Post # 122 “I’m hungry,” he said.

May 31, 2013 at 5:15 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

“I’m hungry,” he said.

I was at a small diner, waiting to pick up my to go order.  It was near noon on a hot summer day.  The kid standing next to me looked about eleven or twelve.  Typical summer kid uniform, scruffy cut off shorts, t shirt, canvas tennis shoes.  All over covered in dust and dirt, except his ball cap.  He must have been pretty proud of that cap because it was nearly as clean as new.

The kid was looking at the counter so I couldn’t tell who he was talking to, me or the waitress.  She and I looked at each other in surprise.  In that moment of eye contact, understanding passed between us.

“What’ll you have, Sport?” I asked.  I already had my wallet out for my food so paying for his didn’t seem like a big deal.

He looked up at me with the biggest brownest eyes I’d ever seen.  Mistrust shone through them.

“You playing a game, mister?” he asked, his voice gruff with emotion.

I shook my head and repeated my question, a little softer.

He looked over at the waitress who had her pad and pencil ready for him.  “Really?  What can I have?”

“Anything you like.  Make sure you get enough.”

His order went on for several seconds.  “Okay,” I said, when he was done. “You go grab us table and I’ll be right there.”  I paid for his food and winked at the waitress.

He’d taken a booth by the window and looked up as I slid onto the seat across from him.

“Why are you doing this?” he asked suspiciously.

“Because I can.  I work, get paid, and I can afford it.  What made you come in here?”

He shrugged.  “I was hoping the waitress might feel sorry for me.”

“When did you eat last?”

He thought about it.  “I had a piece of toast at breakfast, some oatmeal for dinner last night.  Before that it was a couple of days.”

“Where are your parents?”

“Mom works most days, and dad works odd jobs wherever he can.  He was hurt on his last job and can’t do a whole lot right now.”

“So it’s just you at home during the day?”  I was a little surprised.  Most people had families or other support networks.  It takes a village, right?

“Yeah, I have a little sister but she goes to day care at some church.  I suppose I could go there too, but, well, I didn’t really want to.”

I understood.  At that age, I wanted to be out roaming around, too.  The waitress put the food down, plus a little extra.  I took my lunch out of the bag and joined him.  Through our conversation, I found out that he was looking for work to help out his family.

“Bet you didn’t find anything, did you?” I said.

He shook his head.  “A couple of times I got a few dollars for things like walking a dog or moving trash, but I’m looking for something steady.”

“You know, you’re too young for a regular job.  No one would hire you outright.”

He nodded.  “But I gotta do something.  This can’t go on.  I gotta help out!”

We continued talking about various things while he filled his stomach.  I asked the waitress for a box for the leftovers, and she brought back three already filled.  After the kid left, another man joined me.

“Don’t worry yourself.” he said.  “Any time that kid comes in here, he’ll get fed.  And I’ll find something for him to do.”

“Thanks,” I replied, realizing I was talking to the owner.  “Let me help pay for some of that.”  I handed him a small wad of cash, what I could spare myself.  “It’s heartbreaking when you see it like that.”

We both felt a little comforted by helping the little that we could.

****************

Okay, so the above story never happened.  It was actually the beginning to a story I was writing several months ago that never got off the ground.  But the events in the story, and events like it happen every day.  Hunger in America is rampant; at its highest levels since the Great Depression of the 1930s.  Every city has food banks, and many churches provide food and necessities as they can.  We’ve donated bunches of dollars and food to these organizations on local levels.

Childhood hunger is even worse.  Millions of kids go to sleep each night not knowing what or if they will eat in the morning.  During the school year, many schools provide breakfast and lunch.  Kids race to the cafeteria to get fed and enjoy eating.  In summer, they don’t have those options.  In summer, school programs stop.  In summer, we tend to forget.

My mom often told me that most of the world’s problems would disappear if everyone had enough to eat.  She fed everyone.  A family legend tells the story of the time a family friend stopped by on his walk home from work to get out of the heat for a few minutes.  He sat on the couch and sighed as he enjoyed the air conditioning.  In moments, Dad handed him a beer, and Mom had a plateful of grilled cheese sandwiches on his lap.  He laughs as he tells the story, ending with, “I wasn’t even hungry, but I ate every one of those sandwiches.  The beer was good too.”

