The O.G. (Original Giver)

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Father John McShane early in my blog.  He is the Original Giver of G Street and an  inspiration to everyone there.

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Father McShane is a long-time friend of my family.  I met him in 2002 when I first moved to Las Vegas but I hadn’t seen him in years.  I was a teenager then, so I didn’t really have a chance to build a friendship with him until I started volunteering with the homeless.

Father McShane is seventy-five years old and never wears a coat. He must be heated by the light of Christ because no matter how cold, windy or rainy it is, the man is always wearing short sleeves. The rumor is that Father McShane gives his coats away. I believe it.

He has spent most of his career in Nevada, from Reno to Las Vegas and many rural communities in between. He spent five years as the Chaplain at Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada and while there, he founded the Southern Nevada Chapter of the St. Benedict Labre Homeless Ministry.  It started with PB & J sandwiches from the trunk of his car but now, almost two decades later, there are dozens of free-lance volunteers feeding, clothing and caring for hundreds of people.

In 2004, Father McShane was sent back to rural Nevada, and eventually found a home in Ely, (that’s pronounced E-Lee not E-Lye) at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Ely is four hours north of Las Vegas, so everyone was surprised when Father maintained his outreach ministry in Las Vegas. To this day, Father McShane drives eight hours to the Westside of Las Vegas to attend the weekly event and back, every week. His parish in Ely is incredibly supportive and send socks, underwear, gift cards, bus passes and other helpful items to the indigent.

Nearly every Monday for the past eighteen years, he has come to G Street in an effort to lessen the burden of homelessness and to make their lives more bearable.

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Once a month he gives Mass at the original McWilliams townsite, at the intersections of McWilliams Ave and G Street.

My first night on G Street while a fellow volunteer was telling me how they came to serve, I spotted an old priest out of the corner of my eye. “Is that… is that Father McShane?” They knew him as Father John, so I excused myself and approached him for a closer look.  I was still several feet away when I caught his eye and he paused. “Hey! You’re a Murphy!”  He asked me how my sisters and parents were. We chatted as he passed out socks to the dozens of people that had surrounded him. I felt an instant connection to G Street through Father McShane, as so many before and since have.

Father McShane has an entourage. Since his parish, as well as other groups collect for the St. Benedict Labre Ministry, he often has high use items that aren’t commonly handed out. He is swarmed from the moment that he steps out of his car. He gives everyone what he has and makes a list of what everyone is asking for.  People ask him to bless them, they ask for his prayers and they eagerly update him on their situations.

Week after week, those in need flock to him. They surround him with their hands out but he never loses patience or hope. He never judges people or tries to determine who is most worthy of what he has. He gives, blesses, prays and listens.

Every Monday for nearly twenty years.

His patience and generosity are contagious. I leave conversations with him feeling lighter.  My voice and my heart are softer after speaking with him.

He isn’t the only one on G Street that has found peace by serving others. Many people have followed in the father’s footsteps and Las Vegas is a better place because of it.  I truly believe that he’ll be canonized one day.

It is in honor of Father John McShane that I came up with this recipe.  It can be served as a side dish or as main dish, in a cup or bowl.

 

Holy Mole

Slow Cooker Black Beans

3 C dried black beans

4 C broth

Coat the inside of your crockpot with pan spray.  Pour in beans and broth.  Cover beans with water.  Cook on high for six hours, adding water, as necessary to keep beans covered with liquid.  I use chicken-bone broth for flavor but if you want to make this a vegetarian recipe you can substitute vegetable or mushroom broth.

Drain beans.

Brown Rice

3 C brown rice

6 C water

Pour water into a medium sized pot and bring to a boil.  Add rice and return to boil.  Cover and keep on a low simmer for twenty minutes, stirring frequently.

Sauce

1 T cooking oil

1 C onion, minced

1 28 oz can tomatoes, puréed

3 T unsweetened, powdered cocoa

1 t chipotle chile powder

2 t salt

Heat oil in a saucepan over medium flame.  Add onion and cook until translucent, about five minutes.  Pour puréed tomatoes into pan.  Add cocoa, chili powder and salt, mix well.  Bring sauce to a boil and let simmer for three minutes, stirring constantly.

Combine rice, beans and sauce.  Mix thoroughly.  Serve warm.

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Holy Mole- mole sauce over brown rice and black beans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Life Gives You Crackers…

Many people and a handful of organizations have provided me with food to serve to the hungry on G Street, over the years.  Most recently, the Las Vegas chapter of Food Not Bombs gave me a car load of crackers, cereal and cookies to hand out.

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A carload of crackers.

Most of these foods were a few days past their best-by date, so they wouldn’t be sold in stores. Although they pose no health risk to the consumer and hadn’t even had a chance to get stale yet, stores dispose of this food instead of selling it to the public.  

Other reasons that stores might not sell food are damaged packaging, discontinuation of a product, overstock of an item, or cosmetic imperfections.  Imperfect produce can be anything from a bruised apple to a banana that is deemed too yellow. I made an entire batch of banana bread muffins with “too yellow” bananas and I have to say, they were amazing.  

Many stores and restaurants chose to donate nonsalable food and write the donation off on their taxes.  That store would contact a 501-3C, a registered charitable organization, of their choosing. This process is called Food Rescue.

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Food rescue selfie with Food Not Bombs.

