The Egg and I

You can add this to the many statements that I never imagined I would make.

I am a chicken person.

What I mean, of course, is that I am a big fan of chickens. The animal, more than the meat they provide, although I appreciate that, too.

I enjoy chickens. I love watching them peck around my backyard. I love how frantic they get when a I throw them corn. I love the way that they run across the yard when they see me, like little Velociraptors. I love the way they squat to get petted.

I love them as babies, too. I love their soft, down-covered bellies. I love their cartoonish cheeps. We have four chicks right now. They’re almost three weeks old. Our kids get to name most of the chickens, as it inspires them to care for them.  For the first time recently, I picked my own chicken and named it.  I call her Attila the Hen.

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Jill, Attila, American Chicken and Super Chicken

These four chicks will double our flock, bringing them it to eight hens in total, providing we don’t have any surprise roosters.  Roosters are not legal within the city limits.  To the surprise of many, a family can have up to ten hens in the city of Las Vegas.  Laws about keeping a backyard flock of chickens are relaxing, as it becomes a more popular hobby, across the U.S.  

People don’t realize that yards in Las Vegas aren’t all swimming pools and concrete.  I am not alone in keeping chickens here, in fact, in many established Las Vegas neighborhoods, if you listen, you can hear a rooster in the morning, laws be damned.

I started this journey, although I didn’t realize it at the time, when my oldest was just a toddler, and my daughter was still a baby.  We decided to buy our first house and we wanted a big yard.  The rental we lived in at the time barely had a patio and we wanted our kids to have space to play outside.  We ended up in a small house on 7,000 square feet of land.  That doesn’t sound like much to many Americans but in the mind of most Las Vegans, that is practically an acreage.

MAevy and chickens
Just a city girl and her flock.

When my oldest son turned three, we had a petting zoo come to the house for his birthday.  Seeing all those goats and chickens running around my backyard gave me ideas.  I wanted desperately for my kids to connect with nature but that’s challenging in a large city.  We went to the park, we went to the mountains for hikes when we could but it wasn’t enough.  It was surprisingly easy to convince my husband to go along with the idea of keeping chickens.  We ordered a small coop online, assembled it and went to the closest feed store to pick up chicks.  That was five years ago.  My kids no longer remember a time when we didn’t have chickens.

When we moved to our new house, there was already a structure in the back that resembled a coop so we added roosting bars, mesh doors and a ramp and now our chickens have more room than they know what to do with and the babies get the tiny coop we started with.  Our hens spend most of their time free-ranging in among the weeds.  They make compost for my garden, which was kind of pathetic before having chickens.  They till the garden soil for me between seasons.  They eat all the bugs in our yard and a lot of the food scraps that would overload our compost.  They make me happy.  The biggest benefit to having chickens though is the eggs.

We get so many eggs.  We select breeds that are good layers but not so prolific that they can’t sustain a normal life.  I don’t butcher my chickens when they stop laying because I can afford that luxury.  A benefit to having a backyard flock, instead of operating a farm is that I’m not trying to make a living through these chickens.  They are more farm animal to me than pet but as a reward for a lifetime of laying eggs and bringing me joy, I let them live out their days with the rest of the flock.  My hens are healthy, happy and well loved.  My dear friend Christina loves to tell people that if she is ever reincarnated, she wants to come back as a Krikorian chicken.

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Our eggs normally come in green and brown.  They turn much richer colors than white eggs, when we dye them on Easter.

We get about one egg a day, per chicken.  Currently, we get four eggs a day, which even for a family of five adds up.  We give eggs as gifts, I serve them en masse at G Street to our hungry friends, on occasion I sell them but mostly, we just eat a lot of eggs.  We have eggs for breakfast, even on some weekdays.  My kids love quiche and hard boiled eggs, which is lucky for me.  My oldest son even requests eggs on his burgers sometimes.  “Breakfast” foods are not a thing in our house.  My youngest is eating a ham, egg and cheese burrito for lunch as I type this.  I host Easter every year for my extended family and even for an Easter brunch, eggs are plentiful.

In my perpetual search for egg recipes, I have learned a few things that are worth sharing.

