Heal the World: Community Gardens

When I can get there, I try to join a water exercise class at my local YMCA.

The class, held Tuesday and Thursday mornings, addresses all the muscles and joints associated with aging. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed the friendship of the other participants and have attended a few social lunches, always contributing something I make to the table.

The Y grounds have attractive landscaping, including seasonal shrubs and flowers. But it’s the huge community garden that attracted my attention. One day I happened to mention how luscious everything looked and was given a head of lettuce that surpassed any I’ve had from the grocery store or even local farm markets. On our farm, we raised chickens for eggs, and the only gardening I did was at our house, usually growing flowers and a little rhubarb.

Community gardens are particularly special to me as they remind me of the gardens we helped residents create when we worked as VISTA volunteers in Hartford, CT. Several years later, when my husband Marty served as First Selectman in Killingworth, CT, we supported creating a community garden for the residents. The Chinese proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” can certainly be applied to community gardens.

Curious about the Y program, I brought along my notebook and pen and asked some questions before a recent swim class. Launched in 2014, the Y’s “Partner to Grow” program provides fresh produce to the Shoreline Soup Kitchen and Pantries. During the first season, they created garden beds, learned how to manage pests using an organic mixture of castor oil and white pepper spray, and how to harvest. The Y delivered more than 2,000 pounds to the food pantry from its 18 garden beds.

The next year, the Y increased its garden to 30 beds and by 2016 it harvested over 3,000 pounds of produce. Volunteers come from the local community groups – businesses, school groups, scout troops, civic organizations and programs that support individuals with disabilities. Additionally, many YMCA members and non-members volunteer, helping with the harvest every Tuesday morning from July to October. In the afternoon, the produce is delivered to the St. Mark’s Roman Catholic Church where more than 80 families receive fresh vegetables.

Scott Morris, the head of the program, teaches at a local high school. He said he likes to play Big Band music while the volunteers work the harvest. “They like Glen Miller. They like to dance along while working,” he said. He likes watching how the more experienced gardeners help the younger ones, cultivating the next generation of gardeners.

I was lucky enough to be given some fresh parsley. Tabouli, anyone?

Note to readers: My mother suffered a stroke July 28th following a skin infection that led to a blood clot. She’s working hard at rehab to get back to the activities she loves: knitting, cooking, and writing her blog.

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A Cute Couple

Thermopolis, Wyoming  is small old cattle and oil town about 125 miles southeast of Yellowstone Park and home of the World’s (supposedly) Largest Mineral Hot Springs. We’ve been coming here every winter for about 25 years, soaking in the hot water relieves our aching joints.

Over the years, we’ve seen eateries come and go. We can usually find hamburgers, sandwiches, and several ethnic restaurants including Mexican, Chinese, and Thai. We were pleased to try “The One-Eyed Buffalo,” a steakhouse and sports bar. The décor consists of several television screens each showing the same view of a high school basketball game. Sheet metal adorns the lower sections of the walls and cowboy hats and boots, long beards, torn jeans, and tattoos prevail among the clientele.

It was our last night in Thermopolis, before braving the “Northeaster”, that was predicted. Since it was somewhat late on a Friday, with live music, we knew that the OEB would be noisy and crowded, but we had come from a water aerobics class and craved a rib-eye steak and a baked potato, half the size of your forearm, served with real sour cream. Draft beer also costs a fraction of the bottled beer sold elsewhere.

A sign requests that patrons seat themselves. We were conversing with a small party of people until two tables were available. We agreed that they take the larger table and then sat down at another table soon after.

When we requested our check, we were told that our new friends had paid for our meal. They insisted that they wanted to do this; we said it was not necessary. We thought we’d leave the tip for both tables and learned that this was taken care of as well. My husband, Marty, wanted to present our generous neighbors with a gift certificate, but they had already left. The waiter told us that one of the women in the group remarked that we were a “cute couple.”

Cute couple? We are both octogenarians! 

(Photo is from a few years ago, taken in Thermopolis!)

