Thursday, December 27, 2012

Time Travel - A Recipe For Community

In Travel As a Political Act, Rick Steeves terms travel political. Intrigued, I read his book and understood what he meant. As we travel to other countries and observe other cultures, we can learn other ways of dealing with social issues and resolving political problems. Sometimes, it makes us clamor for the United States to change, but more often, it can make us appreciate what we have here.

If travel can be a political act, just think about time travel. In Now & Then by Jacqueline Sheehan, she explores how time travel affects two main characters, Anna and Joey – New Englanders from 2010 – as they are unwittingly transported to 1844 Ireland, the year before the Potato Famine started. They must be careful not to mention telephones, e-mail, laptops, television, flush toilets and many other devices not yet invented in 1844 lest they appear suspicious. As it is, many of the locals suspect them of being British spies. As Anna suffers a degree of malnutrition eating a steady diet of potatoes, she reflects on how much more cohesive their communities are than the one she’s been thrust from. There for just a few weeks, she has already developed relationships with many more people than she has in Boston. When she thanks her hostess for taking care of her after she is rescued from a supposed ship wreck, in surprise she replies, “That is what friends do for each other.”

While I wouldn’t want to be transported to 1844 Ireland for all the potatoes in the Emerald Isle, there may be something to be learned from that society. Are we ignoring each other for the sake of being “plugged in”? Have you been on the subway or in a room where everyone is ignoring one another while texting or talking on their smart phones? Will future generations forget how to have conversations? This is something to mull over as we spend the holidays with family and friends and reading Jacqueline Sheehan’s novel.

Since this is a time of year when we do try to connect, you may be going to some parties. If you’re looking for a dish to pass, here’s an easy one to make. It serves a lot of people and preparation time is about 15 minutes. It is good served hot or cold.

                               Couscous and Vegetable Salad with Orange and Garlic

1 ½ cups couscous
½ cup raisins
1 tsp turmeric
2 cups boiling water
2/3 cup sliced almonds
2 cups garbanzo beans
3 scallions thinly sliced
2 medium tomatoes

1/3 cup lemon juice
½ cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves minced
1 Tablespoon minced basil 
2 tsp dried grated orange rind
½ tsp salt
pepper to taste

Place couscous in boiling water. Stir and remove from heat. Add the raisins and turmeric and stir again. Cover and let sit for about 5 minutes.

Stir in almonds, garbanzos, scallions, and tomatoes.

Combine lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, basil, salt, pepper, and orange rind. Blend. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes.

Add the dressing to the couscous and vegetables.











Thursday, December 20, 2012

Knives and Forks Don't Kill People. People Kill People.

I often say that my husband is a walking argument for gun control legislation. In Chicago in the mid 1960’s, he and a couple of his friends were attacked by a much larger group of boys while walking home from a high school football game. The larger group had brass knuckles and knocked out three of his teeth. This remains a horrible memory of his teenage years that he remarks on every time we pass the scene of the crime. Nevertheless, he’s around to relive it because none of the boys who attacked him had guns.

Gun proponents often say that guns don’t kill people. People kill people. To some degree, this is true. Yet how many of the 26 people including those 20 young children would still be alive in Newton, Connecticut if Adam Lanza had charged into Sandy Hook School with a knife, brass knuckles, or a bow and arrow? Perhaps he would have managed to kill or seriously wound one or two people before being subdued, but in all likelihood, the others would not have been harmed.

Gun proponents say that we have to make mental health services more accessible and that's the root of the problem. To some extent, I agree, but I don’t think that’s the whole answer. Even if everyone who needed counseling and/or medication and/or other community support were to receive all the needed help, someone would fall through the cracks. Someone receiving help who wasn’t yet stable or someone who needed but didn’t seek help could still do what Adam Lanza did. Even with an almost perfect mental health system, occasionally people would fly under the radar.

Adam Lanza killed with guns that were legally registered to one of his parents. Now it’s come out in the New York Times that he and his mother regularly visited a shooting gallery both alone and together. People will ask how she could have missed what was right before her eyes, but that is often the case. It’s much easier to see other people’s problems more clearly than our own. To make sure that such shortsightedness doesn’t result in more carnage, we have to  make it more difficult for many civilians to have guns. By the way, do hunters kill deer with submachine guns? I am realistic enough to know that gun ownership will always remain sacred to some Americans, but we have to be able to agree on some reasonable restrictions. Maybe it is treating the symptoms of our violence-oriented society, but until we can turn that around, we need to treat the symptoms. I hope we do it soon before we're all mourning for more victims yet again.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Fearing Mexico and A Big Enchilada Recipe

Many Americans are afraid of Mexico or at any rate, the Mexicans who have emigrated to the United States. That’s probably why agreeing on a reasonable policy concerning the 11 to 12 million undocumented people living among us has been so intractable. Are they really alien (a la E.T.) or are they our friends, neighbors, and co-workers? And do some persist in calling them “illegal aliens” in an attempt to visualize them as the former?

