Better School Lunches and Nutrition

Father’s Day in my family

Spring 2011 244As Father’s Day approaches and the market is flooded with gift giving ideas to make those special men in our lives feel loved and appreciated, I am reminded of my beloved father, Earl Henry Rhea. The perfect gifts for Daddy were a box of Sophie Mae Peanut Brittle, a can of Prince Albert tobacco, and a package of new undershirts.

Father’s Day was always celebrated by going to church with Momma and Daddy followed by a magnificent picnic in the backyard. My Father was a native Charlestonian and we were true Southerners feasting on fried chicken, red rice, potato salad, butter beans and okra, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, homemade lemonade, and hand churned peach ice cream.

The celebration always ended with Daddy opening 1 of his 6 boxes of Sophie Mae AJC Staff (There were 6 kids and no matter what else we bought him…we all bought him Sophie Mae). He would give each of us one piece and maybe two if we asked but he never opened more than 1 box. These were his private stash and rightfully so. He never asked for much and gave unselfishly… he deserved it.

This Father’s Day I will be celebrating in the same style that is reminiscent of those wonderful times growing up. I will be hosting a backyard picnic in honor of three special fathers who grace my life and give me reason to celebrate this joyous day: Curtis Mitchell, Dustin Barnes and Craig Snyder, (at left holding his daughter and my granddaughter, Carolyn Grace). And as always I will do what I have done for at least the past 50 years. I will purchase a box of Sophie Mae Peanut Brittle, eat a piece, and lovingly remember Daddy.

Men in the kitchen

In 2009 according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics,

“–On an average day, 85 percent of women and 67 percent of men spent some time doing household activities such as housework, cooking, lawn care, or financial and other household management.”

Some of us may wonder exactly how these numbers break down, but many of us live with men who are grabbing whisks, pans and knives and preparing food for not just themselves, but for the household.

Increasingly, Eric Steinmen notes, men are accepting responsibility in the kitchen. Some of this may be attributed to more men working from home and the economic changes that have led more men to be Mr. Moms.

Or it could be with the rise of food as entertainment or because of the rise to awareness of the imperative to improve how we eat, that men are modeling the coolness of cooking. Perhaps men are emulating television chefs and celebrity chefs.

What’s true is the grill has long been the province of men, but now, they’re moving inside and we celebrate their relocation to the stove-front, because for whatever reasons they find themselves there, we all need more conscious cooks in our homes.

Men in home kitchens

It seems logical to ask, why shouldn’t men cook at home? They eat at home. And as Adriana Velez reports in her article on,

“If more home cooking is essential to changing the food system, men had better get into the kitchen as well.

It’s happening. In 1965, fathers accounted for only five percent of the time spent cooking for the family; now they’re in the kitchen nearly one-third of the time.”

With Father’s Day coming up on June 19, we have the perfect opportunity to find a unique gift for the fathers in our lives and we suggest Man with a Pan: Culinary Adventures of Fathers Who Cook for Their Families by John Donohue (and a gift pack of Slatherin’ Sauce.) According to it’s publisher, the engaging series of essays contained in this book,

“…celebrates those who toil behind the stove, trying to nourish and please. Their tales are accompanied by more than sixty family-tested recipes, time-saving tips, and cookbook recommendations, as well as New Yorker cartoons. Plus there are interviews with homestyle heroes from all across America—a fireman in Brooklyn, a football coach in Atlanta, and a bond trader in Los Angeles, among others.

What emerges is a book not just about food but about our changing families. It offers a newfound community for any man who proudly dons an apron and inspiration for those who have yet to pick up the spatula.”

To which we say, “Yes!”

Are you a man who cooks? Do you have a man in your life who cooks for the family? Share your own story with us!

Memorial Day—More than Grilling and Swimming

Perhaps you are planning to share time with family, neighbors and friends this long weekend that is our annual turn into summertime activities. But, are you planning to take time to remember and recognize those for whom this holiday was established to honor?

The history of Memorial Day

This holiday is set aside to remember those who died in service of our country’s armed forces. It was originally called Declaration Day and there are many stories of how it got started. Following the Civil War (or the War Between the States), faithful families decorated the graves of soldiers. Both Confederate and Union solders’ graves were decorated in each area of the country with the first national Decoration Day happening in Arlington Cemetery on May 30, 1868. Charleston has a significant and interesting connection with the early recognition of war dead.

Following World War I and in response to the now famous poem, “In Flanders Fields”, Moina Michael, wrote a poem of response referencing the wearing of poppies to remember war dead.

