Thursday, December 5, 2013

Buying For the Good of America

On Black Friday, watching the Today Show in our hotel room, we viewed people wrestling each other to the ground for the chance to get a bargain. My husband and I, smug in our lack of participation in this frenzy, watched the images in disbelief. But are these alpha shoppers the real Patriots?

According to Robert Reich’s documentary, Inequality for All, consumer spending is 70% of the American economy, the backbone of our wealth as a nation. The middle class is shrinking, threatening the wealth of the USA. His thesis is that without a large middle class that can afford to buy goods and services, our whole economy is threatened. In very succinct, understandable explanations, using cartoons, graphs, and interviews with average people, Reich illustrates how dangerous a situation our economy is in. In 2007, the 1% (those earning at least $380,000 per year) had the highest percentage of American wealth since 1928. Nevertheless, the Republican Party wants to cut $40 billion from the SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) budget threatening many working poor with malnutrition or even starvation. While some unstoppable forces such as globalization and technology have spurred the rise of the ultra-rich, our social policies have also played a huge part. Since Robert Reich explains this all much more articulately than I can, I urge everyone to see this documentary. For those who have avoided it for fear that a documentary about economics would put them to sleep, let me say that I was pleasantly surprised how entertaining it was.

I watched Inequality for All at the Lake Street Church in Evanston, Illinois. After it was over, people were asked to sign up to participate in a group to work towards some of the goals Robert Reich articulated. For those readers living in or near Evanston, there will be a follow up meeting on Saturday, December 7th at 2:00 at the Lake Street Church at 607 Lake Street, Evanston to discuss where we go from here. Everyone is welcome. Maybe they can start a movement.

In the meantime, I should go out and shop. If only I wanted to buy something and didn’t hate shopping as much as I did. In the name of restoring America’s wealth, I wish all of you a happy and healthy shopping season. Don’t fight anyone over the bargains though. I’m sure there’s plenty for everyone. Happy Holidays! 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Back At the Walnut Room

I’m on the El on my way to my semi-annual micro-vacation at the Walnut Room. Why is the train going so slowly today? At each stop, I glance at my watch hoping that I’ll be on time. Finally, the train arrives at Lake Street. I elbow my way out of the train and go through the Pedway and up to the seventh floor of Macy’s (formerly Marshal Fields) anticipating a relaxing lunch with my friend from the western exurbs.

Fortunately, it’s early enough in the holiday season that we can be seated without a reservation or having to wait on long lines. Coming here is always a vacation. We can sit in the paneled room overlooking the Chicago Loop as we talk of all things important and trivial, personal and professional without being rushed out.

Although it’s before Thanksgiving, the Christmas tree is decorated and all the other seasonal decorations are on display. As we bite into our salads, the fairy godmother stops at our table. “Do you beautiful ladies want to make a wish?”

“Yes, I do,” says my friend. Closing her eyes, she wishes for things unknown.

Next it’s my turn. There’s only one wish per customer. What will I wish for? My family is healthy and I don’t need any more material things. Do I wish for world peace? The success of the Affordable Health Care website? Peace in the Middle East? There are so many things to wish for in our imperfect world that it’s difficult to make a choice. The pressure is on. The fairy godmother has a lot of other tables to visit. I settle for economic justice and prosperity for the 99% and wish the Fairy Godmother a Merry Christmas.

Our squash soup and salads eaten, we talk about how the year has treated us. While the salads are good, they aren’t outstanding. Nevertheless, the ambiance is delicious, proving once again the
importance of eating in a warm, conducive atmosphere. Good conversation always adds to the flavor of the meal. We wish each other a Happy Thanksgiving and continue on our day.

While I’m at it, I want to share a favorite quick recipes for salads. It takes a few minutes to prepare, leaving time left over to perfect the world.  Remember - ambience is half the battle.

                                                     Easy One-Week Salad
Lettuce
Cucumbers cut into pieces
Green peppers cut into pieces
Tomatoes cut into small wedges
Any other salad vegetables you like
Cut enough salad vegetables to last a week. Put aside in a plastic container in the refrigerator.

To individualize the salads, here are two of my favorites:
Greek Salad

Take enough salad vegetables for one meal. Add Kalamata olives and feta cheese. Cut in some pieces of Bermuda onion. A couple of anchovies (optional) chopped up add flavor. For dressing, add olive oil, lemon juice, and oregano

Black Bean and Cheese Salad

Take enough basic salad for one dinner. Add cilantro leaves, green olives, black beans drained of most of the liquid, and cheddar cheese diced into small pieces. For dressing, add lime juice and olive oil.

Good with wine, good bread, and whatever else you’re serving. Bon appetit!

 



 


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Some Great Holiday Gift Suggestions

Just in time! I’m so glad. The Chicago Tribune’s Sunday November 10th edition has a special section on watches, the perfect gift. “The price is right,” it says. Did you know that for a mere $442,000, you can get a Breguet Classique Double Tourbillion? If you don’t think it’s to your gift receiver’s liking, the Girard-Perregaux Three Bridge Tourbillon is only $211,500. It’s a consolation prize I’m sure. The one of a kind Patek Philippe sells for $3,985,067.
For a real bargain, the Ball Watch Trainmaster Doctor’s Chronograph in platinum is only $399,500. Seiko has a limited edition for only $3,400.
You’re all set. With all these choices, you can buy watches for everyone on your gift list. You’re shopping stress is obliterated. With all the websites, you can buy them on-line and save yourself a trip to the store.
With the money you’ve saved from all these bargains, you may want to make some donations to the homeless and those on the brink of homelessness. After all, most of the organizations aiding the homeless are tax exempt and you can get a deduction on your taxes if you donate to them. There are many organizations that are short of funds, but the good news is that the incomes of the 2% are back where they should be. In fact, the disparity between the top 10% and everyone else is at its highest since the 1920’s.
Let’s celebrate! Yesterday I tried another recipe for Cornish hens. It was very festive. The preparation time was only about 10 minutes and it serves four.
                                                Orange Sherry Cornish Hen
2 Cornish hens
½ onion cut into wedges
4 tsps orange marmalade
¼ cup sherry
1 Tbs minced garlic
Rosemary, ground ginger, paprika
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Clean the hens and place them in a baking dish breast side up. Place an onion wedge in the cavity of each hen.
Mix all the remaining ingredients together in a cup. Pour half the mixture over the hens. Pour half of the remaining mixture into the cavity of the hens.
Place in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes. After that, pour the rest of the mixture over the hens and bake for another 15 minutes.
Now serve. Good with brown rice mixed with sautéed mushrooms and onions and a green vegetable. Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Will This Shutdown Stay Unbroken?

I certainly hope not. My memories of working for the New York City Department of Social Services in the 1970’s may provide some clues.

As an investigator in Spanish Harlem, I’d knock on recipients’ doors. “I’m from the New York City Department of Social Services, Bureau of Public Assistance.” (‘Welfare Dept’, we were told, had negative connotations).

“Say what?”

“I’m from the New York City Department of Social Services, Bureau of Public Assistance.”

“Say what?”

“I’m from the Welfare Department.”

“Oh. Why didn’t you say so?”

I’d hear the deadbolt lock open. Then the metal police bar would be removed. Next came the other two locks. Lastly a door would crack open and a brown or black face would warily poke her head out and welcome me in.