I know everyone wants to do what they can, but many times they aren’t sure what they can do.  They have their own families to think about; their own bills to pay; their own set of challenges to overcome.  But there is something we can all do to help offset the summer time hunger that afflicts so many children.

Many of the foods we buy have 8 digit codes on them.  If you go to the website listed below, select a state, enter the code, they will provide a meal free of charge.  There are also links provided with other things we can all do to help.

I know this isn’t the kind of post I normally write, but it’s hard to write about food every day and not think about people being hungry.

Thanks!!

 

 

http://www.childhungerendshere.com/

Post # 121 Why Do Tomatoes Split?

May 29, 2013 at 3:50 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 121 Why Do Tomatoes Split?

And other garden trivia.  My garden has exploded recently.  I don’t know why, but there it is.  For some reason, none of my herb seeds sprouted except the cilantro.  If I had to make choice, it would have been the cilantro cuz we all love cilantro in this house.  It’s also called coriander and has a unique, spicy flavor that goes perfectly with Mexican foods.  My sister told me that typically around here cilantro will grow well, get harvested, then die.  Only one good harvest.  Since it spoils so quickly, I think I’m going to wait until just before it blossoms, when it’s still tender and most tasty.  Then I’ll harvest all of it, use some of it for whatever is going on at the moment, then pull out my food dehydrator and dry out the rest.  I’ve also got a monster huge basil plant that I’m going to freeze in ice cubes to add to sauces and soups.  My tricolor sage is beautiful, but not too tasty, so I may end up putting that into a hanging planter and seeing where it goes.  I planted a small oregano plant, and two small basil plants and they’ve only just recovered from the whole transplant scenario.  They’ve started growing and looking like they’re interested in what’s going on so I’m just watching and approving right now.

I’ve already harvest the entire first crop of radishes.  They grew fast and got eaten fast.  This weekend, I’m going to week out that section of the garden to save the carrots, and plant another two or three rows of radishes.  I’m not all that fond of them, but the others are.  The beans have grown very high and I’m waiting for that crop to start.  It should be within another week.  That’ll be difficult to keep my hands off of.  I love fresh raw green beans straight from the garden.  And my pepper plants are making peppers like crazy.  I can’t wait to pull some of them off the plant and make poppers.  My sweet peas don’t seem to be doing anything.  I planted ten, but only five sprouted.  Two of them died and the other three look rather dispirited, like they don’t want to try.  I moved them so they only get a couple of hours of sun (the sun in the desert can be FIERCE) and that seemed to help, but they still look lackluster.  I put some sticks in the pot near them so they have something to climb on.  I was hoping they’d be much higher by now, but Whaddaya gonna do?  I’ll keep them until they all give up the ghost then go on to something else.

All the flowers and mints and shrubs are doing great.  We transplanted a Texas Ranger Sage into the front yard, and about two weeks ago it exploded into a mass of purple flowers at the same time as all the others in the neighborhood.  My neighbor said that means it’s happy where it is.  I also moved the jasmine to an area where it gets morning sun, but is shaded from about noon on and it’s growing wild.  The honeysuckle is about to take over the corner of the covered sitting area where it’s at.  So all in all, it seems the plants are happy.  Even the asparagus fern hanging in the front had a mass of tiny white flowers on it.  I’ve never seen ferns bloom before but this was pretty.

So what else is left to talk about?  Hmm, oh, yeah!  The tomatoes.  Well!  I don’t know what happened, but suddenly those things have run rampant over their quarter of the garden.  Even the little seedlings that I gave up on have grown lush and green and have blossoms on them!  They’re still small and stunted, but they sure want to be real tomato plants.  I’ve already harvested many vine ripened tomatoes and enjoyed them immensely.  Of course, they never made it past the garden fence.  Luckily, I only have to fight the father in law for them.  I had given my sister two of the seedlings and hers are doing great.  They’re tall and strong and have dozens of blossoms on them.  The Roma tomatoes started off looking a little sickly, but now look great.  I ate one already, and there are about a dozen turning the palest shade of orange.  If I can manage it, in about a week they’ll be ripe and ready for the table.  I tend to pick and eat long before then, though.