When I was growing up, there was always a campaign by the VFW to sell poppies and use the funds to help veterans. I remember how everyone wore those paper poppies. I wish they were still sold and worn.

Perhaps this Memorial Day, you can wear a red ribbon to signify that you remember.

How will you and your family remember those whose lives ended in sacrifice and support of our country?

Please share with me what you will do.

Photo Credit: Child in poppy field, flickr user mollypop, red poppy in hands, VFW Buddy Poppy

The things my Momma taught me

Roses and tomatoes

Miriam Francis Britt Rhea was a truly amazing woman. She was a beautiful brown-eyed brunette who carried herself with grace and elegance. As a child I was always in awe of her beauty and regal stature. Whenever she came to my school functions I thought she was the most beautiful woman there.

Not only was she an extraordinary cook she had an incredible green thumb. She could grow anything, but most of all, she loved her roses. She took tremendous pride in her rose garden. She always sent us to school with beautiful roses for our teachers.

Looking back, I often wonder how she was able to feed her family of eight in times that were hard and money was scarce. She always managed to create delicious nutritious food. A lot of the food we ate we grew in our garden and the meats we ate, we raised in our backyard. We all developed a love of vegetables because they were the cornerstone of our diet…along with rice of course. We ate rice almost everyday of the year except when Momma made a special dinner with grits as our starch. My Momma could cook a lot of rice that was light, fluffy, and perfect every time…and amazingly enough she never measured anything.

My favorite lunch meal that momma made for me almost daily was rice with stewed tomatoes.  I never got tired of eating it. Those tomatoes were always in abundance because momma would take the time and the laborious effort to put them up during the height of the season.

Homegrown canned tomatoes like Momma's

Of all the wonderful things my mother taught me and what I value the most are the drive and confidence she instilled in me.  I can still hear her strong voice saying “Robin Elaine, you can be anything you want to be you just have to be willing to work for it.” I carry that thought with me in every endeavor I undertake. Momma was my best friend and mentor and I am so grateful to have been her daughter. While I miss her physical presence I carry her memory in my heart and I am always comforted by the lessons she taught me.

As this Mothers Day approaches and I await the arrival of my first grandchild I want to pay homage to that wonderful woman who helped me become the woman I am today.  My only hope is that I will be loved and remembered someday with the same gratitude and affection that I feel for my momma…here’s to you Miriam Francis..thank you.


Photo credits:
Roses and Tomatoes, Flickr user Robert Couse-Baker
Canned Tomatoes, Flickr user

Community Supported Agriculture

Fresh lettuce in season. Photo by Flickr user Muffet

My Momma and Daddy kept a garden at our house on John’s Island, SC. Momma grew the very best ‘maters in all of the area. As a child, I’d stand in the garden, eating them warm from the vine, juice dripping down my chest! While, it’s not yet tomato season in South Carolina, it is time to think about supporting your local farmers.

One way you can do this is to subscribe to a local CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture program. What used to be a unique concept years ago is now a standard way to make sure your local farmer’s crops are sold and to have freshly harvested, local produce on your table. Some areas even have CSAs that offer grass-fed beef, free range chickens and eggs and locally made sausages.

Early spring in South Carolina means we’ll soon begin seeing lettuces, and berries in our CSA boxes. Then come the peaches, and soft stone fruits, followed by tomatoes and summer corn. In South Carolina, you can find your local CSA listed with the South Carolina Department of Agriculture.

If you are outside of South Carolina, offers a quick way to search for a CSA close to you. Just look at all the CSAs in my area!

Farmers Market in Charleston

2010 Charleston Farmer's Market Poster

One of the benefits of living in Charleston, is that our winters are mild, our growing season long and we have many incredible farmers who carefully plant, tend and harvest food for our tables. With the recent spate of mild days, I can feel the earth waking up, getting ready for spring.

As a child on John’s Island, February made us get our garden plowed, and ready to be seeded as soon as the nights began staying warm and ground temperatures were at the right point of germination.  Charleston’s Parks Conservancy offers recommendations and says you should have your seeds now.

Want to learn how to plant your own garden? The Parks Conservancy has classes coming up this weekend.

If you don’t like to get dirt under your fingernails, you can rely on our farmers who bring their produce to market. One of my favorite stops in-season is the Charleston Farmer’s Market. The City of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs is in charge of the market which takes place alongside Marion Square. The market opens for the 2011 season on April 9th.

And I can’t wait!

Fresh is best for children

One of the things I’m super passionate about is what we feed our children. As a former teacher who spent many years in the classroom and also as a mother, I have committed Slather Brand Foods to campaign for better meals in the school cafeteria and at home.