Months later, I was transferred to Queens where I worked in a neighborhood that was predominantly white of various ethnic origins. I’d knock on the door with the same introduction. Someone on the other side of the door would eventually stage whisper, “Go around the back. I don’t want my neighbors to know I’m on Welfare.”

Little did it matter that many of her neighbors were also receiving help since they were too ashamed too talk to each other to know that. As I’d be warily let into the home, the person would often say, “We’re not like the others. We’re getting this help because we really need it.”

Who was I to judge? As Bob Dylan so eloquently sang, They’re only pawns in the game. Ten years year later, Reagan exploited that indoctrination with talk of welfare queens and images of underclass people- usually black-in various squalid situations. Those images are haunting us still. The fact that 83% of SNAP [formerly known as Food Stamps] recipients are full-time low-wage workers or that the majority of people receiving TANF [formerly known as Welfare] are white often doesn't enter the public consciousness.

In our still racially divided society, I suspect that the Tea Party exploits these haunting images as they rail against government money being spent for health care or basic necessities to aid low-income people in our country. Their hope is that if people perceive of the majority receiving aid as the Other, they won’t have empathy enough to support the programs.

Hopefully, this strategy is not going to work this time. Too many white people have been uninsured due to pre-existing conditions and/or not having jobs that provide health insurance and/or not being able to afford the premiums of private policies. This time the majority isn’t going to buy it. That’s why Pres. Obama was re-elected and why the Affordable Health Care Act aka Obamacare is here to stay. Get used to it, Tea Party. They'll probably accuse me of playing the race card as they do whenever people try to deal with the knotty subjects of race and class.

Stay healthy everybody until our government comes to its senses. I’m counting on the good sense of the centrist majority to prevail.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Shut the Government Down? They Don't Know Beans (Another Recipe)

They’ve done it - descended to such a low level of selfishness that they have shut the government down rather than allow the Affordable Health Care Act ( aka Obamacare) to proceed. The Tea Party representatives are telling us that this is a dangerous law. Regardless of what they think of the law, it’s been the law since 2009 and was ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court in 2012.

During several of our travels, we have met Canadians and talked with them about their health care system. Canadians from British Columbia, Manitoba, and Ontario have told us that they are very satisfied with their health care, thank you very much. While the specter of Canadian health care and health care rationing was dangled before us Americans, these Canadians assured us that they received all the care they needed. Mary and Edgar (not their real names) were both over 80 years old and had just had hip and knee replacement surgeries respectively. When I asked Mary if they had any trouble getting the surgery, she said, “No, we just showed them our cards and walked right into the hospital.”

My husband and I lived in Israel in the early 1970’s. Forty years ago, Israel was still a new country striving to establish itself. Nevertheless, they managed to have a national health care system that provided basic care to all of its citizens. Those who were more affluent could purchase private insurance if they wanted to do so. Everyone else was able to access the basics. Sometimes it involved waiting to see a specialist but that’s certainly preferable to having a large portion of the population uninsured.

It’s impossible for me to understand why some people are so adamant insisting that the government not provide basic food and health care to their neighbors in need. If a selfish refusal to pay higher taxes isn’t the motive, I’d like to know what it is. A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times reported that the upper 1% of our population has the largest percentage of wealth – 23% - since the 1920’s. It certainly sounds like selfishness to me.

In the meantime, many of our neighbors have become food insecure and unable to access health care. Many don’t have a bean. Since beans are an inexpensive form of protein, I’ll provide my recipe for 5-Minute Bean Salad. It takes about five minutes to make and serves four to eight people depending on whether it’s a main dish or a side salad.

                                                              Five-Minute Bean Salad

One 14.5 oz can of black beans drained
One 14.5 oz can of garbanzo beans drained
2 tomatoes chopped
½ green pepper chopped
green olives
cilantro leaves
feta cheese (optional)

olive oil, lemon juice, oregano for the dressing

Put the first seven ingredients in a bowl and mix them up.

Sprinkle the dressing ingredients over the top.
Refrigerate until cold.

Serve

It’s good with pita and hummus.

 

 

 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Fifty Years After Birmingham Sunday, Where Are We?

A day after the 50th anniversary of Birmingham Sunday, an article in the September 16th issue of the New York Times caught my eye. A white middle class family (consisting of a mom, a dad, and the requisite two children) living in a gated community in South Africa spent a month in a shantytown to better understand the mentality of those living in it. (See the article  in the NewYorkTimes/ September16,2013/ “Trading Privilege for Privation, Family Hits a Nation’s Nerve”).

The article paints a stark contrast between the few haves and many have-nots in South Africa. The family was able to learn much about what the people in the shantytown have to deal with and they forged some interesting relationships. Whenever people can understand each other across ethnic and class lines, it's a positive development.

It reminded me of two books written in the United States. One was Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin, a memoir from the early 1960’s about his experience becoming black temporarily with the use of dyes and other such help so that he could know how it felt to be a member of a discriminated against minority group. The other was Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich. In this book, Ms. Ehrenreich goes undercover as a minimum wage worker to see what it’s like to manage on $7 per hour jobs. Can we ever know what it feels like to be a member of the other group? Do the differences go beyond skin color to the point that we can’t comprehend? To Barbara Ehrenreich’s credit, she understood that because she could always return to her bank account, car, and other class privileges, she couldn’t know. Therefore, she only investigated the practical problems of securing housing and other resources on a very limited income.

As difficult and tragic as the problems were that gave rise to the Civil Rights Movement, many issues were resolved thanks to the bravery of the people who challenged the then status quo. As arduous as that was to achieve, sometimes it feels as though we only fixed the easy problems. As Dr. King said at the end of his life, it costs the government nothing to integrate a lunch counter. He went on to challenge us to do a lot more to eradicate poverty. Soon after he challenged the economics of class and race, he was assassinated. While it has never been proven in a court of law, I will always believe that his assassination was neither a coincidence nor the work of one madman working on his own.

Now we are left with the intractable problems. The unemployment rate of blacks is three times that of whites. Their rate of people living in poverty is higher as well. How do we eradicate the class differences that have become so solidified in the past 20 years? For example, a person’s income of origin is more a predictor of ability to complete a four-year college degree than any other factor. Is it more important to work on understanding one another or on changing the conditions causing our class lines to solidify? It feels to me that the issue of class is still the pink elephant in the room in any discussion of race. Where do we go from here?       

 

 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Why Invade Syria? Some Of Us Want to Know

Like many of you, I am quite upset about the USA’s impending invasion of Syria. Hoping that it will be stopped before it starts, I am sending the following letter to President Obama: 

Dear President Obama;

All right, so you made a mistake. Everyone does sometimes. Using the use of chemical weapons as a red line to get Assad to stop killing his own people was not a good idea. You thought that being threatened by the United States of America would be sufficient to make him stop killing Syrian civilians. This was a major tactical error on your part. Anyone who has already ordered the killing of as many people as he has will care little about the USA killing a few more. You were on the right track before when you hesitated to get us embroiled in another war in the Middle East. No good guys could be identified and as far as I know, they still haven't. We didn’t stop the genocide in Rwanda or Biafra. There are numerous oppressive governments around the world in which we don’t intervene. Why Syria? I can’t believe that you really think that any good could come from such an attack other than your saving face for having made the crossing the red line statement.