One of the goliath tomatoes had a large tomato on it when we brought it home from the nursery.  I planted that and watched it to make sure it didn’t fall off the vine or anything.  When the plants started growing so lushly (They’re nearly three and half feet high now and very bushy)(yes, they’re in a tomato vine support crate) I lost sight of the tomato until it started to ripen.  I picked it today, thinking it would be perfect.  It’s not.  The top has three large splits from the vine end and running about an inch down the side.  Except one which run almost all the way down the side to the blossom end.  I hate it when a tomato gets those cracks cuz it makes me feel like the tomato has gone bad and I hate to give up even one of them.  So I went to the trusty internet and asked the question Why Do Tomatoes Split?  I found out that it was all due to water.  I suspected that since they are a fruit after all, and when they’re fully ripe, they are incredibly juicy.  What happens is that unequal watering leads to this.  In the nursery, since this particular tomato was born there, it got watered only every other day or so.  Back then, it was okay because summer hadn’t started and the pots didn’t dry out so quickly.  When I took it home and planted it in the garden, I started watering it every single day and with plenty of water.  And now, with summer heat fully on us (we’ve already busted the hundred degree mark several times)(and no remarks about “it’s a dry heat”) I’ve been watering twice a day.  Tomatoes and mint are water hogs.  Plus, many of my plants are in containers which dry out faster than the ground does.  What happens is when water is not plentiful, the tomato will create a thicker skin to hold in the moisture.  It will grown at a slow rate since the thicker skin expands slowly.  When it gets more water, the inside will grow faster than that outside resulting in the split.  If you catch the fruit before the crack reaches the inside, you’re okay.  Pull the fruit and let it ripen on a window sill.  Like all fruit, warmth hastens ripening while cold slows it down.  So don’t store unripe fruit in the fridge unless you don’t want it to complete it’s ripening phase.  So now, this great big tomato that fills my hand is sitting on the windowsill in the laundry room where I can watch it hourly and determine when it will be perfect for eating.

Then I will eat it, probably not share it, and let the juice run over my chin as I think about sunshine, hard work, and the flavor of a garden fresh tomato.

Post # 120 What the Heck Happened Here?

May 22, 2013 at 1:43 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

For anyone who’s read my blog with any kind of regularity, that must be the question.  I had to scale back; I promised to post twice a week; made one more post; then disappeared!  All I can say is “Ooops!”

The last month and a half has been very challenging for my time management.  The first thing that occurred is that my partner/spouse hurt his back seriously and required surgery.  But surgery didn’t come immediately because worker’s comp got involved and the doctor there tried to treat it as a strain.  When all the scans were done, it turned out to be three herniated discs in his lower back.  He could not do anything without screaming.  It got to the point where he needed assistance in dressing.  He tried going to work every day which meant that I needed to drive him.   I was also taking him to his various medical appointment.  On top of that, I was trying to do my normal daily tasks, etc.

My sister live a couple of houses down from us, and she’s going through chemotherapy for breast cancer right now.  I try to see her each day to find out if there’s anything they need help with, etc.  Lots of times, I’ll cook up something so her husband doesn’t have to worry about making dinner.  Like me, he’s the primary cook in their family.

I’ve started work on my second and third novels.  One is the second in a small series of novels, and the other is a ghost story aimed at 12-13 year olds.  So I’m writing several hours a day.  In addition to that, I’m constantly looking for publishers or agents who want to take me on as a client.  That takes time for internet searches as I try to get to know the agents and editors that are suggested to me.  Then I have to put together the packet of info they want.

Then events happening throughout the country take my attention as I read other blogs, post comments, write guest articles.  I constantly read to improve my craft, writing and cooking.  I constantly write, cuddle the dogs, chase dust bunnies, etc.  There were a couple of other things happening that I’m not at liberty to talk about, too.

Sounds like I’m complaining, but I’m not.  I love my life and would hate to live any other way.  I just wanted to let both of you know why there haven’t been any updates for a while.  However, GOOD NEWS!!