First, baking eggs is the simplest way to prepare them for a crowd.  The stove top limits how many servings you can prepare at once, even if it is the most versatile option.  Crockpots are handy but they’re slow and I don’t love the texture of eggs prepared that  way.

Second, and I cannot stress this enough, use tin foil in the oven.  If you don’t wrap your oven racks normally, this might seem strange.  In general, wrapping your oven racks in tin foil is a good way to avoid messes and stickiness but when you cook eggs in the oven, it is imperative.  Whether it’s a tray of scrambled eggs, make ahead egg sandwiches or a quiche, it takes one slosh of raw egg to ruin your meal.  Learn from my mistake here, and you won’t spend the first half an hour of Easter brunch explaining to your guests that your house isn’t on fire, you just spilled some eggs in the bottom of the oven.

Lastly, always use a deep pan.  You should try to leave a solid inch or two from the top of any dish you are using to bake eggs.  They rise and flow over the sides or they turn too brown.  This is also important if you push your pan into the oven with too much force.  The extra room in the pan may save you from making a mess.

With those tips in mind, I am sharing with you a very simple recipe for oven scrambled eggs.  It is great for a large brunch but just as great to serve to the hungry on G Street.  With so much protein and flavor, I can’t serve eggs fast enough in the chow line.

Oven Scrambled Eggs

24 eggs
8 T butter
3 C Milk
1 T Salt
1 t pepper (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place butter in a deep 9×13 pan. Melt butter in oven completely. Remove the pan and tilt as needed, to make sure that butter is spread evenly around the bottom of the pan.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together all the other ingredients. Pour into your pan.

Bake eggs in the oven for ten minutes. Remove and carefully scrape the bottom of the pan to mix. Solid pieces of partially cooked egg will float to the top. Replace in oven for an additional ten minutes and repeat. Continue two more times or until eggs are fluffy and no liquid remains. Use spatula to break egg into smaller pieces.

Serve hot and enjoy.

scrambled

 

A Family Affair

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Photo courtesy of The Weather Channel

It’s been a long winter, here in Vegas.  It’s been snowing, which is very unusual. We had a snow day, which never happens. Temperatures have been low and the wind has been near constant.  No one here knows what to do with the snow and that goes for our homeless community as well.  We’ve been focusing a lot of our energy on supplying tents, blankets and warm clothes.

Hot coffee and soup have been popular foods.  In fact, soup has been so popular that everyone on G Street is walking around with four bowls and a belly full of soup.

My goal is always to fill the need.  The people we serve don’t need more soup so I put away my crockpot and started brainstorming.

Fortunately, my good friend, Lynn came by my house over the weekend with supplies for me to take to G Street.  Tents, hygiene supplies, a case of peanut butter and a few jars of jelly.  She is great at finding a bargain.  When the universe sends me peanut butter and jelly, I make sandwiches.

I had two loaves of bread already and plenty of paper bags.  For about ten bucks I picked up individual bags of chips, sandwich bags and seedless oranges.  Another dear friend, Annette, answered a request that I made on Facebook for drinks and brought me two cases of water.  She included a bag of Hershey kisses for our friends, just to be sweet.  So I put my kids to work packing 24 sack lunches.

I have a confession to make.  I don’t involve my kids in enough of my volunteering.  I have a terrible habit of doing things myself when it’s easier than involving my kids.  I’ve been working on it around the house but I haven’t done much to change this behavior when it comes to serving the community.

I tell them that it’s important but when it comes to serving, they are usually not as involved as they should be.  The problem with this is that I started my path into volunteerism, in part, to be a good example for my kids.

I am attempting to remedy this bad habit of excluding my kids by forcing them into hard labor.  Having them prep items at home is the easiest way to get them involved and should I be brave enough to bring the whole clan down to G Street with me, sack lunches are quick and easy to pass out.  There’s no chance that they will burn themselves or spill food everywhere.

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Of course if your kids are in charge of packing the lunches, make sure there isn’t a bag that just has two oranges and thirty chocolate kisses in it.  That can happen.

Since I still have peanut butter and jelly left, I will likely be making sack lunches with my family for a few more weeks.  While this meal is hearty and practical they don’t exactly say “lovin’ from the oven.”  My kids were occupied assembling so I had time to bake cookies while they were distracted.

