Inside the Fridge: Melissa Graham
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Inside the Fridge: Melissa Graham

Inside the Fridge welcomes Melissa Graham. Melissa, a former attorney, is the founding Executive Director of Purple Asparagus, a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to educating families about all things associated with good eating, eating that’s good for the body and the planet. Though its Delicious Nutritious Adventures program, Purple Asparagus has taught thousands of parents and children about healthful, sustainable eating in schools, community centers, and farmers’ markets throughout Chicago and the suburbs.

Melissa speaks and writes regularly on child nutrition and sustainability both in the Chicago community and online, blogging at Little Locavores, as The Sustainable Cook on The Local Beet, and as a regular contributor to Kiwi Magazine’s KiwiLog and Williams-Sonoma’s Blender blog. In recognition of her contributions to the Chicago community, the Chicago Tribune awarded her a 2011 Good Eating Award, an honor previously bestowed to Rick Bayless, Alinea chef Grant Achatz, and First Lady Michelle Obama. Melissa tweets as @sustainablecook.

Melissa resides in Chicago with her husband and 7-year old son in a rowhouse built in 1896.

Below we ask her questions about her grocery shopping and food habits – with actual pictures from her fridge!

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Inside the Fridge: Where do you shop for food?
Melissa Graham: Whole Foods, farmers’ markets, and small local grocers. I also purchase a meat share from a CSA and a veggie share from another CSA in the summer. Pretty much, I shop everywhere where there’s good quality food.

ITF: What is the single most important thing on your mind when you are shopping for food?
MG: Getting the best quality without breaking the bank.

ITF: How often do you shop?
MG: With my non-profit, Purple Asparagus I’m shopping for food almost 5 days a week.

ITF: How many do you shop for? Ages? 
MG: In my family, there’s my husband, me and our 7 year old son. For our school programs, I’m shopping for lots and lots of young elementary school kids.

ITF: What is your weekly food budget? 
MG: I shudder to think about it.

ITF: How many times a week do you eat out? (based on 21 meals/week)
MG: Two to three. Ordinarily, we eat out once on a weekend night, once during the week, and one weekend lunch.

ITF: What is the most coveted food in the fridge right now for each member of the household? Why?
MG: For my husband, the Midwestern meat eater, the remainder of the tonight’s flank steak. For my son, I would suspect the berries I bought for a Purple Asparagus program that was cancelled. For me, embarrassingly, the Mexican coke I buy once a year. I can resist ice cream, chocolate, cupcakes, but the spicy sweetness of Coca-Cola made with real sugar gets me every time.

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ITF: What is the oldest item in the fridge right now?
MG: A small container of balsamic vinegar that I reduced for a dinner I cooked for Michelle Obama in her home with four of her friends, including Desiree Rogers and Elena Kagan before the 2008 campaign. I keep it for obvious sentimental reasons.

ITF: Do you believe in leftovers?
MG: Oh, yes. Leftovers are a huge part of my meal plan. Right now, I have half of a chicken breast roasted in peach jam and half of a sous-vided flank steak. Both will make fabulously delicious lunches.

ITF: What convenience product can you not live without?
MG: Jarred salsa, especially Rick Bayless’ Frontera Foods brand. I add it to turkey burgers, and yogurt for a quick salad dressing and make a rich breakfast of chilaquiles with it.

ITF: What brands do you swear by? Why?
MG: Lifeway kefir; Organic Valley dairy; Applegate Farms deli products. I attribute my son’s terrific health to his cup of kefir each day; Organic Valley has such terrific quality dairy produced locally; and Applegate Farms’ meat is antibiotic and hormone free.

ITF: What cooking utensil/piece of equipment/appliance do you live for?
MG: My Magimix 3 bowl food processor. Not only can I puree in it, I can grate chocolate, and juice veggies with it. It was the best appliance purchase I ever made.

ITF: What food/s are important when recalling food memories?
MG: The soft boiled eggs my mom made for my breakfast and the homemade pretzels that we made together for my dad.

ITF: What was the last meal you cooked from scratch?
MG: Tonight. The closest thing to a convenience food was the salsa I mixed with yogurt to make dressing for our salad of flank steak and avocado

ITF: What was the last meal you cooked from convenience products?
MG: Whole Foods ready to bake pizza.

ITF: If one person could cook for you tonight, who would it be?
MG: I don’t know the name of the chef, but there’s a restaurant in London called Bumpkin that provided me and my family the best meal we ate in 2010. We still talk about it.

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ITF: What words of wisdom or advice do you have for other folks who are doing their best every day to fill the fridge?
MG: Cut yourself some slack. While I know that there are food snobs that turn the
ir nose up at conveniences like prepared hummus or boxed cereal, I’m not one of them. It’s more important that your family enjoys a meal together than whether you prepared every bite of it.

ITF: What are you working on these days that you’d like to tell us about?
MG: The two juiciest projects are ones I cannot yet discuss. Hopefully, soon. Other than that, I’m working on unifying our curriculums for Purple Asparagus’ Delicious Nutritious Adventures program. I’m just finishing up our banana curriculum – trying out a really fun Black Bean and Banana Dip that I’m really excited about.

ITF: Anything else?
MG: If you want to learn more about Purple Asparagus, please visit our website or our Facebook page

Thank you Melissa!

If you would like to be featured on Inside the Fridge, please email RobinsBite Intern Laura Bartee – Laura *at* robinplotkin *dot* com

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