As much as your red line statement was a mistake, I have to congratulate you for asking Congress to authorize an attack. It’s a great way to save face without getting anyone killed. I hope and pray that behind the scenes, you’re begging all those Senators and Congressmen to “just say NO.” As an Illinois resident in the Ninth Congressional District, I have e-mailed Senators Durbin and Kirk and Congresswoman Schakowsky beseeching them to deny you this authorization. If Assad is toppled, we aren’t even sure that a decent government will emerge. Once again, you were right before. This is clearly a time to let bad enough alone and I am hoping against hope that Congress pulls you back from this brink.

If by some chance, however, Congress finally gets its act together and does something you purportedly want and votes yes, it will be a tragedy for the Middle East. Nevertheless, in that worst-case scenario, there is a lesson to be learned. Congress responds well to reverse psychology. This strategy can be employed during the year to pass something positive. Raising the debt ceiling and getting a farm bill that includes a decent amount of appropriations for Food Stamps comes immediately to mind.

In closing, Mr. President, I have always been one of your staunchest supporters and I’m still rooting
for you. I’ve supported you ever since as a state senator, you announced that you opposed the USA invading Iraq. I cheered when you welcomed the troops home after you brought our involvement in that disaster to an end.  I am really disappointed that you are doing a 180 -degree turn by planning this invasion of Syria now. I trust that you will find a way to cancel your plans.

Good luck in your efforts to keep America safe and make the world a better, more peaceful place.

Sincerely,
Lisa Sachs

PS. If you really feel the need to have this invasion, shouldn’t there be an element of surprise? At this point, all Assad has to do to find out what you have in mind is to read the New York Times.

 

 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Presto! A Language Disappears, Recipes for Revival

Every day another language disappears from our world as its last speakers pass away. I received a rude awakening to that fact last week in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. Previously, I was unaware of this beautiful, historic town in southwest Wisconsin. It was originally settled in the 1840’s by miners from Cornwall, England who had been displaced when many tin mines closed. Some of them immigrated to Wisconsin to work in the lead mines. Many of the original limestone houses in Mineral Point have been preserved and maintained; it has become a center for local artists.                

In a bookstore, I found several Cornish language textbooks. When I asked the proprietor about them, she said, “We are not English. We are Celtic like the Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and people from Brittany, France, and Galicia, Spain.” Her anger pulsated with her response. Clearly, she sought justice for the English submerging of her culture.

Since that trip, I’ve tried to find information about Cornwall and its history and culture. As a sign of how merged into the general English culture it is, very little information is available about it other than it had a Celtic background. Cornwall occupies one county in Southwest England; its current population is about 500,000. While it used to be a center for mining, its main industry now is tourism. It boasts beautiful coastal areas, beaches, and the least cold climate in England. I apologize for being ignorant of its history.

Are the differences between the Cornish and English minor? Did the Cornish have a culture that was buried by the dominant culture around them? I suppose many smaller groups, as they strive to maintain their cultural heritages, are debating similar questions. The larger question is how to maintain one’s culture without becoming tribal to the point of warring with neighbors over surmountable differences.

The last Cornish speaker passed away in 1914. Nevertheless, in the last 15 years, people there have been reviving it. Once again, the Cornish language is taught in several of their elementary schools. High school students from Mineral Point have a yearly visitor exchange with their counterparts in Cornwall. There are now an estimated 300 Cornish speakers.

The European Union is aiding the revival by designating the Cornish pastie a heritage food. It can now only be made and sold legally in Cornwall. It has to be shaped like a ‘D’ and its opening has to be on the side. So much for living and letting live.

For fear of violating any laws, I won’t give you a recipe for the pastie. It looks too complicated to make anyway. There have been no restrictions placed on Cornish hens, however, so here’s a recipe for Cornish game hens. Preparation time 15 minutes. It serves two.

                                                  Herb Roasted Cornish Game Hens

1 large Cornish hen
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp coarse black pepper
1 tsp minced rosemary
1 tsp thyme
1 bay leaf
1 shallot roughly chopped
1 carrot chopped into pieces
1 celery stalk chopped
juice of ½ lemon

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Rinse the hen. Season with salt and pepper inside and out.
Stuff the cavity with the spices.
Place some of each of the veggies in the cavity. Place the rest of the veggies on the bottom of the pan.
Place the hen on top of the veggies.
Squeeze lemon juice over the hen and in the cavity.
Cook for about 45 minutes.

 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Reading Don Quixote in Modern America

Don QuixoteDon Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rating the book that was written 400 years ago and is held to be the first modern novel ever written on a one to five-star criterion seems plain silly. I'm giving it five stars to satisfy the computer program but it seems irrelevant to this classic. Now we can move on.

Mind-traveling across four centuries to understand the characters of another time and world was difficult. I read "Don Quixote" in episodic form and now that I have finally finished it, I feel as if I've accomplished something. Did I like it? That's a difficult question to answer. Don Quixote was unlike anything else I've ever read. Unlike modern books that have a definite plot with a beginning, middle, and a denouement leading to the end, it lacked those elements. It read as a series of adventures, treatises on the place of fiction in society, and commentaries on the nature of art in general.

For those who have seen the musical "Man of La Mancha" and are expecting to read a similar story, the book is nothing like it. One thing that I found very interesting was the attitude that people had about madness at that time. Most people whom Don Quixote encountered were well aware of his madness. Some were sympathetic and wanted to take care of him. Others mocked him behind his back which for large parts of the book I found so annoying I almost stopped reading it. Many people were enfuriated by him. In large part, nothing has changed in the popular perception of mental illness in four centuries.

Would I recommend that others read it? If you want to challenge yourselves or increase your knowledge about the history of literature, I definitely would. I read the Edith Grossman translation copywright 2003. She did a superb job of making the language accessible and readable. If you plan to read "Don Quixote" in English, I definitely recommend this translationl.

View all my reviews

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Great Recipe in the Immigration Debate

In California one morning, everyone wakes up to a startling discovery: All the Mexicans (one third of California’s population) have disappeared. In this movie, A Day Without A Mexican, directed by Sergio Arau and starring Yareli Arezmendi and John Getz, the people are at a loss when they realize that no one is left to do the work. With ironic humor, A Day Without A Mexican explores the real life perplexities of the immigration issue and gives us food for thought about what societal needs the immigration population is filling in American society. I won’t say any more about the movie for fear of being a spoiler, but I recommend that people view it on DVD.

At this point, the House of Representatives, in their usual modus operandi, is stalling on the immigration reform bill passed by the Senate. As the Nativists rear their ugly heads once again, let’s remember that except for those 5.2 million identified as Native Americans who still survive here, we’re all immigrants or their descendants. I’m glad that my great-grandparents left Russia over 100 years ago before our current laws were in effect.

And speaking again of food for thought, I continue to enjoy the plethora of foreign restaurants within a half hour ride of my house. I am also enjoying the various ingredients that are available for cooking that growing up I never even heard of. This week I tried another recipe from the ELL Parent Center’s cookbook, A Taste of Niles Township: Recipes from our Global Village. To order a copy, go to www.ellparentcenter.org.

Aloo Chaat came without identification, but I’m guessing that it’s from Southeast Asia. I found tamarind paste at a grocery store in the Asian Indian neighborhood on Devon Avenue in Rogers Park, Chicago. Aloo Chaat is good as a main vegetarian dish or as a side dish with fish or chicken. Preparation time is 20 minutes.

 

                                                Aloo Chaat

½ cups chick peas, drained
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1 ½ teaspoons brown sugar
½ tsp mild chili powder
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro leaves
a pinch of salt
½ Tbsp tamarind paste
6 Tbsps water
coriander
chopped onion
Tomato julienne or pomegranate seeds (Lacking either, I used grape tomatoes.)

