Thursday, January 26, 2012

And Now A Message From the Other 1%

According to the Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness and Wickipedia, 2.5 to 3.5 million people experienced homelessness in America for some period of time in 2011. Although statistics vary to some extent depending on who the reporter is, on any given night in America, approximately 75,000 to 80,000 people are homeless. I could not find statistics on how many people are on the brink of homelessness either breathing a sigh of relief as they send in their rent checks for one more blessed month or living with friends or relatives whose patience is reaching the breaking point. We’ve heard from the top 1% and how misunderstood they feel (tsk, tsk). Now it’s time to hear from the homeless, that other 1% whose existence few want to acknowledge.

With that in mind, I felt honored when John H. Sibley asked me to read and review his book Being and Homelessness – Notes From An Underground Artist. John Sibley is an artist and writer who graduated from The School of the Art Institute who has taught in the Chicago Public Schools and worked in the high tech industry.

What I enjoyed about Mr. Sibley's book is that it wasn’t what I expected, thus forcing me to reexamine my perceptions and images of who the homeless are. An artist and writer, John Sibley unexpectedly found himself homeless in the late 1970’s. The hopelessness and despair that he talks about so articulately could only be described by someone who has experienced it.

Despite what you think, this book is not about John Sibley’s journey in, through, and out of homelessness. While I would have liked to hear how he managed to pull himself out of homelessness, he does not really tell us that. He does, however, describe some of his experiences and his words paint a stark picture of what that reality is for those who have to sleep on the street or in homeless shelters. He is able to give us a glimpse into a world that most of us hope and pray we will never see. If you read Being and Homelessness, you will be able to see a part of that world. You’ll also see how our country has failed to adequately address the needs of poor people who should be helped to avoid ending up in this situation.

Nevertheless, Being and Homelessness isn’t only about homelessness. Rather it is one man’s view of life on a variety of subjects. This in itself was interesting. Prior to reading Being and Homelessness, when I heard that word, that was all I could focus on. This book was a reminder that the situation in which John Sibley found himself was not all he was. His collection of essays is about his thoughts on myriad subjects – art, music, Afrocentrism, math, treatment of the mentally ill, politics, and his opinion of President Obama to name just a few. Some of it was actually difficult for me to grasp. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. A challenge keeps our minds from ossifying and with that in mind, I recommend that you read John Sibley’s book Being and Homelessness.  


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Martin Luther King and "The Help"

Since it was Martin Luther King Day this week, it’s a good time to talk about The Help by Kathryn Stockett. After all, Dr. King was killed while in Memphis supporting the Sanitation Workers’ Union. The people in it were among the poorest workers in America, so underpaid that even working full-time, they were eligible for Food Stamps. The rights and needs of the poor were a strong focus of Dr. King after 1967. The Help, after all, is about poor working people.  

The Help, which takes place in Jackson, Mississippi is about the complex relationships that existed between African-American domestic help and their affluent white employers and the caste system that shaped those relationships. The layers of complexity are difficult for those of us who weren’t involved to understand. Nevertheless, the characters were richly drawn and I found myself on the edge of my seat reading about their plight.

I have to admit that growing up in New York my only contact with Jackson, Mississippi was meeting the contingent of exchange students at my college Binghamton University. Up North, however, being a maid was hardly an honor. I remember overhearing the mother of one of the African-American girls in my school mention to my parents that her daughter wanted to try out for school plays, but she didn’t because she was afraid that she’d be cast as a maid. Imagine my shock a few weeks later when in Spanish class, the teacher asked this same girl to read the part of La Criada (the maid) in our dialgo. As she sunk into her chair, I thought, “Oh my God! I don’t believe the teacher did that.” For two weeks after that, this girl did not show up at Spanish class. The next time I saw her, she denied that she had been absent. I guessed that was her way of telling me to leave the situation alone so I did.

A lot has changed for the better since those days, in large part because of Dr. King’s leadership. I hope incidents like that one don’t continue to occur.  People should have gained more awareness about race since the 1960's. Our awareness about class has not progressed as much. There are still many working poor of every color and the problems for them cry to be addressed. With food pantries strained and soup kitchens full, there are too many people going to bed hungry. That said, here is another recipe that is inexpensive and nourishing. Prep time is 20 minutes and it feeds four.


                                                Greek Tuna Casserole

2 5 oz. Cans tuna
1 ¼ cups cooked rice
1 can stewed tomatoes
olive oil
2 onions peeled and diced
1 Tbsp minced garlic
lemon juice, parsley, and mint flakes to taste
feta cheese crumbled (optional)

Preheat oven to 350º Fahrenheit.
Put rice in pot with twice as much water to cook on top of stove.
While the rice is cooking, sauté the onions and garlic in olive oil in a frying pan. Add the tomatoes and seasoning.
When the above ingredients are ready, put them in a casserole dish. Add the tuna. Mix it altogether. Sprinkle feta cheese on top if desired. Bake in oven for 40 minutes.