Oatmeal raisin cookies have a bad reputation.  Sure, they aren’t their glamorous cousin, chocolate chip cookies but they are delicious and a little healthier.  I also love making oatmeal raisin cookies because the dough doesn’t come pre-mixed from Pilsbury.  When you bite into an oatmeal cookie, you know that it was homemade.

These cookies are moist and sweet.  The combination of brown and white sugar give the cookies a depth of flavor that you will love.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

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1-1/2 C whole wheat flour
1 t baking soda
1 t ground nutmeg
1/2 t salt
1 C butter, softened
3/4 C brown sugar, packed
1/2 C granulated sugar
2 Eggs
1 T vanilla
3 C oatmeal
1 C raisins
Heat oven to 350°F. Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; sift ingredients, looking our for clumps of baking soda. Set aside.

img_1530-1Using an electric mixer, beat butter and both sugars on medium speed until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix until blended. Add flour-mixture. Mix until blended. Add oats and raisins and continue to mix.  This is a thick batter, so be sure to stop the mixer, scrape the sides of the bowl completely and continue mixing at least twice or until oats and raisins are fully incorporated.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 10 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool two minutes on cookie sheets then remove to wire rack. Cool completely before removing. Enjoy.

 

 

 

From Rags to Breeches

Just over eight years ago, I was twenty-seven years old and pregnant with my first child. My due date had come and gone and I was driven entirely by hormones and a strong desire to jumpstart labor.  I was sitting in a pew at Mass, between my husband and my sisters.  I should have been paying attention to the homily but I was restless and started thumbing through the church bulletin.

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Oh, those long ago days of awaiting my first born. I had no idea what I was in for.

I saw an ad that Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada had placed, saying that they were completely out of diapers to pass out to the public.  It had never occurred to me that Catholic Charities passed out diapers.  I hadn’t spent a lot of time before then thinking about diapers at all.  I wondered where someone would go if they didn’t have diapers for their baby.  What would someone do if they didn’t have the support system that I did?  Before I knew it, I was sobbing, loudly in the middle of a crowded church.

My husband and my sisters panicked.  They wondered if I was in labor.  Was I in pain?  Was something horrible happening?  I blubbered unclearly before slapping the bulletin into my sister’s hands.  “They don’t have any diapers! Babies need diapers!”  My husband and my sisters promised me they would donate diapers in a desperate attempt to stop my crying.  Thus started my crusade.

I went to my women’s group, the OLLV Women’s Guild to ask for help and they didn’t enjoy watching a pregnant woman ugly-cry either so they agreed to help.  That first year, we collected 1200 diapers and we were ecstatic.

That next Sunday, Monsignor Patrick Leary showed up to thank us for the donation.  Sadly, he didn’t show up at my Mass, that’s just my luck.  He told the parishioners that when our donation arrived, there were women in the waiting area, using gas-station paper towels and plastic grocery bags, as diapers on their babies, because it was the best they could do.

That may be the worst thing you have ever heard about babies without diapers but it is not the worst thing I have heard.  Diaper insecurity is a very real problem that few people know exists.

Thirty-two percent of parents in the United States have admitted to re-using soiled, disposable diapers.  One in three mothers can’t afford enough diapers for her children.  That is 5.2 million babies without an adequate supply of clean, dry diapers.

These children often suffer from delayed physical and cognitive development.  Otherwise joyous milestones like learning to walk become painful with chronic diaper rash or a urinary tract infection.

Diaper shortages negatively affect the whole family. A lack of clean diapers causes higher maternal stress and a higher risk of postpartum depression than even food insecurity.  Combine that with increased infant crying from related discomfort or illness and it isn’t difficult to see why these children are more likely to become the victims of child abuse.

I have been listening to and sharing stories about diaper insecurity for eight years and the sadness knows no bounds.  Luckily neither does the generosity of my community.  Every year, we collect more diapers.  The church, the school, the Knights of Columbus, RCIA, CCD, people from virtually every ministry participate now.  Our goals are met and topped every year.

I just hosted OLLV’s 8th Annual Diaper Drive for Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada and we sent 75,000 diapers to Catholic Charities.

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This is what 75,000 diapers look like. That’s right. I had to use pano view.