Boil the water in a pot. Add the potato and cook until a bit soft but not mushy. Remove potatoes from the heat, drain, and set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, mix the water and tamarind paste. Add chili powder, sugar, coriander, and salt. Pour the mixture over the chick peas. Combine the potatoes, onions, and cilantro. Mix them and add salt to taste. Mix with the chick pea mixture. Add the tomatoes. Serve.   

 

 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Missing ATM Card, Another Jean Valjean Moment

She first noticed that her ATM card was missing when she saw an item on her bank statement for a $6 purchase at the Punjab Convenience Mart, a store she’d never even seen much less shopped at. A quick look in her purse revealed that her wallet was missing. Days later, $200 more of purchases that she had never made appeared on her statement. Then she received the wallet in the mail in an unmarked envelope. Everything was returned except for the ATM card and whatever cash had been in her wallet. The identity of the thief will never be known.

In related/unrelated news, the workers from the East Coast to the Midwest at McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and about two dozen other fast food restaurants, organized by the Service Employees International Union, have been holding one-day strikes to demand a living wage of $15 per hour. Presently, the median wage for a fast food worker is $9.05 per hour. Many earn as little as $7.40 per hour and must choose between paying the rent or eating. While $15 an hour may be arguable, surely a wealthy company like McDonald’s can afford to do better for its workers. In 2001, in Nickled And Dimed,On Not Getting By In America, Barbara Ehrenreich describes in a very eloquent way the plight of low wage workers in America. The theme of the book is that it is impossible to live on a minimum wage job without government assistance in the form of subsidized housing, Food Stamps, and/or medical care. Years later, this situation has become, if anything, more acute.

During this summer, the House and Senate continue to stall on passing a bill that would continue the SNAP (Food Stamp) program. The House’s version would eliminate five million people from the rolls. As it is, countless people in America are increasingly turning to private charities to supplement their food supply taxing these charities' abilities to address the growing need. The House bill threatens to make this situation much worse.

To return to the stolen ATM Card: who but a desperate person who couldn’t feed his or her family would steal an ATM Card to buy $6 worth of merchandise at a convenience mart? Was it for a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk? Will more incidents such as this occur in the future? An elderly woman loses an ATM card and with it, her feeling of security. A person in desperate straits loses her ability to feed herself. The Tea Party and other Conservatives clamor for social programs to be gutted. Until they are stopped, we all lose.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Some Great New Recipes Fuel the Immigration Debate

Growing up in the 1950’s in New York, foreign food meant Cantonese, Italian, and occasionally, French or maybe Greek. There weren’t many new immigrants arriving in the USA at that time. Even though we loved to sample new foods, that was all that was available. We looked forward to having it when we did. Later on in the '60's, fulaffel came to New York and so did different Chinese cuisines. The Cubans opened some restaurants, also. Nevertheless, the choices lacked the diversity we have today.

Now living right outside of Chicago, I'm within a half hour ride from restaurants serving every cuisine imaginable from Afghani to Vietnamese. I have to say that it’s a lot more interesting and delicious this way. The influx of peoples to Chicago has made my cooking a lot more varied, also since I’ve learned new ways of cooking from people that we've met  and gotten to know. It' added a richness to our lives that I cherish. 

In Niles Township, Illinois, the participants and volunteers (of which I am one) at the English Language Learners Parent Center got together and contributed recipes from their home countries to make a cookbook. A lot of them look interesting and tasty while others sound really delectable. If you want to buy a copy of A Taste of Niles Township: Recipes from our Global Village, their website is www.ellparentcenter.org.

This week I was excited to try Kuwaiti Curried Chicken. Years ago, I never even knew where Kuwait was on the globe let alone someone who could give me one of their recipes. Although I don’t know what the real thing tastes like, my attempt came out very good. Not finding one of the ingredients (dry limes), I substituted fresh limes. I also did some short cuts.

Preparation time: 30 minutes. It serves six.

 

                                                            Kuwaiti Curried Chicken

About three pounds of skinned, boneless chicken breasts
Salt

1 and 3/4 tsp baharat (allspice) I spent a lot of time searching for baharat until I went into a Middle Eastern store and was told that baharat is allspice. “Oh,” I said. “Why didn’t you say so?”

turmeric, coriander to taste
a dash of curry powder
plain breadcrumbs

2 large onions chopped
1 tsp fresh ginger grated
1 Tbsp minced garlic

1 cup tomato sauce
¼ cup olive oil
2 limes cut in pieces
cinammon
1 cup frozen okra

Sprinkle the chicken with salt. Let stand.

In a small mixing bowl, mix the baharat (allspice), turmeric, coriander, and curry powder with the bread crumbs. Dip chicken pieces in water then lightly coat with the breadcrumb mixture.

Sauté in the olive oil and remove from the pan.

Next cook the onions, garlic, and ginger in the olive oil until transparent. Add the cinammon. After five minutes, add tomato sauce, water, and limes. Bring to a high simmer. Add the chicken pieces and the okra. Reduce heat to low and cook in pot for about an hour.

It’s good served with white rice and salad.

 
I invite any Congressperson even thinking of voting against the Immigration bill to take a culinary tour of the North Side of Chicago with me. I’m sure he or she would change his (or her) vote. Bon appetit!

 

 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

NO PLACE AT THE TABLE FOR 17,000,000 AMERICAN CHILDREN

Why am I angry? It’s because we finally saw “A Place At the Table” on DVD. I’ll leave its artistic merits to the film critics while I discuss the message that film makers Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson are conveying in this documentary. It chronicles the rise of hunger in America which has grown exponentially since the 1980’s. At present, approximately 50 million people including 17 million children are food insecure i.e. they don’t know where their next meal is coming from and many a night they go to bed hungry. The consequences of malnutrition for growing children were well enumerated in the film as well as the effects on our future as a nation having a large portion of our population malnourished. The movie has just become even more relevant since the House voted on a Farm Bill that eliminates funding for SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps).

Hunger was addressed and largely conquered in the 1970’s with the initiation of several government programs including Food Stamps (now called SNAP), WIC¸ and free lunch and breakfast in the schools for children from low income families. Since then, these programs have received less and less funding making government programs woefully inadequate. Currently, most Food Stamp allotments provide $3.00 per day per person for food. (I want to remind everyone that people cannot use Food Stamps for soap, toothpaste, clothes detergent, or other nonfood items that people often buy at super markets.) Although I do several economy measures – buying sale items, cutting and using coupons, making a list, cooking vegetarian a couple of nights a week, I would find it impossible to eat on $3.00 per day and I challenge anyone reading this post to try it. If you can, please send in your menus. I’d love to know how it’s done. When I worked as a social worker, most of my clients who received Food Stamps ran out of their monthly allotment in two weeks.

Silverbush’es and Jacobson’s premise is that because of  America’s dwindling social safety net, the job of feeding those who don't have adequate funds to feed themselves has been left to private charities. Many organizations are doing admirable, laudatory jobs. The number of organizations has grown by leaps and bounds to try to meet the need of the hungry, many of whom are employed at low-wage jobs. Nevertheless, it isn’t possible for private charities to meet these needs entirely. This task should return to the purview of the government. As one volunteer in the film said, “Would the Pentagon be left to private charity? Where are our priorities?”