The recent United Kingdom study conducted by Kate Northstone, of the University of Bristol and published in published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health reports that feeding children processed foods may lower their IQ.

“A diet high in processed food at the age of three was linked to a slightly lower IQ at the age of eight and a half, suggesting early eating habits have a long term impact.” [BBC report Healthy diet ‘boosts childhood IQ’Read the news about the study.

Boy in Garden Flickr user wwwworks

What can you do to offer fresh foods to your children and help them develop healthy eating habits and the best minds? Here are my suggestions:

  1. Model healthy eating. Children who see you eat lots of fresh vegetables and fish will want to eat them too.
  2. Grow fresh vegetables. Children who help grow radishes, broccoli, spinach and other vegetables will be proud of and want to eat what they harvest.
  3. Serve colorful steamed soft, veggies or soft fruits, in finger sized bites for young children just learning to feed themselves. They are so proud that they can master this new skill. However, consult your pediatrician for expert advice on which veggies, fruits and meats to feed them and at what stages.
  4. Eat fresh or as close to fresh as you can. Avoid commercially canned produce. You might even “put up” like my momma did when I was growing up. Home preserving of food is better and you can do it. Respected blogger Heather Solos of is a great source of information on home preservation of foods.
  5. Plan your meals. When you plan your meals, you’ll feel less desperate and won’t as easily fall back on commercially processed foods. Again, my go to girl is Heather Solos who uses a plan and shop cycle.

Photo credit: flickr user wwworks

Welcome 2011 and Happy New Year

Robin Rhea, Founder of Slather Brand Foods

At the close of the year we draw close to family and friends. To good times sharing memories and enjoying meals together in our homes. To laughter, tears and delight in our connections.

When I envisioned Slather Brand Foods, I hoped that my Momma’s recipe, which is the basis for Slatherin’ Sauce, would be enjoyed by everyone. Since May 2010 you have demonstrated your support and encouraged me through your Facebook messages, by turning out at events where we are sharing Slatherin’ Sauce and by purchasing our sauces, giving them to your friends and telling others about what we are doing.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping me make my dreams come true, for helping me create a product that you delight in and which I hope will be part of your family’s life of celebration; through cooking and preparing food!

In the New Year, we will have a national distributor, greater visibility on national grocer’s shelves and hopefully, if our research goes as we hope, next year we’ll have new versions of Slatherin’ Sauce to share with you all!

Happy New Year!

Robin Rhea

Better School Lunches and Nutrition

Slather Brand Foods supports Slow Food’s initiative to demand that schools serve nutritionally sound lunches to our nation’s children. Part of the reason we demand that our sauces be all natural, gluten free, contain no preservatives, additives or high-fructose corn syrup is to be safe for our families to enjoy.

I urge everyone who reads this blog and who cares like I do about what our children eat, to take action as suggested in this letter I received from Slow Food USA.

Dear Robin,

“It’s this opportunity or we lose it” – Rep George Miller, referring yesterday to the Child Nutrition Act.

Today 32 million children will line up in school cafeterias across the nation. Right now, underfunding means that the people filling our kids’ trays have no choice but to do it with food that will lead to one in three of those children contracting diabetes.

It’s time to serve our kids a better deal.

As Congress returns post-election, they’ll have an improved Child Nutrition Act sitting on their desk – one that gives more money for each meal, supports farm-to-table programs, and kicks junk food out of schools. Click here to tell them to pass it now:

The Child Nutrition Act Congress has before it is far from perfect, but it contains the first real increase to school lunch funding in the entire 44 year history of the legislation. That is an amazing achievement for all of us who’ve pushed this hard for so long.

But if we have any hope for getting real, nutritious food on school menus, we have to let Congress know that we want the Act passed now, not later, and we want the flaws in this bill – the funding taken from food stamps – fixed before the end of the year.

Your message could literally make the difference – and is the last chance for this Congress to deliver healthy lunch to our kids:

So far on this ‘Time For Lunch’ campaign, our community has sent over 100,000 emails, made countless phone calls to Congress, and 20,000 of us gathered for an ‘Eat-In’ all over the country.Now it’s time to seal the deal, and for Congress to deliver our children this historic legislation.

Thanks for making it Time For Lunch,
Jerusha, for the Slow Food USA Team

PS – Other than inflationary increases, Congress has never raised the level of funding for the food our children eat at school. Let’s make sure this Congress passes the historic Child Nutrition Act, and delivers America’s children the nutrition they deserve.