Have a great week!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

First the Town Crier - Now The Blog

I was drawn to the TV news watching the Iowa Presidential caucus campaign and the New Hampshire primary campaign watching with great interest. News reporters and TV journalists flocked to both campaigns telling us that the future of American politics hung on the outcomes. It was almost impossible to ignore these two events.

According to the 2010 United States Census, Iowa has a population of 3,053,787 and seven electoral votes. New Hampshire has a population of 1,321,445 and four electoral votes. Yet as little actual power as these two states have, the whole world was watching them with bated breathe.

In The Influencing Machine by Brooke Gladstone, she states that from time immemorial, there have always been media shaping how we look at the news and even what news we look at. It is just now in modern times with the advent of the internet, TV, radio, social media, and even blogs such as this that we have myriad sources of news and an even better chance of finding out what’s going on. Yes, with all the sources of news, it just gets better for all of us if we want to know what’s happening out there.

I’m not sure that I agree with Brooke Gladstone’s point of view. Despite all the internet connections and blogs, TV and radio is a more powerful attention grabber for most people. After we’ve seen the TV images, we may read another version of the event or a thoughtful article, but our impressions have been formed. the visual images are almost impossible to erase. First there were the town criers. Now we have the internet. There is so much more to sort through and assess. We have to take all the news sources with a grain of salt or maybe a huge block of it as we try to figure out what's really happening.

And speaking of salt, my recipe for the week is stuffed baked eggplant. It only calls for a little salt to taste, but you’ll enjoy eating it as you listen to the latest news. Just don’t believe everything you hear while you’re eating it. The preparation time is about 25 minutes. It serves two if it's the main dish or 4 to 6 people as a side dish.

                                                        Baked Stuffed Eggplant             

 1 eggplant
¼  cup raw white rice
¼ cup quinoa
1 cup water
1 onion chopped
½ green pepper diced
olive oil
about ½ dozen green olives
walnuts broken into small pieces
pine nuts
½ Tbsp lemon juice
4 Tbsp tomato sauce
cumin, tumeric, garlic, and salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350º.
Put the rice and quinoa in a pot with the water to cook.
While the grain is cooking, cut the eggplant in half length wise and scoop out the meat. Cut in small pieces.
Heat the olive oil in a frying pan. Add the eggplant meat, pepper, and onions and sauté.
Add the rest of the ingredients. Cook for another 5 to 10 minutes.
When the grain and vegetables are ready, stuff the eggplant shells with the grain on the bottom and vegetable mixture on the top.
Bake for 30 minutes.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Greeting 2012 With Hope, Disappointment, and Asian Meatballs

2011 was an interesting year. The Arab Spring brought changes to the Middle East that hopefully will result in more democratic regimes. The Occupy Wall Street Movement galvanized people throughout America to stand up for the 99%. Maybe that will lead to changes in our own country that will be better for most Americans.

On a positive note, at the end of 2011, I was privileged to say prayers of thanks giving with others from my synagogue that American military involvement in Iraq had finally ended. While it is disappointing that as soon as the American military left, fighting resumed among the various Iraqi factions, at least America will no longer be responsible for any more deaths there. The war that should never have begun in the first place nine years ago is finally over. This isn’t said in celebration. Rather, it feels like a monumental sigh of relief.

At any rate, it felt appropriate to say good-bye to 2011 and usher in 2012 in hopes that it will be a better year for America and the rest of the world. We ushered it in with a large group of friends on New Year’s Day. When serving for a group, we’re always looking for easy recipes. This one for Asian meatballs that I took from the 100 Favourite 20 Minute Dishes by Simon and Alison Holst proved to be a hit. Some people asked me for the recipe. Because these New Zealanders use the metric system and a few ingredients that are hard to find here, I made some adaptations to the recipe. It was delicious anyway and preparation time is about 20 minutes. It makes 48 small meatballs.

                                                              Asian Meatballs

1 pound ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic
2-3 spring onions, sliced (optional)
¼ cup chopped coriander leaves (if available – I used the ready made spice because it wasn’t)
¼ cup dried breadcrumbs
1 egg
1 Tbsp cornflour
1 Tbsp each soy sauce and sesame oil
½ tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
2 Tbsp Thai sweet chili sauce ( I used sweet chili sauce although it wasn’t Thai. I couldn’t find it.)

1. Put all the ingredients except for the chili sauce in a large mixing bowl and mix it up. Then roll the ingredients into small balls.

2.To bake, put them in a shallow baking dish on 350º F. for about 12 minutes. After 8 minutes, drizzle with chili sauce.
    3.To sauté, cook in a preheated, non-stick pan and keep jiggling to get the meatballs brown. Drizzle with chili sauce. Cover pan and cook for 2-3 minutes longer. (This was how I did it, but I bet the other ways are just as good.)
4. To microwave, brush with chili sauce and a tsp of dark soy sauce. Microwave uncovered at full power for 3 to 4 minutes. If not cooked through, do it for another minute and test again.