left in the juice will settle out overnight. The next morning, carefully pour the beautifully clear juice into another container without disturbing the sediment. Now your juice is ready to make jelly.

Of course, you can skip however many steps you want in clarifying the juice if you don't mind a less-than-perfectly transparent jelly. Don't let perfection be the enemy of the good.

As for the rest … follow your recipe. Many juices require additional pectin to set as jellies, but a few do not. Grape juice can go either way, especially with the thicker skinned varieties.

That's it for this week – this email is probably already too long. Thanks for reading to the end!

If you have any questions about canning, pressure canning, fermentation, dehydration, freezing, pickling, curing, smoking or brewing, feel free to email me at

Be sure to check out the blog, which is updated several times a week

And/or join the Facebook group:


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Meet the New Chef at the Hollywood Farmer's Kitchen - Weekly Email


I know it has been quite some time since this newsletter has gone out - the last one was about pickling Easter eggs, actually. I had to put this newsletter on hiatus when I changed jobs and my new work schedule prevented me from continuing this newsletter.

Today, however, I announce that I've taken a new job as the chef at the Hollywood Farmer's Kitchen:

The Hollywood Farmer's Kitchen is a project of Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles (SEE-LA -, a
nonprofit community development corporation dedicated to providing local food sources and food security, nutrition education, microenterprise incubation and related services to our surrounding community. The Farmer's Kitchen is a community kitchen that will further those goals as a permanent addition to the Hollywood Farmers' Market.

This position is a much better match for my interests and talents. Indeed, it is my dream job. Not only will I be able to cook with fresh, seasonal produce direct from the market, but food preservation is a significant part of the plan. Finally, I will also be able to support the other missions of SEE-LA through teaching, among other things. For example, I am participating in the Cafeteria Improvement Committee for the LA Unified School District, trying to improve school lunches.

On the food preservation front, I just started this past Monday but we've already canned some Rancho Santa Cecilia Applesauce and some Peach-Amaretto Jam, made with heirloom Indian Red Peaches from Yingst Ranch in Littlerock (where you can pick your own). We're also cooking with our preserves. On Thursday we made a cake for a VIP birthday. We did a two-layer Italian Almond Cake and, rather than frosting, the filling and topping was the Peach-Amaretto jam, topped with toasted sliced almonds for crunch and appearance. Tomorrow, at the Hollywood Farmer's Market, we will be serving a zucchini-apple soup (summer squash meets fall fruit in this light, yet flavorful soup) garnished with diced dried apples.

I expect that future newsletters will often reflect what I'm working on in the Farmer's Kitchen.

In other news, I'd like to invite everyone on this list to attend "Good Food for All" this coming Wednesday evening, Oct. 6th. The Hollywood Farmer's Kitchen and SEE-LA are working in partnership with Hunger Action LA and Roots of Change on the "Veggie Voucher" program to increase the purchasing power of low-income consumers by matching their dollars in farmers' markets. This innovative new program directly benefits small family farmers, and consumers who lack the resources to buy the fresh fruits and vegetables that they and their families need. All funds raised at this event will support the "Veggie Voucher" program! The event will feature tastings from forty of LA's finest chefs, including SEE-LA's Farmer's Kitchen.

For more information and to purchase tickets, see here:

I'll be in the Farmer's Kitchen this Sunday, but Master Food Preserver Delilah Snell will be at the market to answer your questions from 9:30-12:30, and be sure to drop by HFK to say "hi"!

That's it for this week. If you have any questions about canning, pressure canning, fermentation, dehydration, freezing, pickling, curing, smoking or brewing, feel free to email me at

Be sure to check out the blog, which is updated several times a week

And/or join the Facebook group:

Ernie Miller