 

Every year to close-out our diaper drive, the OLLV Women’s Guild hosts a baby shower.  Any excuse for a party.  We eat, we drink, we play bingo and we take a picture with the spoils we’ve gathered.

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My diaper crusaders.

 

When our truck pulled up this year, Catholic Charities had been without diapers for five months.  They pass out about 10,000 diapers a month when they have diapers.  That means by September the cupboards will be bare again.  Unless, we can convince the rest of the community to contribute as well.

I’m brainstorming and maybe you can, too.  If you have any ideas or suggestions for future diaper drives or collections, reach out and let me know.  Maybe we can diaper all the babies, together.

(Victory is) Sweets

Treats
I can’t host a party that doesn’t involve party favors.  I was reluctant to share this recipe because it is so easy that it almost isn’t a recipe at all.

3 16 OZ boxes of CandiQuik
12 OZ Candy Melts

I used chocolate CandiQuick and pink Candy Melts for these but you can use any flavors or colors that you like.  I used a heart mold to fit our “Baby Love” theme but you can use any mold that is safe for chocolate.  I recommend a silicone mold, so you can remove the pieces without breaking them.  57118613157__8da000a7-bcdb-46f6-bdde-6ffdc1afcac4-1You can buy small silicone molds for $3 at Michaels that work great but they only make six candies at a time.

CandiQuik comes with a microwavable tray.  Chop the chocolate along the lines into smaller pieces before microwaving, to save time.  Microwave for one minute and stir.  Turn over any whole pieces and microwave at 30 second intervals until the chocolate is completely liquid.  Pour into your molds.  Place molds in the freezer until the chocolate is cooled and solid.  Pop your candies out of the mold and onto a freezable tray.

Pour candy melts in a microwave safe dish and heat for 1 minute.  Stir and continue at 30 second intervals until candy melts are liquid.  Be careful not to burn yourself on the bowl or the liquid.  img_1198-1Pour into a plastic freezer bag.  Sandwich bags are not thick enough and the heat may melt the bag.  Cut a tiny hole in one corner of the bag to allow candy melt to be squeezed out.

Carefully squeeze liquid candy melt over the candies in any pattern you would like.  Do not squeeze the bag too hard or attempt to seal the top of the bag or the bag may break and spill hot candy coating everywhere.

After you have decorated the candies, put them back in the freezer for five minutes.  You may wrap the treats however you like and return them to the freezer until you are ready to set serve them.  This recipe makes 180 individual candies or 60 sets of 3 candies each.

Enjoy this easy-peasy party favor, that can be matched to any possible theme.

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In Defense of Street Feeding

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The Corridor of Hope in Las Vegas, Nevada.

In a blighted part of the city, that most people avoid, is the Corridor of Hope. Although the name wasn’t meant to be satirical, when you see the worn tents and cardboard lean-tos littering the sidewalks and empty lots, it is impossible not to see irony in the name.

There, in the Corridor of Hope, are the titans of philanthropy. Sprawling campuses, where all hands are on deck to help the homeless, the poor, immigrants, and addicts as well as helping with adoptions, providing cooling stations when the weather hits triple digits, offering healthcare and operating soup kitchens.

Just a few blocks from downtown, this particular piece of Las Vegas Boulevard is an area that no tourist would dare to tread.  With the exception of government-owned properties, there are few functioning businesses. It’s quite literally a shanty-town.

There are hundreds of people sleeping outside the gates of the charitable compounds. There are not enough beds, there isn’t enough food, there is not enough manpower and there isn’t nearly enough funding to care for all of these people. They stay in the area hoping to get in for a meal but the ugly truth is that there will always be thousands of people beyond the reach of these magnanimous mammoths.

There are groups like Safe Nest that care for victims of domestic violence, there is a drug rehabilitation program at the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities has a homeless to home transitional program but despite all their efforts, there is still no room at the inn for many. This is especially true for males, who make up about 75% of the chronically homeless, nationwide.

Sadly, no amount of shelters will get everyone off the street. It is easy for people to say that the homeless chose to live on the street and to dismiss them completely.  We must remember that they are human beings and that they have reasons for fearing the help that they are offered.  There is a vulnerability in homelessness that I pray neither you nor I will ever completely understand. When someone needs to be on guard twenty-four hours a day, paranoia creeps in. If you don’t have a safe place to rest, you become sleep deprived. The meager belongings that you have become all that you have to lose. When you include insult, abuse and intimidation, from other homeless, the cops and passers-by, it isn’t hard to see why so many vagrants are distrusting of everyone around them. It’s a survival mechanism.