It was nice to be surprised by this act of kindness.

My other stories about Thermopolis:

https://wp.me/p3FbW2-5A

https://bestofbarbara.wordpress.com/2014/03/19/dan-the-man-from-thermopolis/

https://bestofbarbara.wordpress.com/2014/02/05/thermopolis-wyoming-hot-springs

 

THREE LITTLE FISH, NOT TO BE FRIED

About fifty years ago we had a pond dug at our poultry farm in Madison, Connecticut, to enhance the landscape and to provide water for the chickens in times of drought. When we converted our farm to a golf range some twenty years ago, and still rely on the pond to water the tee area when rainfall is insufficient.

The pond has not only been helpful, but has provided much enjoyment. Originally the State of Connecticut stocked it with trout. An amazing amount of wildlife found its way into our pond over the course of time. In addition to the trout, there were other fish whose eggs were carried to the area on the feet of ducks. Children loved to catch sunfish. We’ve had turtles and lots of frogs, even during the time when there was concern that the frog population was diminishing.

We swam, ice- skated and even paddled a canoe on the pond.

At a recent family gathering we noticed that our nephew’s pond was free of algae. He told us that he had carp in the pond, which feed on the algae and eat the mosquito larva as a bonus, and suggested that we contact the State of Connecticut Fish and Wildlife Service to see if our pond would be suitable for carp.

A representative from Fish and Wildlife assessed the pond and determined that three carp would be enough to eliminate the putrefaction of invasive algae, caused by a lack of oxygen and limited rainfall. He gave us a list of fish suppliers in our area, adding that we needed a permit from the State of Connecticut.

The fish, about $50 each, were delivered and tossed into the pond. They are only a few months old and about twelve to thirteen inches long, but they can grow to nearly four feet in length. The lifespan of this type of carp is between two to ten years. However we were advised to replace them halfway through their lifespan because larger fish have less of an appetite than the smaller ones, and would not be as effective. To control the population of the carp, electric shock is used to cause rearrangement of the chromosomes and render the fish neutered.

Apparently herons are apt to grab carp. We do see a heron at the pond occasionally and will cope with the predators as necessary.

The pond carp are related to Koi, seen in decorative landscape ponds and fish tanks, as well as pet goldfish. There are many edible varieties of carp that are also delicious, but I’m not planning to have a fish fry anytime soon.

After two days the carp seemed to have adjusted to their new habitat.

I’ll keep you posted!

 

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MATZO BREI FOR MILLENNIALS

I gave my nephew, Mark, a copy of my cookbook, Glub, Glub and a Shake Shake when I visited him and my brother in Florida. He found my recipe for Matzo Brei inspiring. He’s known for being the family cook, and loves to innovate, making up dishes as he goes along.

Below is his version of a simple homey dish. Call it “gilding the lily, making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” or whatever you think, but it is too much fun not to share.

“The cook book is pretty neat!!!, he wrote in an email to my sister-in-law. “I look forward to trying some of the recipes. Thought I would contribute to the book with a “next generation“ of Matzo Brei.

The original (or mine at least) instructs: break the matzo into pieces, pour cold water over, drain right away. Beat one egg for each piece of matzo with a little milk – a few tablespoons—and add to matzo. Melt butter or margarine in a frying pan; add matzo and spoon around as if you’re making scrambling eggs.

Mark suggested:

After wetting the matzo in the bowl, with the egg, add avocado oil and garlic powder. Cook the Matzo Brei the same way. In a separate pan, caramelize one medium size red onion, and then add 4 or 5 cloves of fresh minced garlic. Cook, then add 1 tablespoon of fresh-diced thyme, and enough water to make a thick sauce. Add a 1/2 to 2 tablespoons of soft cream cheese or Jalapeno cream cheese to the matzo. Add chopped cooked andouille sausage, turn the stove heat off and pour sauce over the matzo. Stir in a small amount of white truffle oil. Add cracked pepper to taste.“

We were tempted and asked what time was brunch. But with two young children and full-time work, we weren’t able to sample his creation. Maybe next time.

