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Feed A Child, Nourish A Mind

Last weekend, I participated in a benefit to raise money for the Eastern Congo Initiative. Theo Chocolate donated chocolate to Portland pastry chefs, and we donated our time to come up with and serve chocolate desserts at the benefit to those who bought tickets.

Everything about it felt right--a fair trade chocolate company giving back to one of the regions their chocolate comes from, pastry chefs giving their time and creativity to make it happen, and ordinary citizens giving money--100% of which went straight to the cause.

But I'm an analytical person, and the wheels in my head are always turning, which sounds like a positive thing but can be hard to live with sometimes. I started to think about how it's unfortunate that we always expect something in return for donations. Last fall, the restaurant where I work gave a 5-course dinner, in partnership with other chefs and local purveyors, to help combat child hunger. Diners paid a premium to have this dinner experience. The irony of very wealthy people sitting down to a splendid, opulent meal to combat child hunger was not lost on me. And it's a similar story everywhere. When public radio does a fund drive, they offer mugs or tote bags. Many organizations give t-shirts or bumper stickers. And at the very least, we want to make sure our donations are tax-deductible, right?

But what about just giving? Giving with no thought of a return. How often do we do that? How often do we say, I just want to give back to humanity with no strings attached?

Mind you, as I said earlier, I can be overly analytical. I think organizations that do things like 5-course dinners to raise money are perfectly wonderful and worthy causes. I understand that it can be hard to get attention for your cause, and doing events where you make donors feel special is an important part of raising money. I don't mean to undermine or disparage these methods.

But there is a part of me that relishes the idea that we could all just give without pomp and circumstance in small ways, even if we can't afford to do much. In these still uncertain economic times, many of us are keeping our cards close to our chest. But the thing is, no matter how small your gift is, it can be huge when combined with the small gifts of other people.

This blog post is a donation to The Lunchbox Fund, an organization that provides daily meals to orphaned and impoverished children in South Africa, a nation where 65% of children live in poverty and nearly 20% of all children are orphans. For many of the children who receive food from The Lunchbox Fund, this donated meal is their only meal of the day. The children are required to be in school to receive this meal, so The Lunchbox Fund indirectly supports education and personal empowerment. This means that ideally, these children will receive not only nutrition but also the tools they need to escape poverty.

Food and education are things that most of us, myself included, take for granted. But it pays to remember that in many parts of the world, these two things are far from givens. Just imagine a child, your child, going to school hungry, having a hard time concentrating in class because they are malnourished. You would undoubtedly do everything in your power to stop this from happening.

This is your opportunity to give a child a chance. To give them a meal. To get them through the school day. Our goal is to raise $5,000. And if you think about it, this number is quite small. If 5,000 people give a dollar, we're there. The internet and social media enable us to reach a huge audience, so theoretically, we can raise much more. All you have to do is allow yourself the little luxury of giving, no strings attached. Think of what you would normally do with $10 knocking around in your wallet. Buy a few lattes? A couple unlucky lottery tickets? Two pints of beer at your favorite microbrewery? That same $10 could feed a hungry child for a day. You may not be able to cure cancer or make democrats and republicans get along or end the recession, but you can feed a child. It may seem small, but it can make a huge difference.

And so I will ask all of you to give what you can. It might be a very small amount or it might be a lot. All of it matters. All of it helps. Please click here to donate to the Lunchbox Fund and nourish a child today.


Harissa-Roasted Squash and Carrots
Serves 4

This is a deceptively simple but highly satisfying and frugal dish that is perfect for your lunchbox, but it makes a nice, simple dinner as well. Serve over rice (I love this with coconut rice) and add a protein (chicken, fish, or tofu) to turn it into a well-rounded meal.

Preheat the oven to 425˚F.

First, make the harissa. In a small skillet over medium heat, toast until fragrant:
           1 teaspoon caraway seed
            1 teaspoon coriander seed
            1 teaspoon cumin seed

Grind the toasted seeds in a spice grinder. Add and grind until smooth:
           3 cloves garlic, quartered
            1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Add and grind until well-combined:
           3 tablespoons sweet or smoked paprika
            (1 tablespoon aleppo pepper or piment d'esplette)
            1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
            2 tablespoons olive oil
The harissa will be very thick and dry.

Toss the harissa in a large bowl with:
           One delicata squash (about 2 pounds), halved, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
            One pound carrots, halved and cut into bite-sized chunks (not too big or they won't cook in the same time as the delicata)

You may not want to use the whole amount of harissa, so start with a couple tablespoons and go from there. It is not very spicy, though, so I like to add the full amount. You can also add more vegetables if you like. Just be sure to spread the veggies in a single layer on baking sheets or in roasting pans. You want them to roast and caramelize, not steam.

Spread the vegetables in a thin single layer on rimmed baking sheets and roast until tender and well-browned, about 20 to 30 minutes.

Serve over:
           Coconut rice (my simplified version of coconut rice involves cooking your favorite rice in the normal way, and then adding a few tablespoons of coconut milk at the very end)

           Chopped scallions
            Chopped cilantro

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