There are teenagers, too afraid of being returned to abusive households to fill out any of the necessary paperwork. There are undocumented immigrants afraid of being reported to ICE. There are women too afraid of being discovered by their abuser to go to a shelter. There are mothers too afraid of having their children taken away. There are people with warrants for trespassing or urban camping that would rather be exposed to the elements and hungry than in jail. None of these people will go to organizations and deal with the bureaucracy on campuses that are teeming with patrol cars.

Safety can be a serious concern in facilities for the homeless, as well. There is no amount of security that can keep an eye on hundreds of people in one room, every second. I cannot count on my fingers and toes how many people have told me that they will never return to a shelter because they were robbed or assaulted by other people staying there. Shelters nationwide have had issues with bed bugs, scabies and fleas which can make the struggle of homelessness even worse.  You cannot bring your pet and you likely cannot bring your stuff inside with you.

There are people within these organizations that think that “street feeding” (their words, not ours) which is volunteering directly with the homeless in your community, is part of the problem and that “street feeders” (their term, not ours) are the enemy. They believe that all acts of charity should be performed through designated 5013Cs and that a cash donation would go farther than a meal and a conversation. Believing that street feeders are the enemy to soup kitchens is like thinking that paramedics are the enemy of hospitals.

The unfortunate truth is that street feeders can’t take a homeless person from poverty. In most cases, we can’t provide jobs or shelter and we certainly can’t provide healthcare, drug rehabilitation or psychological treatment. Our main goal is to help each person that we encounter to make it to tomorrow. Today they may be too hungry, too hopeless or too high to believe that a better life is possible but a decent meal, a bottle of water, cup of coffee, a warm coat or a fresh pair of socks and the attention of someone who isn’t avoiding eye contact with them, can make a big difference. We can help provide them with the endurance to make it to tomorrow. Tomorrow might be the day that they get a job, get into a shelter or a program. Tomorrow could be anything but only if they survive today.

Major organizations can’t leave their campuses and seek out the homeless. They can’t refer to the thousands of people they feed in a day by name and they certainly aren’t allowed to hug them.

Volunteering at these organizations is a wonderful thing. You can host food drives, you can stuff backpacks, you can do a lot. What you can’t do, in most cases, is interact directly with the people you want to help.

I want to see the people that I serve. I want to ask them what they need so that I can answer honestly when people ask me what food or goods they should consider donating. I want to look them in the eyes, so at least one person has acknowledged them that day. I want them to know that there are hundreds of people willing to give their time and talent to help each one of them. That is the difference between hosting a canned food drive for people that you will never see and putting food onto the plate of someone across a folding table.

I am eternally grateful for the amount of good work that organizations like Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army and the Rescue Mission do all over the world. They save lives, they help people survive homelessness and they provide transitional housing, empowering people to live normal, healthy lives.

Someday, I hope that everyone that I see in my line has the courage to go to these organizations and make meaningful changes in their lives. In the meantime, I will do my best to make sure that they don’t starve, that they stay warm, that they stay hydrated and that I ask them how they are.

Everyone should be helping those among us that need help. Both organizations and individuals serve our purposes and we both serve our communities. We should be able to do these things together.

“We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other. We know Him in the breaking of bread, and we know each other in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone anymore. Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet, too, even with a crust, where there is companionship.”

Dorothy Day

Cowboy Casserole

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117 OZ Can Baked Beans
24 OZ smoked sausage (2 ropes)
1 large onion
1/2 C brown sugar
2 green bell peppers
2 red bell peppers
2 T Butter
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste

The base for this recipe is a wholesale-sized can of baked beans. It costs about $5.00 and goes a long way.

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Melt butter in large frying pan over medium-low heat. Dice onions and peppers and heat in pan until soft. Slice smoked sausage into bite-sized pieces. Add to pan until heated through.