The message of “A Place At the Table” was stressed to me as I volunteered at the monthly Produce Mobile, a joint project of the Greater Chicago Food Depository and  Interfaith Action of Evanston. Evanston was designated as a community with 15% of its population food insecure and the produce mobile began here in February. The few times I have helped I have been amazed how many people are in such dire need of food that they will stand for hours in all kinds of weather to receive a supply of free fruits and vegetables. Many people have come to volunteer and it is an ideal example of private citizens aiding their neighbors but it doesn't solve the whole problem. Maybe it’s time for the Pentagon to hold a bake sale.  

Great job again Interfaith Action/ Greater Chicago Food Depository volunteers. It's great to see so many people making an effort to fill the gaps that our safety net leaves. But is this the whole answer? I certainly don't think so. It's time for us to decide what kind of society we want to be.
   

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy Fourth of July! A Recipe from a Nonbaker

Since the Fourth falls on a Thursday this year, many people are getting Friday off of work giving them a four day weekend. Hooray! Despite -or maybe because of -our high unemployment rate, those still employed are working too many hours and are under incredible degrees of pressure. A four day weekend is certainly called for.

Now that I've been retired, I have practice enjoying leisure. For those constantly at work, it's difficult to change gears. But anyway I've been vegging out watching House Hunters and House Hunters International on HGTV and I recommend it to anyone who doesn't know how else to relax. I especially enjoy the International episodes because they show shots of streets and other scenes as people house hunt in locales I'll probably never visit.

Three questions press on my mind from these shows and I hope someone out there can answer them. Number 1: Why do people love granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances so much that they turn down perfectly nice houses and apartments simply because they don't have these items? I've never had either of them so I don't know what I'm missing or even what they look like up close and personal. Number 2: What do people do in their bathrooms other than the usual that they need so much space in them? I must be missing something. Number 3: Why do people want open floor plans so that they can entertain and cook at the same time? Do they start cooking when their guests arrive? I always thought that was extremely rude. So you tell me.

While about 1% of our population finds itself homeless on any given night in America, others can afford to be as finnicky as Morris the cat. Does it have metal faucets and gold doorknobs? A deal breaker. Popcorn ceilings? Forget it. A ceiling fan in the bedroom? Don't even think about it. Good luck to them and may we eventually celebrate a Fourth in which nobody is homeless.

In the meantime, here's my nonbake recipe for American Flag cake. It doesn't get easier than this.

                                                    American Flag Cake

one pound cake sliced ( Make it easy by buying one)
blueberries
strawberries sliced
coolwhip

Place the slices of cake on a platter. Cover with cool whip. Place alternating rows of blueberries and strawberries to represent the American Flag. Voila!
 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

TIME TRAVEL IN MY OWN BACKYARD

The Amish Acres brochure was so enticing. “Escape to Amish Acres in Nappanee, Indiana and share the heritage of these intriguing people in quiet celebration. Time stopped over a century ago and preserves in the Amish a way of life nearly forgotten in today’s fast paced world…”  
I was intrigued. How do people survive in 2013 without electricity, cars, a high school education? No television, smart phones, or internet (except at the inn built expressly for English [nonAmish] visitors). No Twitter or texting.

Our interest piqued, we made the trip to Nappanee. Upon arrival, we were somewhat disappointed to learn that Amish Acres is more of a history museum than a place where Amish people actually live. The 80 acre farm had been owned and inhabited by Amish families but was sold several years ago to a company that left most of the buildings intact. Since we had already arrived, I revisited happy childhood memories of visits to Sturbridge Village (a Massachusetts model of a Colonial Village) and Mystic Seaport (a Connecticut replica of an old whaling village) determined to enjoy it. We learned much from their video about the Amish culture and history and from two horse and buggy tours around Amish Acres. The Threshers’ Dinner included in the visitors’ package was even tastier and more filling than advertised.

We were given a map of the general area and followed it to the Rentown General Store where our eyes feasted on all sorts of delicious baked goods, cheeses, preserves, and other country food. (Since we’ve come back, we’ve also been feasting on some great preserves, cheese, and pumpkin butter.) Several brochures advertised the Fifth Annual Rentown Garden Walk and Bake Sale which fortunately for us, was that very day. This annual fund raiser for their small community’s school was where we actually met with people in the Amish community. Besides the Store, the school and eight people's gardens were open for people to visit. As we went to the school and each house, people were very open in talking about their lives and welcomed us. As a result, we had some good conversations with them.


In the beautiful countryside, with families close knit and communicating, it seemed so idyllic that I was almost tempted to stay awhile. Even as I watched people unplugged seeming (they speak to each other in a Pennsylvania Deutsch dialect so I can’t say for sure) more attentive to one another, I knew I couldn’t last there without connection for more than a few days.

Even the Amish have not successfully separated themselves from the rest of the world entirely. While they fear their children will grow up and leave their community if exposed to the “English” world, some of the adults work in jobs nearby. Several of the men with whom we spoke work at RV factories. As charming as these people were, I wondered how their children will manage with eighth grade educations as all the unskilled jobs in our country disappear. Will they adapt and allow their children to finish high school? That’s a question they must be asking each other because the world is too interconnected for any group to be able to totally shut it out.

We were greeted at one of the gardens by a woman who invited us to try her pesto sauce on crackers. “What kind of things do you like to cook?” I asked her.

“Oh, everything. My kids really like pizza.”

So yes, even in Amish country, the world intrudes. I don’t think she’ll mind if I share her pesto sauce recipe. It was really great. She was very open in sharing it with me. As the world intrudes on the Amish, I hope that we can all get to know them.

                                                          Amish Pesto Sauce
2 cups fresh basil leaves chopped
1 cup raw cashews crushed
11/2 cups olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 cups grated Swiss cheese

Mix the ingredients together and chill.   

 

   

 

 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Don't Throw the Eggplant Out With the Bath Water

In Skokie right near the sculpture park is a statue of Mahatma Gandhi. Around the base are several of his quotes including “Poverty is the worst form of violence.”
I pondered that quote yesterday as I volunteered at the monthly produce truck in Evanston. This project, which is trying to alleviate some of poverty’s affects in the Evanston area, is a joint effort of the Greater Chicago Food Depository (GCFD) and Interfaith Action of Evanston (IAE). While the GCFD has had monthly produce trucks going to over 30 neighborhoods in the Chicago area for quite a while, the produce truck is relatively new to Evanston having begun on December 11th . Although in the popular perception Evanston is an affluent area, it was identified as having a population that is 14% food insecure (don’t know if they’ll have access to their next meal).

On December 11, the first day of their food produce distribution, organizers for Interfaith Action of Evanston hoped that word had gotten out to at least 100 people. Despite the fact that it was the coldest day of the winter thus far, people lined up bright and early.  In all, 335 people came to get free vegetables and fruit for their families. Since then, the produce truck has run monthly addressing a growing need. This need will grow even faster if the agricultural bill passed by the Senate Agricultural Committee becomes law. This bill was much kinder than any that are being discussed in the House. It would cut $4.1 billion from the SNAP (Food Stamp) program. As it is, most Food Stamp recipients can only stretch their monthly food stamp allotment for two weeks. If someone has medical issues such as diabetes, this allotment may last for one week. That is why Matilde (not her real name) came to wait for the food truck at 7:00AM and stayed around for hours for the free produce. “I have diabetes,” she said. “I’m learning to eat healthy and I need these vegetables.” The produce trucks address a need, but why is private charity increasingly being called upon to address it? 