These issues are explored fully in i put the fear of méxico in ‘em the play that premiered at the Chicago Dramatists Theatre presented by Teatro Vista. Taking place in a back alley of Tiajuana, the play, written by Matthew Paul Olmos, has two couples, one white American and one Mexican confronting each other about these issues. Do we look past and through each other as if the other is not even there? Does the Mexican couple really need to hold the American couple up at gunpoint to get their attention? How do we react when our children reach out to the Other in friendship or in dating? Is a real relationship possible with all the factors that rear up to divide us? Teatro Vista dramatized the dilemmas quite effectively forcing us to examine our true feelings about them. i put the fear of méxico in ‘em is  no longer playing, but hopefully it will arrive at a theatre in your city or get revived in Chicago. Therefore, I won’t reveal the ending. You should see it and contemplate it for yourselves.

In the meantime, don’t be afraid to try this recipe for low-fat enchilada casserole. At least we can enjoy learning each other’s foods although this recipe seems like an American adaptation. Once we know each others’ cuisine, it’s impossible to feel alienated from each other. The preparation time is about 20 minutes and it serves four to six people.

                                                Low Fat Enchilada Casserole

 2 14 oz. Cans of Black or Red Beans with most of liquid drained
½ cup chopped onions
chili powder, ground cumin, ground pepper to taste
2 cloves of garlic minced
1 cup water
cooking oil
non-stick covering or margarine or butter
11.5 oz jar taco sauce
6 corn tortillas
1 ¼ cup shredded 2% sharp cheddar or Mexican cheese
2 green onions finely chopped, shredded lettuce chopped fine, tomatoes, and fat free sour cream for garnish.

Preheat oven to 375º Fahrenheit. Grease a casserole dish or spray with nonstick covering.
Heat cooking oil in a skillet. Add the onions, garlic, and other spices and cook for about five minutes. Add water and beans and simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes.

Lightly cover bottom of 9” by 13” casserole dish with half of taco sauce. Place three corn tortillas in bottom of pan cutting tortillas to fit. Spread half of bean/onion mixture over it. Sprinkle half of cheese. Repeat the layers.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional 5 minutes. Garnish with green onions and other toppings. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

"Les Miserables" and the Fiscal Cliff

When my friend Tien invited me to participate in a read-along of Les Miserables, the idea piqued my interest. The idea was for all participants in the read-along to read sections of the book on the same two week schedule so that we could each discuss it on our blogs and read each others’ posts. I looked forward to reading what people throughout the world had to say.

There is a lot more to the book than Jean Valjean's going to prison for stealing a loaf of bread and a lot of really great songs (as there are in the play and movie.) I read Les Miserables while I was campaigning for Pres. Obama and now even after the election, many issues discussed in Les Miserables remain hot topics. The most salient issue for me was the right wing attack on America's frayed social safety net. I found Les Miserables grappling with many of these issues. For example, “the fiscal cliff” debate which rages in Washington is essentially about how we as a society are going to treat people in need. Are we going to arrest people like Jean Valjean for stealing a loaf of bread and then forever hold it against them? Although Jean Valjean leads an exemplary life after serving a 19 year prison sentence, society and he himself forever view him as unworthy. The circumstances which drove him to commit his crime are never taken into consideration. Even Marius and Cosette are repulsed when they hear about his past. Their attitudes didn’t endear these characters to me, but is it much different from the treatment afforded ex-convicts today? The whole message of the book is that we can redeem ourselves from past mistakes by living perfect lives, but without community support or recognition, it is a nearly impossible undertaking. Les Miserables  reminded me that public attitudes about the causes of poverty remain unchanged. Written in a manner that is very different from how novels are today - A lot of prose waxing philosophic about a variety of topics as Victor Hugo digresses from the story - made it difficult at times to continue with it. Nevertheless, I’m glad that I did.

For many, the reading of Les Miserables would spoil their appetite. For others, it may make them hungrier. For the latter, here’s a recipe I used shortly after Thanksgiving. It’s good served with a loaf of French bread ( in keeping with the spirit of the story).  Prep time is about 20 minutes.

                                                                   Turkey Casserole
Leftover turkey cut into julienne slices
Broccoli cut in pieces
Mushrooms sliced
1 can of cream of chicken soup
garlic, onion powder, pepper, basil to taste
a Tbsp of dry sherry
olive oil
Italian flavored breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 350º F.
Heat a skillet with the olive oil and sauté the mushroom slices. 
Place the turkey in a casserole dish. Place the broccoli over the layer of turkey. Add the mushroom slices. Spread the cream of chicken soup over it all. Add the seasoning and sherry. Sprinkle some breadcrumbs over the top.
Bake for about 40 minutes.