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

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Announcing: A Glub, Glub and A Shake Shake: A Cookbook

It’s gone to press!  My cookbook, A Glub, Glub and A Shake Shake is available on Amazon.  I will also have some copies for distribution locally.

My children decided that it would be a good idea to have some of my culinary ideas in print, and the children, as well as the grandchildren, made sure that their favorite dishes were included. I dictated some of the recipes to my daughter, Lisa, and my daughter Madeline provided the whimsical illustrations. The cover of the book is a lovely eggplant.

Cover hi resIncluded are some great recipes, for novices and experienced cooks, too.  There are helpful hints, seasoned with a few laughs.

You might want to check out the recipes for sweet potatoes and rhubarb, to serve at Thanksgiving, The cookbook makes a great holiday gift.

A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Killingworth Foundation, which provides funds to local groups and scholarships to students.

Evolution of a Matzo Ball

At my daughter’s suggestion, and for the sake of posterity, I will share how I make matzo balls. It’s only a short while since we celebrated Passover and the family members are still craving my matzo balls.

When I was a young bride I was going to show the world that I could do every thing. In my first attempt at making matzo balls, (knadlach), I used the recipe on the box of Manischewitz matzo meal, which sounded pretty much like my mother’s and Marty’s mother’s.

Then we used chicken fat for shortening, and we’d render the fat with onions, which provided a distinctive taste and a wonderful aroma when cooking, but involved extra work and cleanup. Some years later, chicken fat was among the fats that were considered bad for the heart, and has gone by the wayside. I substitute melted margarine; not so healthy, either, but I don’t miss the extra work and mess. The recipes do call for oil, but I’m not crazy about the taste of oil. Lately I’ve seen articles written by gourmet chefs lauding the forgotten taste of chicken fat, or “schmalz”, claiming that it’s not as bad for your heart as we’ve been led to believe.

My mother mentioned that my Aunt Rae used seltzer in her matzo balls and they were excellent. Although my mother’s matzo balls were certainly good I can’t understand why she didn’t use seltzer, since Aunt Rae’s were so delicious and light.  I didn’t have seltzer on hand and thought that seltzer contained bicarbonate of soda to make it bubbly, so I use baking soda and have fluffy matzo balls.

I decided that matzo balls could use some flavor and color, so I now include chopped parsley and onions. My friend Janie made great matzo balls, seasoned with nutmeg. So I add some of that too. Beating the egg whites separately yields even lighter and softer matzo balls.

Sorry that I don’t have a photo. My family cleaned the pot out.  But then, what’s a picture when compared to the real thing?

“bestofbarbara’s “ BEST MATZO BALLS

2 cups. matzo meal
8 eggs, separated
4 tbl. Shortening (Oil, melted margarine, or fat from the top of the soup)
8 tbl. water,selzer, or soup
1 tbl. Salt
¼ tsp pepper
¼ tsp nutmeg
Chopped parsley and one medium chopped onion

Beat the egg whites until they stand at a peak. Put aside. Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Fold in beaten egg whites. Chill overnight for a few hours for a firm mixture that’s easier to handle. Bring a half of a large pot of water to a boil. Keep a bowl of cold water near to keep mixture from sticking to your hands. Roll matzo mixture into balls about 1 inch in diameter. Drop in boiling water. Lower heat . Cook for ½ an hour. Makes about 40 matzo balls.

CHICKEN SOUP (AKA known as Jewish penicillin)

1 large chicken
Onion, carrots, parsnip, tomato, celery, (dill and parsley), chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut a large chicken in half. I like a roasting chicken. They’re tender and less fatty, have marvelous flavor and are easy to handle. Clean inside of chicken. Place in pot. Cover chicken with water. Bring water to a boil. Skim off film that collects. Lower heat, cook for two hours or until chicken is tender. Remove chicken. Add vegetables, salt, and pepper. Cook for another hour. Add chopped parsley and dill before serving.

Enjoy!