Someone like the dedicated folks at Food Not Bombs pull up to a loading dock, fill their vehicle with random food items and haul them off.  When there is an abundance of food and not enough hands, if the amount of food exceeds the need that the groups meets or the storage space that they have available is limited, they reach out to people like me to help with distribution.  

Food Rescue is a winning situation for everyone involved.  Businesses have a chance to write off the donation, recovering some of their expenses.  Groups and people that help to distribute food to the hungry, have to buy less out of pocket.  The needs of more people in the community are met.

Beyond that, food rescue helps to eliminate unnecessary waste.  Americans throw away about six-billion pounds of food every month.  No one should go hungry in a country that can afford to throw away that much food.  

Food waste is also a big cause of greenhouse gas production.  When all that food waste goes into a landfill, where it is covered with more waste and deprived of oxygen, it produces methane.  Landfills are the third largest source of methane gases, according to the EPA. By working together, as a community, we can eliminate food from going into a landfill and keep our air and planet healthier.

Everyone benefits from food rescue.  

For my part in this process, I drove down to the Huntridge neighborhood and helped to load my car with hundreds of boxes of snacks.  I had to store them at my house for a few days. While I unloaded the food from my car, I took inventory.

I knew that the cookies and cereal boxes would go faster than we could stock them on our table.  Most of the crackers, flavored Wheat Thins and Triscuits would go too but there were also a few dozen boxes of plain, salted crackers.  Like most people, I love Saltines in my soup or chili and they are my go-to, when my stomach is unsettled. Also, like most people, i can’t imagine sitting down and snacking on a box of them.  

There is one other factor that I always consider when I’m making food.  Will they be able to taste the love?  Call me crazy but a box of dry, salted crackers is not what I think of when I think  of lovin’ from the oven.

I looked through my cookbooks, recipe collections and eventually the internet void to find something that incorporated Saltines and showed whoever ate it that I cared to put forth the effort.  I found a few recipes that were close but nothing quite right. Luckily, I have a lot of volunteer taste testers and after a few tries I came up with something that I’m proud of.

Introducing-
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Chocolate Toffee Bars

50 Saltine Crackers

1 C Butter

1 ½ C brown sugar, packed

3 C chocolate chips

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cover a large cookie sheet with tin foil and spray thoroughly with pan spray.  Set down a single layer of crackers.

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Ya’ basic, crackers. Ya’ basic.

 In a small saucepan, melt butter and brown sugar.  Bring to a full boil and allow to boil hard for three minutes, while stirring constantly.  Pour mixture over crackers. Using a wooden spoon, spread mixture evenly over crackers.

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So gooey and sweet.

 

Bake for five minutes.  Top with chocolate chips.  Bake for three minutes. Spread melted chocolate over crackers, evenly.  Place flat in the freezer for at least thirty minutes.

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Right before they go into the freezer.

You can use a very sharp knife or pizza cutter to cut these into orderly pieces or you can use your hands to break them into jagged pieces.  

Keep these cold until they are ready to serve or anticipate chocolate covered fingers.

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He went through the entire line two extra times just for more toffee. The strongest endorsement possible. 

 

 

 

The Pasta Problem

If you have ever cooked for a large group before, be it a party, a church group, or a giant, lower-middle class family, you already know that when you have to feed a lot of people with a little money, pasta is the answer.  The problem with pasta is that everyone else knows that, too.

I cannot count how many times I have heard someone in the chow line ask a volunteer to put  “your spaghetti” on top of all the other spaghetti. Spaghetti is great, macaroni and cheese is great, buttered noodles are great.  A dinner of pasta with no meat or vegetables is not so great.

Noodles and sauce are cheap, so there is always a lot.  If this is all that you can bring, bring it. Something is always better than nothing. If you can, meatballs, chicken, broccoli, mushrooms or spinach will go a long way.

Here is my formula for pasta-

Pound of Noodles + Pound of Meat + ½ Pound of veggies

When I make baked ziti for example, I use two pounds of noodles, two pounds of meat and one pound of spinach.  You can catch that recipe below.

 

Baked Ziti Primavera

2 lbs dry ziti or any tubular pasta
2 lbs ground Italian sausage
1 lb spinach leaves
4- 24 oz marinara sauce
1 lb sliced provolone
3 C sour cream
16 oz mozzarella
4 TBSP Parmesan, grated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Fill a medium-sized pot with water and bring it to a boil.  Add your noodles and let water return to a boil.  Boil for about 8 minutes or until your pasta is al dente. Remove from heat and drain.

Brown the ground sausage in a large pot.  While the meat cooks, trim the stems off of the spinach. Run the spinach leaves through a food processor until thoroughly diced.  Add to the meat and mix well.  Add marinara sauce to the beef mixture and let it simmer for 15 minutes.

I use a “heavy-duty,” aluminum roasting pan for this dish. It is 16 inches by 11 inches and 2.5 inches deep. Do not use a dish that is less than 2.5 inches deep.

Fill the empty tray with half of the noodles. Layer half the provolone on top and sprinkle with half the parmesan, about 2 TBSPs. Spread the sour cream evenly. Spread the meat mixture over the sour cream. Add the remaining noodles, the rest of the meat-mixture and the remaining provolone. Cover with mozzarella. Sprinkle the remaining parmesan.

Cover the dish with tin foil and bake in the oven for forty minutes.  If you want the cheese on top of the ziti to get brown and bubbly, remove the tin foil and bake for another five minutes.  Since everything is precooked in this dish, you just want the tray heated through and the cheese melted.

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You can’t argue with results.