In a large pot, heat baked beans to a simmer. Add brown sugar, and stir until dissolved. Add sausage, onion and peppers. Stir thoroughly and allow to simmer for ten minutes or until heated through. Salt and pepper to taste.

I serve this with a slice of warm cornbread.

Cowboy
Pouring Cowboy Casserole into cups or bowls and topping with a slice of cornbread at home, will save you a lot of time and hassle once you reach the hungry crowd.

It Can’t All Be Hookers and Sunshine.

We all love a good Vegas-adventure tale; strippers with a heart of gold, underdogs betting it all on red, buddies having a wild time and learning a valuable lesson.  It is the stuff that fantasies, hit movies and bachelor parties are made of.

I would love to tell you that Las Vegas is all inspiring stories, triumphs of the human spirit and sexy showgirls but I didn’t create this blog to hide the ugly truth from you.  That’s the mayor’s job, not mine.

Just blocks away from the glitter and glamor of the famous Las Vegas Strip, are eight zip codes that are categorized as “food deserts.”  A food desert is an area in which it is difficult to buy affordable, fresh food.

There are three components to food deserts.  The most obvious factor is low-income.  The others are ease of access; places to buy decent food within proximity to your home, and vehicle access; the ability to find transportation to get to the store and bring your food home.  A combination of these issues, low income, low store access and low access to transportation make grocery shopping, as most Americans know it, impossible.

Without large chain grocery stores in impoverished neighborhoods, people are forced to buy from gas stations, pharmacies and bodegas.  These convenience stores offer limited food selections, usually frozen or non-perishable, at higher prices.  People can’t afford to buy as much, so they purchase foods that are filling but are low in nutrients, sodium-rich and calorie-dense.  The high prices cause people to run out of money or SNAP benefits long before the month is over.

This provides people who cook for the food-insecure with both an opportunity and a challenge.  Vegetables are not the most popular of dishes in any neighborhood. Most people reading this, myself included are not getting the recommended daily servings.  Vegetables aren’t as filling as pastas or meat and there is limited space on each food tray.  Unfortunately, the nutrients that most of the food-insecure are lacking, come from the vegetables that they can’t make room for.

The challenge is to make vegetable dishes more appealing.  The solution is Caponata, a delicious and hearty Italian dish bursting with seasonal veggies.

My garden is overflowing with Ichiban eggplant and Sweet 100 tomatoes, so that’s a good place for me to start.  You can’t get more locally grown than my own backyard.

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Aren’t they beautiful?

I have been picking 6-8 eggplants and about a pound of tomatoes every week for most of the summer.  I have tested a lot of eggplant recipes in recent weeks, including a few varieties of caponata.

Caponata is to Sicily and Italy what chili is to the Midwest.  Everyone has a recipe but no two recipes are the same.  There are a few generally accepted ingredients but otherwise anything goes.  Much like chili, it is served as a main dish or on top of another foods.  The way it’s prepared; roasted, baked, fried or sautéed seems to vary, too.  Also like chili, people are vehement about their way being the only correct way to prepare it.

Most folks seem to agree that caponata should consist of eggplant and other summer vegetables and be served as a stew or relish.  Most recipes include a tomato base.

I have made it with stewed tomatoes and sliced Italian sausage links and served it with bread for dipping.  I have used broth to water it down to make a stew.  I have also used tomato sauce and put it over pasta.  If you are not a food purist, there is no wrong way to eat this stuff.

Remember to chop the veggies into sizes appropriate for the way you want to serve it.  If it’s a relish, dice it more finely.  If it’s a stew or casserole, larger chunks are fine.

 

Caponata

4 C Diced Eggplant, skins on
2 C Cherry-Sized Tomatoes, halved
10 OZ Olives, whole or halved, drained
28 OZ can of tomato sauce
1 C Oil
1 T Parsley Flakes

Heat your cup of oil in a frying pan over medium heat.  Add eggplant and allow to cook five minutes, stirring often.

Caponata

Add tomatoes halves and stir in, making sure that tomatoes are coated in oil.  Cook three more minutes.  Add olives and parsley, and mix thoroughly.

I prefer to eat caponata as a stew, so I add a lot of tomato sauce but if you prefer it as a relish, dryer is better.  Add tomato sauce according to your tastes.

