Thursday, November 17, 2011

The 99% And Some Recipes From the Great Depression

Today people in over 325 cities in America rallied to support the Occupy Wall Street protests. Unfortunately, I could only be there in spirit because I am getting over a cough. The wind/chill factor in Chicago was around 25º.  The Chicago protest drew several thousand people who knew I was important to get out there.

According to Rana Foroohar in the November 14th issue of Time Magazine, the 1% that the 99% is enraged at takes home 21% of the country’s income and owns 35% of the wealth. He states that partly as a result of this plus several other factors upward mobility has been seriously eroded. No wonder people are angry.

When I graduated from Binghamton University in 1970, I left debt free ready to begin my adult life with no strings. My family wasn’t even close to the top 20%, but my parents were able to send me to a state university. At that time, the cost of a year at a state college including tuition, room, and board was about $1500. Now the cost of a year for undergraduate students at Binghamton University including tuition, room, and board is about $19,000 per year for state residents and it has been cited by Kiplinger’s Magazine for several years for being a great value. The cost for tuition, room, and board at other state universities can be as high as $25,000 per year. This is hardly in keeping with the rate of inflation. Students graduate from college laden with debt and then have great difficulty finding employment. That’s for the ones who are fortunate and/or determined enough to go to college. No wonder people are angry.

The Occupy Protests seem somewhat reminiscent of the Hoovervilles of the Great Depression. Why shouldn’t they? There was no safety net then and some would like to destroy our fragile safety net now.

With that in mind, I wondered if there were any lessons to be learned from the Great Depression. Certainly, there must be some good thrifty recipes so I asked my mother if she remembered what they ate then. This is one recipe she remembered from that era. My grandma must have made it often. They called it Jewish spaghetti. This should serve 4.

                                             Jewish Spaghetti
               a quart of water
               1 pat of butter
3/4 box spaghetti
               ½ pound grated cheese
               spaghetti sauce
               mushrooms, onions, garlic, oregano, salt, and pepper

Preheat oven to 350º.
Put pot of water on the burner. When the water is boiled, cook the spaghetti.
Butter a casserole dish. Put the spaghetti in the dish. Add the spaghetti sauce, mushrooms, onions, garlic, oregano, salt, and pepper. Mix with the spaghetti.
Put the grated cheese on top.
Cook for 40 minutes or until the cheese gets crisp around the edges.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Are You A Job Creator? Maybe You're Entitled To A Tax Break

When I was downtown the other day, I ran into an old friend. She had such a euphoric grin on her face that I wanted some of whatever she had. “Guess what!” she said. “My name came up on the waiting list. I’m on my way to Nordstrom’s to get my $9,010 Chanel sequined tweed coat. And just in time to claim it.”

“Claim it?” I asked.

 “Yes,” she answered. “Don’t you know that job creators have a special place in our economy? Think of all the jobs I’m creating by buying the coat. It should be worth some tax deductions.”

 “Congratulations,” I said.

 Since I hadn’t been in a store except for the supermarket in months, I realized that with the year almost over, I was falling down on my civic responsibilities. By contrast, my friend was inspired to go out and buy that $1400 pair of shoes to go with the coat. I felt ashamed. After all, we must all do our fair share. There must be something I could do to help. Here I was surrounded by stores. As I was pondering what to buy, a man selling Streetwise, the newspaper written and sold by the homeless, sold me a copy. Thinking that he was doing a worthy project, I paid him extra. Then I asked myself how he was contributing to job creation and hoped that they taxed him to the fullest. Yes, it was time for me to do my fair share, but I was not in the mood to shop so I got my hair done and then went to a restaurant to eat. Feeling that I had done what I could, I went home satisfied with my efforts.

By the time I got home, it was late and I needed to make something quick. Here is a recipe for low-fat enchilada casserole. Prep time is about 20 minutes and it feeds 4.

                                                         Low-Fat Enchilada Casserole

 2 14 ounce cans black or red beans drained of liquid
½ cup chopped onion
4 tsps chili powder
½ tsp freshly ground pepper
2 gloves garlic minced
1 cup water
11.5 oz jar mild taco sauce
6 corn tortillas
1 ¼ cup shredded 2% sharp cheddar cheese
2 green onions finely chopped
shredded lettuce
chopped fresh tomatoes
fat free sour cream for garnish

 Preheat oven to 375° Fahrenheit.

Saute the onion. Add chili powder, cumin, pepper, garlic and water. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes.

Lightly cover bottom of 9x13” pan with half of taco sauce. Place 3 corn tortillas in bottom of pan cutting tortillas to fit. Spread bean mixture on top of tortillas. Sprinkle with ½ cup of cheese.  Drizzle with remaining taco sauce over cheese and top with remaining 3 tortillas. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes.

Garnish with green onion, tomatoes, sour cream, and lettuce.  Serve.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Recipes and Comfort From the '50's

Is life in the 21st century too complicated? Are the Occupy protests too much?  Are there too many choices for some people? Is there often a collective nostalgia for the ‘50’s or is the focus on that decade a multi-national corporate plot designed to encourage us to stop thinking critically? You be the judge.

This weekend we saw Maple and Vine at the Next Theatre Company in Evanston. Written by Jordan Harrison and directed by Damon Kiely, this satire poses many interesting questions. It is about a high powered young couple in Manhattan who are overwhelmed by their lives. When they meet two ‘50’s re-enactors, they decide to trade their success driven lives for a simpler era of casseroles and stay-at-home wives. Is it really simpler? This is what the two main characters must decide. I won’t play the spoiler because you should see this play for yourselves.

What interested me most was that the people involved in creating the play are all younger adults who never having experienced this period, seem to idealize it. This decade that gave us the McCarthy witch hunts, the threat of nuclear war, the murder of Emmett Till, and the Feminine Mystique [to list a few highlights] is remembered by most people as a time when all was well and nothing was complicated. I was 12 years old in 1960 so my memory of the period is hazy at best. Reflecting on it historically, however, I have to say that I'll stay in 2011 thank you despite the ubiquitous superficial electronic connections. What do you readers think?

Alas, no era is all good - or bad. I think I’d like that camaraderie (bad word choice for that time period) among the women. The shared recipes and Tupperware parties sound somewhat comforting. That’s why it felt really good to share some of those things with my friend Janet Parker. She’s sharing this recipe for Potato-Fennel Gratin. It was really delicious. 

                     Potato-Fennel Gratin By Ina Garten from “The Barefoot Contessa”

2 small fennel bulbs
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 T. good olive oil
1 T. unsalted butter
2 lbs. russet potatoes (4 lg. potatoes)
2 c. plus 2 T. heavy cream
2 ½ c. grated Gruyere cheese (1/2 lb.)
1 t. kosher salt
½ t. freshly ground black pepper\

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Butter the inside of a 10x15x2-inch (10 cup) baking dish.

Remove the stalks from the fennel and cut the bulbs in half lengthwise. Remove the cores and thinly slice the bulbs crosswise, making approximately 4 cups of sliced fennel. Sauté the fennel and onions in the olive oil and butter on medium-low heat for 15 minutes, until tender.

Peel the potatoes, then thinly slice them. Mix the sliced potatoes in a large bowl with 2 cups of cream, 2 cups of Gruyere, salt and pepper. Add the sautéed fennel and onion and mix well.

Pour the potatoes into the baking dish. Press down to smooth the potatoes. Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of cream and ½ cup of Gruyere and sprinkle on the top. Bake for 1 ½ hours, until the potatoes are very tender and the top is browned and bubbly. Allow to set for 10 minutes and serve.