Lanny, Colin, & Mark

 

 

Mouth-watering, Marvelous, MATZO BREI!

After devouring a plate of homemade matzo brei this morning, my husband of 63 years, declared: “The world would be a better place if everyone ate matzo brei.” We laughed and I agreed and thought about the role of matzo brei in my family and others.

Matzo Brei is a favorite amongst, but not limited to, Jewish people, almost in a category with French toast. Although I will say that one-third of my family, down to the great-grandchildren, favor matzo brei, one-third prefer French toast, and the last third, eat whatever’s put in front of them.

Matzo brei is identified with Passover, but is enjoyed all year round. It’s usually served for breakfast, but is great at other meals. I like the simplicity of serving matzo brei because it doesn’t require putting a lot of things on the table. The eggs and bread are combined in one dish.

To make matzo brei, I use one matzo for each serving. The recipe, which can be found in my cookbook, A Glub, Glub & A Shake Shake, instructs to break the matzo into pieces and cover with water for a minute or two. Then drain the matzo and add beat up eggs and a little milk for another couple of minutes, and then fry in butter or margarine, scrambling the mixture to cook it evenly and prevent it from sticking to the pan. There are many variations where people add vegetables or even meat but we like it plain. Marty adds strawberry jam; I like salt and pepper and my son uses tamari sauce to season his plate.

My grandsons used to consume mountains of matzo brei and I would use five matzos and five eggs for the two of them. My oldest grandson had the idea that we open a matzo brei restaurant together. He’s become a social worker instead, but still loves matzo brei.

I can think of many reasons why the world would be a better place if everyone ate matzo brei. Can you?

 

 

 

 

 

Wyoming: Butch’s Place

Butch’s Place, a western -style tavern comes complete with swinging doors, tables covered with red and white checkered oilcloth, and posters of locally produced ale and whiskey. A single gas fired stove provides heat for the dining area. The tavern, on Route 10 in Kirby, Wyoming, (population, last count, 375) between Thermopolis and Worland has been a landmark for over twenty years.

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Of course the main attraction to Butch’s Place was Butch. Marty and I don’t remember Butch’s last name and never knew his first name. He was just Butch. His wife, Linda helped manage the restaurant and also held a job working for the Town of Thermopolis.

Butch was a gregarious, accommodating host. He was known for his “okey doky” to any request. In spite of Butch’s claim that he didn’t cook, just “only put food together” there were several items on the menu that were unique to his establishment. A favorite amongst the children were the twelve -ounce hamburgers, whether they were ordered unadorned or smothered. His was one of the first restaurants in the area to serve buffalo burgers, cooked to perfection. A single order of chicken salad was large enough to satisfy a family of four, and the lightly grilled sirloin finger steaks were a delicious specialty. One dish that I haven’t seen before were his “hog wings”, which are pork shins, about the size of chicken drumsticks, very tasty and tender. They were cooked so that the meat fell off the bones.

A few years ago, Butch retired and sold the business. Although the food was still good, twelve- ounce burgers were no longer served, and we missed Butch’s and Linda’s camaraderie and conviviality. The tavern might have changed hands more than once.

You can imagine our surprise, upon visiting Wyoming last winter, to learn that Butch’s Place had closed. The rumor is that the recent owner’s girl friend decided to put pool tables in the dining area, which infringed upon the seating capacity and detracted from the character of the eatery. One of the employees was enraged and pulled the plugs on the refrigerators and freezers. The food was contaminated and it took quite a while before the restaurant was cleaned, sanitized, and safe to be used. To date, nobody has shown any interest in rehabilitating the facility and starting up again.

Back in Thermopolis, we observed other changes. Restaurants come and go for many reasons. As a result of a poor economy there were fewer bathers at the pool. In other years the pool was crowded with visitors from neighboring communities, particularly over the weekends. There were winter athletic meets at the high school and participants from different schools usually included a swim in their busy schedules. We may not have been in Thermopolis during the right week, but the out of town athletes were also rare.