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Pour tomato sauce over mixture and mix it all together.  Bring to a boil and allow to simmer for five minutes or until you reach your desired texture.

You can serve your caponata immediately but it is also good the next day, after you have allowed it to marinate in the fridge.  It can be served hot or at room temperature.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

B-A-N-A-N-A-S

Note from the author-

I want to apologize for going so long without a post. It’s been a crazy summer. We drove cross-country. We’re selling our house. I’m growing out my pixie cut. It’s been madness. None of this has stopped me from helping the homeless community but it has kept me from sitting down to write about it.

In addition to my personal struggles, Las Vegas has been suffering from near record breaking heat.

In a three day time span, seven people died from heat exposure. The limited amount of time that I usually dedicate to this blog has been spent seeking contributions of water, ice and sports drinks for our homeless community and distributing them during and separate from our weekly G Street distribution. It’s bad out there, folks. Do what you can to help.

On to the main event…

B-A-N-A-N-A-S

I grew up one of eight kids.  Being the youngest, I was the last to go to school and when I started, I had half-day kindergarten in the afternoons.  Every morning, after my siblings dispersed, the house got quiet and I had my Mom to myself for a few brief hours.  Some of my fondest, early memories are of those mornings.

My parents were born during the Great Depression in Iowa, where recovery was slow.  They were raised to believe that waste was unacceptable and having eight kids to raise in a single-income home only solidified that belief.

My Mom often salvaged bruised produce from our local supermarket to make jam.  She was always mending things instead of throwing them out and we wore hand-me downs so frequently that my sisters and I still argue over who each item  “belonged” to.  I was raised with the “mend it or make do” philosophy and to this day, I try to follow it.

With that many kids in the house, food didn’t last long enough to go bad. On those rare occasions that bananas over-ripened my Mom and I would make banana bread before she walked me to school.  At such a young age, seeing my Mom make a delicacy out of slimy, bruised bananas was magical.

The best part was that I got the first piece.  I had five, ravenous brothers and they swarmed food like angry bees.  I never got the first piece of anything.  The sheer power was intoxicating.

Between the nostalgia and the early lessons in food conservation, banana bread has always held a special place in my heart.  Fast-forward thirty years and I’m the mother, making banana bread with my small children.  If I’m lucky they will harbor the same happy memories that I do.

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Making memories with my oldest, when he wasn’t as old.

My mom didn’t have a sacred, heirloom recipe.  She used the recipe on the back of the flour bag, so that’s where I started, too.

Luckily for all of us, my kids are very inconsistent with their banana eating habits so I’ve had a lot of ingredients to practice with.

Over the years, I have perfected my recipe, cutting back on some ingredients and cutting out others entirely.  Replacing white flour with whole wheat flour is easy in because it doesn’t change the color.  I whip my bananas into an even consistency because I’m not a fan of hunks of mushy banana.  The change from bread into muffins was tricky but portioning and slicing bread on a folding table in the dark did not seem practical.

Pro-tip, don’t bring a knife with you for slicing or anything else, ever.

My new, improved and fully spectacular Emergency Banana Muffin recipe is something that I’m very proud of.  Enjoy.

Muffins
Banana muffin goodness.

Emergency Banana Bread Muffins

2 ¼ C over-ripened bananas
2 C Whole Wheat Flour
1 C brown sugar
½ C softened butter
2 beaten eggs
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray muffin tins with non-stick spray, inside cups and on top of pan.

Mash bananas and whip thoroughly with a whisk until the texture is uniform and there are no lumps. Set aside.

Using a mixer, cream together butter and brown sugar. Add beaten eggs and mashed bananas and mix thoroughly.

Add flour, baking soda and salt and mix, just to moisten batter.

Pour into muffin tin, until cups are nearly full. Bake for 14-16 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Makes 12-15 muffins.

muffins
Notice the portions devoured by my offspring.

 

It’s A Dry Heat.

If you ever want to test the patience of someone from the southwest United States, there is an easy, universally despised way. Just slip the phrase, “it’s a dry heat,” into conversation. Ovens are a dry heat and saunas are a humid heat. Which would you prefer to spend time in?

According to the 2017 Homeless Death Report, compiled by the Clark County coroner, one-hundred and eighty-nine people that were identified as homeless, died in 2017. Out of that total, sixty-two of those people died due to heat-exposure.