The vegetables that the Food Trucks bring are of high quality. Last time I volunteered, they brought eggplants. I was surprised that about 10% of the people didn’t take them because they didn’t know how to cook them. In hopes that won’t happen again, here are two easy eggplant recipes. Eggplant is a very versatile vegetable high in fiber, with some protein, and some vitamin A, B complex, and C.

Frequently asked question: Should I peel it? If you want to. If you don’t, cut it in slices or chunks and put salt on it.  Leave it in a colander for 20 minutes and then rinse. Or slice it and then steam it for 10 to 15 minutes first. Either way, it takes out the bitter taste of the skin.

Sauteed eggplant slices
1 eggplant sliced
1 egg
breadcrumbs
garlic powder, onion powder, basil, oregano to taste
olive oil
Mix the seasoning with the breadcrumbs. Heat some olive oil in a skillet. Dip the eggplant in the egg and then the breadcrumb mixture. Saute in the olive oil.

Eggplant Sauteed with tomato sauce and other vegetables
1 eggplant peeled and cut into chunks
1 chopped onion
1 clove of garlic minced
1 green pepper diced
a few Tbsp tomato sauce
oregano to taste
olive oil
Heat the oil in a skillet. Add the onion and garlic and let cook five minutes. Add the eggplant and other vegetables. Add the tomato sauce. Put heat down and simmer for 10 minutes.

 

 


   

Thursday, May 30, 2013

HOW TO END POVERTY IN 90 MINUTES

[With 199 People You May or May Not Know] was the title of a performance staged by the theatre department at Northwestern University. We saw it Saturday on its last weekend. Although the performance didn’t produce a panacea for ending poverty, it provided much to ponder.

It is a misnomer to call “How to End Poverty…” a play. Rather, it was a series of skits, dance performances, monologs, power points, audience participation, and facilitated discussions. The theatrical merit of it can be debated. Personally, I found it too chaotic to be very effective, but be that as it may, we had plenty to debate when we got home. If other people went home and debated the issues, I guess it achieved its purpose.

Can poverty ever be ended? I highly doubt it. Although it should be possible, our country lacks the spirit of cooperation and compromise necessary to achieve it. The play posed the question how do we most effectively end poverty? Is it by addressing daily needs, changing the system, helping one individual rise out of poverty, improving our education system, or creating opportunities through micro-loans and other such efforts? In my opinion, the myriad causes of poverty are complex  and need to be addressed by an all- of- the- above approach. That wasn’t one of the choices, however. That’s one reason that I never liked multiple choice tests which often beg simplistic answers.

At the end of the performance, the audience was divided into groups and instructed to choose one of the above methods to end poverty. The winning vote would decide which organization would receive a $1000 donation, partial proceeds from that night’s ticket sales. Whoever won would be a worthy cash-strapped organization. The method I chose lost. Since I am often in the vast minority, this wasn’t a shock to me. On our night, The Ark, which does much to address the needs of the Jewish poor in the Chicago area, received the $1000.

I hope that people who saw “How to End Poverty…” were energized to do their part to end poverty or at least alleviate its worst effects. As we speak, billionaires receiving farm subsidies are lobbying to cut appropriations for the Food Stamp (now called SNAP) Program. Republicans in Congress are bent and determined to repeal Obamacare which will provide healthcare to many who have been uninsured many of them poor. Closer to home, in Chicago there’s an appalling lack of low cost housing. Even so, there’s a movement in the City Council to close one of the last SRO’s on the North Side. Those are places to go for a systems approach. I’m sure that we can all think of several more. If you prefer the daily needs approach, there’s also plenty to do. Contact your nearest soup kitchen or food pantry and volunteer to give a few hours per month. Since poverty most likely won’t end in the next 90 minutes, you are in luck. You still have plenty of time.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Favorite Yearly Respite from Bad News

The Greeks participated in a band with the Turks and Armenians. The Pakistanis, Indians, and Bangladeshis helped each other out. The Czechs and Slovaks could be seen cooperating…You probably want whatever I was on while seeing all that, but honestly, I was cold sober. All that and more could be seen at the 23rd annual Skokie Festival of Cultures.

The Village of Skokie, Skokie Public Library, and Skokie Park District initiated the Skokie Festival of Cultures in 1991 to celebrate the village’s ethnic and cultural diversity. Situated just outside Chicago and accessible by public transportation, it has become home to many immigrant groups over the last 30 years. In the first Festival of Cultures, nine nationality groups participated. That has increased steadily. This year 36 nationality groups participated. Since over 70 languages are spoken in Skokie, there’s room for people from many more countries.

Flags of the participating countries 
 
In opening ceremonies, participants from all 36 groups walk across the main stage wearing their national costumes. They each said “hello” and then thanked the first responders in both English and their native languages while the soundtrack of “Imagine” by John Lennon played in the background. For a ‘60’s activist like myself, it doesn’t get better than that. Although we have light years to go before we truly overcome all the intra-ethnic hatred that rages throughout our own country and the world, the Festival of Cultures transmits the hope, even if only momentarily, that it may be possible.

After we saw people introduce themselves from everywhere from Armenia to the United States, we visited the national booths talking to people, viewing their handicrafts, and sampling some cuisines. Some people encouraged us to visit their countries of origin or at least see their museums in Chicago. Where else can one meet people from Armenia, Bangladesh, Croatia, Germany, Greece, South America, Sweden, Thailand, and Turkey within an hour?
Tibetan dancers


We heard music and saw dance performed by a group from Tibet and then went inside to see yes, a combined Greek-Turkish-Egyptian-Armenian band. It was beautiful. After a few hours, there were still more songs and dances to hear and see and more people to meet at the booths, but alas, it was time to go home. Next year     we’ll do it again.

Such an international event calls for an international recipe. One year, at the Filipino booth, they gave out this recipe for Chicken Adobo. It sounds easy and delicious.                                       

Chicken Adobo

1 pound of chicken cut in pieces
1 clove minced garlic
1 cup soy sauce
1 cup vinegar
2 cups of water
5 bay leaves
4 Tablespoons of cooking oil
whole peppercorns
Ginger

Combine all ingredients in a pot. Let it simmer and boil until almost all the water is gone. Let the meat fry in its own fat or added oil. Good served with rice and fresh tomatoes.   

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Stalled On the Information Superhighway - Again

Five adults sit down on a bench at the bus stop. I bet you’re waiting for the punch line. The punch line is that there isn’t any. Why? Because no one spoke. Each person was too focused on his own Smart phone or I-phone or other device to pay attention to anyone else. Even two people who were together holding hands didn’t say a word to one another so intent were they on answering their text messages.

I have seen occurrences like the one described above with such increasing frequency that it makes me feel like what Temple Grandin calls “an anthropologist on Mars.” She, as you know, is the famous animal husbandry expert who is also autistic. She has written numerous books on autism that have successfully translated the autistic experience to those of us who aren’t autistic. She says that she feels like “an anthropologist on Mars” in the worlds of emotion and human relationships. As time goes on, however, she may come to feel more at ease in our ever increasing technological world than I am.

For this reason, I was really pleased to see the sketch comedy “Reality Check” that is being performed by the MPAACT Theatre Company at the Greenhouse Theatre in Chicago from April 19th to June 2nd. It is written by Kevin Douglas and performed to a turn by MPAACT’s ensemble. This sketch comedy revue provides a look into the world of I-phones, Facebook, and all the other social networking sites that people feel bereft without access. In my opinion, MPAACT’s view of the situation was spot on. I recommend that you see this show and enjoy it for yourselves. It certainly has a lot to say about communications in current times.

