Thursday, June 20, 2013


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
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.