Reread that. Let it sink in. Sixty-two homeless people died because of heat-exposure, last year. Approximately one-third of the amount of homeless deaths that were experienced in Las Vegas last year, were the result of the weather. In a city that doesn’t experience much in the way of natural disasters, it doesn’t seem like the weather should be able to kill us but here we are, held hostage by the sun.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as of 2016, Nevada has the highest death toll of any U.S. state for heat-related deaths for four years running and we’ve seen a spike in deaths since then.

In an effort to more deeply understand the plight of my friends living on the street, I participated in a unity fast last week. For one day, I fasted per the Ramadan rules. Those rules are much stricter than the Catholic fasting and abstinence rules that I’m used to. I can easily afford to skip a few meals but spending a summer day in Las Vegas without water was no picnic. I had to lie down during my kids’ nap and by the time the sun went down at 8:00pm, I felt lethargic and dizzy. The next day I had a dehydration headache no matter how much water I consumed and believe me, I drank a lot of water the next several days.

Still, it was a blessing.

I got to take a tiny peek at the symptoms that people who suffer from dehydration experience. I spent my whole day in the air conditioning. I didn’t have severe sunburns, which are common among the homeless during the summer. I didn’t have heat exhaustion from relentless exposure to triple digit temperatures and I only went about a day without food and thirteen hours without fluids.

The city has cooling stations that are opened during the summer months and additional locations that open during extreme heat advisories.  I print the information off the city website and pass it out to everyone I see that is without shelter from the heat.  Sadly, there aren’t enough cooling stations to hold all the homeless in Las Vegas and those that are living on the street aren’t always capable of traveling to them.

Many of our volunteers aren’t able to come to G Street to serve in extreme heat and others travel for vacation so every able bodied volunteer is more important during the summer months. It’s by far the most difficult time of the year to meet the needs of those that rely on us.  Luckily, those that aren’t able to serve can contribute in other ways. Last year, a friend of mine donated a big, pull-along cooler that I dubbed “the Hydration Station.” Isn’t it beautiful?

Cooler
It holds forty-eight bottles of water and sixty bottles of gatorade, with room for ice.

 

If a few hours without water made me “hangry,” imagine how pleased someone who spends 24/7 in the heat is when they get a cold bottle of gatorade and a smile.

In addition to keeping people hydrated, during these brutal months, I try to provide alternatives to hot food. I will be sharing cold food recipes with your over the summer months.

This week, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are on the menu and that gives me a chance to share with you my Nectarine Jam recipe.

Nectarine tree
This recipe is best when nectarines are in season.  I pick mine from a neighbor’s tree.

Nectarine Jam

4 lbs of ripe whole nectarines
5 C sugar
1 large lemon

Put a small, dry plate in the freezer.

Chop the nectarines, removing the pits but leaving the skins on. The skins are full of pectin and add a pleasant color and texture to the jam.

Measure five cups of sugar into a bowl. Set aside.

Put the nectarines in a stock pot. You should use a pot that is 10 quarts or larger because this jam will bubble up while cooking. Zest the lemon with a small grater, directly into the pot before cutting the lemon in two and squeezing in the juice.

nectarines.jpg

Put your pot on the stove over medium heat. Slowly pour in sugar, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Boil for ten minutes, stirring to prevent the jam from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

As the jam boils, it will produce foam.  Most of it will go away, as it boils. Whatever is left, you can scrape off with a metal spoon and throw away. The foam doesn’t taste good and it spoils the flavor of the jam, if it’s left there.

Using a potato masher, break up the remaining chunks of nectarine. Stir and return to a boil for one minute.

To test consistency, put a small dollop on the cold plate that you placed in the freezer earlier. If it’s too runny, let it cook a little longer and try again. If you like the consistency, it’s done.

Pour the jam into a container of your choice, then use a butter knife to scrape the inside of the container, to release the air bubbles. If you want to freeze your jam for use later, make sure it’s in a freezable container. Otherwise, put the jam in the refrigerator to cool before using it.

It’s great in PB & J sandwiches but also great with ice cream, on biscuits or sweet breads.

jam
Freezer friendly jars exist now.  What a time to be alive.