 

 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Greetings from the Land of Greed - Or The Rich Get Richer

We haven’t heard from the 99% in a while Occupying Wall Street, LaSalle Street, or any other street and I’m wondering why. On Tuesday, May 7th, the Chicago Tribune reported that the average multiple of CEOs’ salaries at the top 100 U.S.A. firms is 204 times their average worker’s combined salary and benefit package. Even though this sounds outrageous, it may not even be accurate. For example, at JC Penney’s, the CEO Ronald Johnson is listed as making 1,795 X his average worker who makes $29,688 combined wages and benefits. Nevertheless, there are so many people working in retail part-time who don’t receive any benefits. Maybe the Tribune was just taking their full-time employees into account. (In case you’re curious, Ronald Johnson makes $53.5 million in one year.)

You may be thinking that this is the way it has always been. We can’t fight City Hall. Nevertheless, this isn’t the way it always was. As recently as four years ago in 2009, the average top companies’ CEOs had a multiple that was 20% less than it is now. In other words, they made a paltry 160X times their average worker’s combined salary and benefits. In 1980, when a study was done, it showed a ratio of top CEOs making an average of 40X their average worker.

According to numerous articles I read, this trend is occurring in England, Western Europe, and Canada although to a lesser extent. I don’t know what the answer is to stop this trend from continuing, but I hope that someone out there has a suggestion. I’d love to hear it.

In the meantime, many people struggle to maintain a basic standard of living. We still have homeless and people who are food and/or housing insecure. So per usual, I am sharing a low cost, healthy recipe. I made it last night and it was delicious. It serves two and preparation time is about 20 minutes. If you use it as a side dish, it can serve four.

 

                                                Baked Stuffed Eggplant

1 eggplant
½ green pepper diced
½ onion diced
1 Tsp minced garlic
3 Tsp olive oil
¼ cup uncooked white rice
¼ cup quinoa
1 cup water
4 Tsp tomato sauce
allspice, cumin, cinnamon, and parsley to taste

Combine the rice and quinoa in a pot with the water and cook.
Preheat the oven to 350° Fahrenheit (200° Centigrade).
Cut the eggplant in half. Then scoop out the meat from it. Put in a pot and steam to get soft for about 10 minutes.
In a small skillet, sauté the green pepper, onion, and garlic in the olive oil.
When the eggplant is soft, drain the pot. Add the vegetables, tomato sauce, and seasoning.
Put the rice/quinoa mixture in the eggplant shell. Put the eggplant mixture on top of that. Bake for about 30 minutes.
It’s good with Greek salad.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Uh-Oh! The Full Impact of Obamacare Is Just Around the Corner

My friend Sally just got back from Walgreen’s. She has no insurance so she had to pay $120 dollars out of pocket for her prescription. I can get that medication with my insurance coverage for less than a third of that, but she has no choice. Since she isn’t poor enough to qualify for most pharmaceutical companies' patient assistance programs, she falls between the cracks. Since she has a pre-existing condition, she is unable to purchase insurance as an individual and she does not have insurance through her employer. The medication is a necessity for her continued stable health. She’s counting the days until she can get insurance in 2014 under Obamacare i.e.The Affordable Health Care Act.     

Probably because so many are looking forward to Obamacare, the same parties who tried to scare the public before its passage are at it again dangling the specter of lost freedom before our eyes. That’s right. In January 2014, the main clauses of the Affordable Health Care Act will go into effect. Insurance Companies will not be allowed to deny people healthcare coverage because they have pre-existing conditions and thus need medical care. State exchanges will be available for people who don’t have coverage through their work to choose insurance. In those states allowing it, Medicaid will be extended to single adults whose income is less than 133% of the poverty rate. Everyone will be required to either have health insurance or pay a fine, but subsidies to pay for it will be available to those who can’t afford the insurance premiums.

They're trying to scare us with the vision of a sea of paperwork. Yes, there will be paperwork and while it's not the most fun thing to do, is it that threatening? This is what's happening:Those who want the subsidies can start applying on October 1st, 2013. Because the subsidies are only given to those with low incomes, people who want them will have to complete applications. The applications are five pages long and ask for financial information. If they qualify, they will have to complete another form about their health and choose a provider. Those who believe that health care should remain a privilege of those lucky enough to either have insurance through work or be able to afford it on their own are touting this development as an attack on our freedom. They tell us it’s another layer of bureaucracy lurking that will strangle our freedom loving souls.

Let’s get real. Who ever applied for a means-tested benefit without completing forms and providing financial information? For someone who may not have had access to health care for years filling out a form to finally receive it seems like a small price to pay. I doubt if those benefiting are really going to be upset by it. All the alarming stories being disseminated seem like yet another attempt by those opposed to the Affordable Health Care Act to discredit it. To those who are waiting impatiently for these clauses to take effect, here’s to your continued good health. I hope you stay healthy until at least 2014. At long last, it is just around the corner.

 

               

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Connection For Our Disconnected World

These days people are working from home, going to school from home, and shopping from home. E-mail and other social networking sites have become the preferred mode of communication. Even telephones are becoming obsolete. I have felt alienated from this trend for a long while, but I thought that I was alone in my ennui.

Then I saw the movie Sidewalls, an Argentine film directed by Gustavo Taretto. While the film, which takes place in Buenos Aires, has a very dark message, it cheered me tremendously. Taretto employs cartoons, some internet devices, and a touch of magic realism in combination with conventional story telling to get his message across. Much of the film takes place in two people’s shoebox flats (about 400 square feet). They spend most of their lives in their apartments almost totally isolated except for their internet contacts and a few essential appointments. At one point, the main character laments that the computer has brought the world so much closer to him – he can work, pay bills, order dinner, and many other things – but he is so much further away from life. Yes! I’m not the only one experiencing this alienation although Gustavo Taretto portrayed this far more eloquently than I could. 

On the other hand, I heard recently about a website that actually uses the internet to facilitate face-to-face contacts among people. Operative in 180 cities around the world, www.mealsharing.org connects people to each other to enjoy home cooked meals. A traveler can find someone offering a home cooked meal while abroad or people can sign up to be hosts to someone traveling in their city. Their idea is that if people share a wholesome home cooked meal together, it can break down all kinds of barriers. Since I love meeting people from other countries, I’m looking forward to participating. While traveling, it could be a great way to meet people should there be a connection where I am going. At home, it is a way to meet people, also. The instruction for people hosting is to make what they would cook for their own family to provide an authentic experience for the traveler. 

Speaking of typical home cooked meals, this is a great recipe for leftover chicken, turkey, or lamb. Adjust the amount depending upon how many people there are. This recipe serves four. Prep time is about 30 minutes.

                                                           Pilaf

1 cup uncooked rice
2 cups water
½ Tbsp curry powder
2 tsp chicken bouillon
leftover meat cut in julienne strips
1 onion sliced
vegetable oil
¼ cup raisins
4 Tbsp sliced almonds
½ tsp cinnamon
dash of pepper and nutmeg

     1.     Add 2 cups of water, the curry powder, and chicken bouillon to the rice and cook.
     2.     Preheat oven to 325° Fahrenheit
     3.     Saute the onion in the vegetable oil.
     4.     Cut the chicken or turkey into julienne strips
     5.     When rice is cooked, mix all the ingredients in a casserole dish. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

What You Need to Know Before Tax Day April 15, 2013

Teaching my grandson how to play War [the card game] brought back many childhood memories of rainy summer afternoons. My friends and I would play War for hours until one or both of us got tired of it at which point we ended the game to do something else. I don’t remember ever finishing a game of war. Pondering Tax Day 2013, the game of War felt like a metaphor or at least a simile.