Partner/Spouse’s surgery went exceptionally well.  I’m still driving him, but he’s improving every single day.  As he puts it “The truck that I feel like hit me gets smaller every day.”  Once he’s able to drive himself, maybe next week, I’ll have more time.  Also, the house is cleaned from top to bottom.  So now, it’s just maintenance.  (BTW – it got dusty and dirty while I was ill and with partner/spouse home and allergic to dust, cleaning just wasn’t done.)  Things are just getting a little easier.

With that being said, regular posts to re-begin starting Monday the 27th.  Once again, every Mon-Wed-Fri will bring new posts.  Short stories to be posted once a month.  If anyone has a suggestion for a topic, wants to guest post, or just say hi, please feel free to contact me.  Take care and, as always, enjoy!

Post # 119 Leftovers Soup

May 7, 2013 at 12:49 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 119 Leftovers Soup

Life has been very busy recently, leaving me in the position where I have too many things to do and not enough time to get them all done to my satisfaction.  The only solution is that some things just don’t get done.  As I said last week, the blog is going to be sporadic for a short period as things readjust.  Another thing that “suffers” is house work.  There’s still dust on surfaces where there shouldn’t be dust, but I have to keep walking to the next task.  And I have to make sure that I get enough sleep to be able to do the things that need to get done.

Unfortunately, cooking is the one thing that absolutely cannot be ignored.  It’s a conundrum that every person faces:  what to make for dinner?  We buy things about every two weeks, and freeze them.  So the first thing that I face each day is what I’m going to make, then taking it out of the freezer.  I know what I’m in the mood for, but I also have to guess what my family is in the mood for.  We all like specific things; we crave things at different times.

Last week, I got grumpy looking at all the fresh vegetables that were ripening in the fridge.  I didn’t have time to use them all at once, and they weren’t fresh enough to toss in a salad.  Plus, they were all of the type that were better cooked rather than raw.  It’s a very warm time here in the desert, but I decided to make soup.  I mean, what else are you going to do with veggies?

I took out my new 6 quart dutch oven and filled it full of warm water, then took out frozen chicken thighs and put them in the warm water to thaw out.  After a couple of hours, I drained everything and chopped the chicken up in large chunks.  I put two tablespoons of olive oil to heat in the dutch oven and sautéed onion and garlic until the onion turned clear.  I didn’t want brown onions for this particular soup.  I browned the chicken parts then poured a whole carton of chicken broth over everything.  Then I added four cups of water, some fresh rosemary, some pepper and brought it to a simmer.  I let it simmer four several hours then added fresh leeks cut into strips, fresh green beans cut into bite size chunks, sugar peas, whole baby spinach leaves, celery heart, shredded curly leaf cabbage, and chopped fresh tomatoes.  I simmered for about another hour and a half, adjusted the salt and pepper and served it hot with fresh biscuits.  The reason I didn’t want the onions to brown was because apart from the tomatoes, every other vegetable was green so I wanted to keep it a light colored soup.  My family and I don’t do leftovers very well, so the amount of soup that was made was perfect for us.  And it was good!  And it used up most of the veggies that were going to turn soon.

Soup is a good panacea for the kitchen.  It doesn’t have to cook for a long time to develop full flavors.  I’ve seen chefs on TV who make soup in under twenty minutes.  I’ve watched chefs in my own kitchen who have made rich, full bodied vegetable soup in a half hour.  For me, the hardest part is knowing when to stop adding things.  I didn’t add rice or noodles to this soup since I was serving it with fresh bread.

*Garden Update:

Everything is coming up!  Well, almost everything.  All my green beans are up.  My tomatillos are starting.  The radishes are thriving.  The carrots have poked their greens up.  My seedling tomatoes didn’t do well, so I ended up buying two thriving cherry tomato plants and one roma tomato plant and putting those in.  I also planted four pepper plants, two poblano and two Holy Mole, which I’ve never heard of.  I also planted sweet peas next to the fence so they could use the chain link to climb.  They’ve just poked their heads out of the dirt. The only thing that I’m starting to question are the herbs.  I’ve got one bunch coming up, but nothing else.  I’ve got one basil and one sage that I picked up at a nursery so I might end up getting all the rest of my herbs there too.  So with the plants all doing well, I still need the overalls to complete the role play.

Enjoy!

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