The Quality Inn that we’ve stayed at has the capacity to park the tractor-trailers operated by truckers working in the oil patch. They haul large pipe, massive generators and other equipment to nearby oil fields. With the glut of oil and low prices for fuel, many oil wells hat have been capped and thousands of people have lost their jobs. This has had a ripple effect on the entire economy in the region. Consequently, truckers at the motel were not as numerous as other years.

Thermopolis is still home to the “World’s Largest Hot Springs” and we delight in ducking our heads under the hot water to get the icicles out of our hair. It’s also fun to see children making angels in the snow before jumping in to the pool. Water aerobics, which I find therapeutic, are still offered at the “Teepee” pools where we swim. It’s fascinating to watch the birds migrate in squadron formation, while we ‘re swimming. I love counting boxcars and tankers as the railroad trains whiz by the pool, but I have to admit that I lose track when there are more than two hundred cars on one train. We also enjoy watching the stars come out, whenever we swim in the evening. Some things I hope will never change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SONGS I LEARNED FROM MY MOTHER AND FATHER

 

“Take me out to the Ball Game, take me out to the crowd…”I can still hear my granddaughter, Ruby, now nineteen, sing that song, years ago.

Does anyone over 4 sing anymore? Do we spend too much time texting or in front of a computer screen? Or do we not hear music that makes us want to sing?

I remember the broken heart love songs my mother used to sing like, “The Isle Of Capri” and “Whistling in the Dark.” My dad’s preferred whacky ditties and ballads, such as “The Old Carnarsie Line” and “Grandpa’s Old Brown Pants.” We serenaded my parents at their 50h anniversary party with, ”How do I Know My Youth is All Spent,” the song memorialized by Pete Seeger. You can just imagine my father’s joy upon hearing his grandchildren bellow his old favorite, “Grandpa’ Old Brown Pants.”

l-r: My cousin Stephen, Lisa, David, Naomi, Madeline, niece Debbie and nephew Mark, 1979

l-r: My cousin Stephen, Lisa, David, Naomi, Madeline, niece Debbie and nephew Mark, 1979

I know that I am no Barbra Streisand but I did sing with the choir in college and performed as a member of the chorus with the Gilbert and Sullivan Society. Regina Resnick, the opera star, gave guest concerts for Hillel, at Hunter College and I was part of the chorus that provided accompaniment. Yet if I attempted to sing, when my children were growing up, I was greeted with nothing but scowls. Recently I was singing “On the Old Carnarsie Line” and my daughter couldn’t understand why she hadn’t heard that song before.

I always enjoyed reading to my children, grandchildren, and now to my great-grandchildren. When I am with my great-grandchildren we enjoy singing together, regardless of who’s listening. One of our favorites is “If All the Raindrops Were Lemon Drops and Gumdrops.” 

 

“Grandpa’s Old Brown Pants”

Oh, my grandfather he, at the age of 83
Thought one Sunday morning he was going to die.
And when he was dead, why they took him from his bed.
And hung him on the clothesline to dry.

To my brother it was found, he had left 1000 pounds,
The same to “Eobaimer”, they called Ned.
But when it came to me, the lawyer said I see.
He’s left to you his old brown pants.

Chorus:
How they tittered, how they laughed, how my brother and sister yelled
How they goad me whenever they got the chance,
Cause my grandfather left to me his old brown pants.

One bright summer’s day Isabella chanced to stray
By the river and she thought she’d take a swim.
And the billy goat showed his nose and he ate up all her clothes,
Being summer, her garments they were thin.

I had business there the day and I also chanced to stray
By the river and I saw her situation at a glance
I went over to sister Belle, and I started in to yell,
How’d you like to have the old brown pants?

No more they titter, no more they laugh, no more my brother and sister yell.
No more they goad me whenever they get the chance,
Cause my grandfather left to me his old brown pants.