 
I was reminded of  War, the card game because in response to my last year’s post  http://recipesforabetterworld.blogspot.com/OurTaxDollarsAtWork-Can'tWeGetAnItemizedBill!, I received a message from Amy Clark requesting that I look at the on-line video http://www.onlinemba.com/blog/why-you-pay-taxes. Well, go ahead and take a look. It may explain things to you. They tried to make it understandable by taking an average salary of $43,000 per year and projecting a lifetime Federal tax expenditure of $345,000. They estimate that person will draw more than they pay in Social Security and Medicare- $417,000.

www.onlinemba may be right, but I feel that their argument will not resonate with a large portion of our population. Unless someone’s tax dollars go in part for Head Start, public education, and higher education, some people may never have the opportunity to work at jobs in which they pay in that much. Besides, for those families living from paycheck to paycheck, finding out that they may get more in retirement than they pay in is cold comfort.

Last year, I wanted an itemized bill. At that point, my husband and I had paid $24,000 for the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan according to an average estimate and I wasn’t happy about continuing to pay for this. The human costs of the war were of course way too high but that needs to be the subject of a whole other article.
 
This year, I tried to look up the updated monetary cost and there were many divergent estimates. On www.costofwar.com the numbers kept ticking to the point that I couldn’t keep up. The ticking numbers hurt my eyes. According to the Center for Strategic And International Studies, the OMB estimates we’ve spent 198.2 billion on those wars in Fiscal Years 2012 and 2013. Wickipedia’s article estimates $3.2-3.4 trillion altogether and a Reuter’s article estimates $3.7 million. Whichever estimate is correct, I believe that my share is too much. With the war in Iraq supposedly over except for the contractors and the Afghanistan War winding down, surely we have some money left over for Head Start, education, and other social safety net programs such as Food Stamps and Medicaid. If we don’t invest in people during the earlier stages of their lives, they may never live to pay those taxes. It’s time to end this game of war including the contractors’ involvement and to play something else. How about school?

 

 

 

              

                                                                  


 

 

              


Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Recipe for Rest While Congress Is On Recess

I've been enjoying Congress'es recess. There has been a lull in newspaper articles about Congresspeople arguing and maligning each other. The news stations have been a tad quieter, too. It’s time for us all to take a collective deep breath. Oops! Did I use the word collective? Pardon moi.

That aside, it’s time for a rest. This is the week that’s holy to many of us who are in the midst of observing Passover or the Holy Week leading up to Easter. Celebrating Passover, my husband and I recently received a brochure from Ha Mazon (http://mazon.org), a Jewish response to hunger that distributes funds to food pantries and other organizations feeding the hungry throughout America. In addition to the Four Questions that are asked at every Seder, they posed a fifth one: Why on this night are millions of people still going hungry? Should local charities feed hungry people, or does government have a role? As Congress rests and we rest along with them from the fighting and malice, I think that we must ask ourselves why in America are funds for Food Stamps being cut when people in the 1% are enjoying unprecedented wealth?

Mazon has presented us with a new face of hunger in 10 year old John, a boy whose mother has struggled with underemployment and intermittent unemployment. At times, he and his brother went to school hungry until their family began to receive food stamps. Unfortunately, he is not the only boy going to school on an empty stomach. He’s just the only one whose picture is on Mazon’s latest mailing. Does our government have a responsibility to see that he is fed? We are the government. Do we have a collective responsibility as a society? Oh no! There’s that ‘collective’ word again. If we weren’t so afraid to use it, I think we’d have to say ‘yes.’

So when this recess is over, we can resume answering Mazon’s questions. Then we can write to our representatives and tell them about John and his brother and why we want the government to fulfill our responsibilities to him and all the other American families who are food insecure [who aren’t sure of if and where their next meal is coming.] Then we can contact our food pantries and or soup kitchens wherever we are and see what we can do to help.

Happy Recess, Congress. I think I need to stretch during this relaxing week. Even though some are food insecure, we still need to eat and I have some cooking to do. This is an easy recipe for baked chicken. Preparation time is 15 minutes. It serves four.

                                                          Apricot-Sesame Chicken
1 whole chicken cut up
1onion diced and sautéed in vegetable oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp minced garlic sautéed in vegetable oil
sage, thyme, onion powder
sesame seeds
apricot jelly

Preheat the oven to 350° Fahrenheit.
Put the chicken pieces in a baking dish skin side up.
Saute the garlic and onion
Sprinkle chicken pieces with seasoning and pour lemon juice over them. Put some apricot jelly over them. Add the onion and garlic over the time. Sprinkle sesame seeds over the top.
Bake for about an hour. 

 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

IN HONOR OF INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY...

I’ve been rereading The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. She wrote the book in 1963 and this is the 50th anniversary of its publication. In the 1997 edition, she wrote a preamble “Metamorphoses”. By then, her book had been a catalyst of the 1970’s Women’s Liberation movement and much had changed in women’s roles in society. “The problem that has no name” had largely been resolved. By then, women were participating fully in society outside of their homes holding jobs and getting elected to public office, enrolling in professional schools and defining their own destinies.

Yet, even as much had changed, Betty Friedan was prescient enough to see the backlash starting from those who abhorred or felt threatened by the changes and predicted that the backlash would polarize society. She herself had retreated from her earlier militancy and suggested changes that would humanize the workplace for men, women, and children. She was a leader of her time and she can be credited with much of the progress made.    

Nevertheless, even though the “Women Libbers” of the 1970’s were able to get much changed, much remains to be done. Betty Friedan was one of the people who advocated re-introducing the Equal Rights Amendment. As far back as Abigail Adams admonishing her husband John Adams to “remember the ladies,” women were only remembered once in the Constitution when the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote. The Equal Rights Amendment was proposed then and again in the 1960’s and ‘70’s, but it has never become law. I participated in many marches and rallies  on its behalf during that period unfortunately in vain.(You can see more at http://skokienet.org/node/36660) Without the ERA being passed, all our rights are in jeopardy.

The polarization that Betty Friedan saw coming in 1997 over abortion and birth control are definitelystill with us. Just last week, Arkansas enacted a law with the strictest limits on abortion in the nation. In 26 states, laws have been proposed which would severely limit and even outlaw many forms of birth control. The supposed simplicity of the 1950’s is often glorified as a prototype in TV shows and movies.

In short, we still have work to do. There isn’t much time to cook so I’m sharing a recipe from Peace de Resistance, the Women’s Strike for Peace cookbook from that same era. Many of their recipes were quick and gave whoever is doing the cooking (more often than not women) time to get out of the kitchen and do other things. This one is my adaptation of “Mary’s Mishmash.” Prep time 10 minutes or less.

                                                     Mary's Mishmash

2 cans chicken gumbo soup
½ can water
1 can vegetable beef soup
1 can tiny shrimp (optional)
1 can corn drained
2 small tomatoes quartered or 1 can stewed tomatoes
1 can chick peas
seasoning to taste (I suggest coriander, turmeric, cumin, and garlic but put in whatever you like)

Mix all the ingredients in a big pot and cook. Serve with bread and salad. It doesn’t get easier than that.