Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Food for the Body, Food for the Soul

“You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”- Khalil Gibran

This Thanksgiving I had the opportunity to serve with two amazing organizations, Be the Cause* and the UCO Drop In Center in Long Beach. Run by Brad Lara-Gagne and his team of tireless staff and volunteers, the center is open 47 Sundays throughout the year to feed the homeless. I had the pleasure of speaking to him the previous night and his dedication to the Center is apparent.  Over the years, he and the center have developed an amazing network in the community, the organizations helping one another out whenever they can. When one has a surplus of food, it makes sure to pass it along to another who can use it, never allowing the goods to go to waste. Brad has also cultivated relationships with local establishments such as Panera, who donates their excess baked goods to the center every week. For the Thanksgiving dinner, there were originally only 6 large pies (baked by a generous donor) to distribute amongst all the guests - until Trader Joe’s showed up that morning with 60 more pies.

Sonali Fiske of Be The Cause organized a group of volunteers for this special Thanksgiving event at the center. On Thursday morning, we set to task –cutting pies, separating baked goods, organizing the clothing donation closet, etc. Before the guests arrived, Sonali gathered the volunteers together for introductions and a quick pep talk. “The whole idea is to treat each person as though they are a guest in your home…I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s all about love. There’s a lot of love in that food.” One of the volunteers admitted she was there because of her young daughter.  She had told her mom that instead of going to dinner, “I want to do something better. I want to go and feed the homeless.” What a wonderful reminder that children, too, have the ability to inspire action and kindness.

While I was greeting guests at the front door, I had the opportunity to witness the various interactions –the children smiling and having a great time at the arts and crafts table with Adnan and Norma; the diners conversing with the volunteers; the kitchen staff preparing and plating the meals; the dj spreading the joy of music; and all of the others in action. I noticed one of the volunteers sitting at the tables and speaking to several of the guests. Leny (who works with Corazon de Vida Foundation) came to the event with her husband and children. When asked what inspired her to spend Thanksgiving at the center, she responded, “It’s not only the food. It’s about spending time with them [the homeless]. Some people might assume bad things about them, but they don’t know how someone got there. Everyone has a different story.” For her, it was important that her children get in touch with their community. “You know, it is a beautiful experience for me, but especially for my kids. I don’t know what they will do when they are older but I want them to have this experience.”

I also had the opportunity to speak to a local reporter who was covering organizations in the area hosting Thanksgiving dinners for the homeless. This was her fourth stop and she seemed really impressed. I joked with her, “I bet we’re the only one with a DJ.” (DJ Sukh was generously spinning his music for the event.) She agreed that she hadn’t seen anything like it and that the music was a great addition. “Yeah, it’s great. ‘All the Single Ladies’ was a big hit in there,” she said. “Everyone was moving around in their chairs!” It hadn’t occurred to me that having music at such an event would be so appreciated but music is food for the soul after all, so it isn’t surprising that it brought smiles to so many faces.

As the diners exited, they thanked us, blessed us, and wished us a Happy Thanksgiving. There was one man in particular who had a profound affect on me. As he walked out of the dining hall, he looked at me and said, “thank you for feeding me.” My hand went to my heart and I was speechless. After a moment, all I could muster up was, “you’re so welcome.” I stood there for several minutes pondering the gravity of his words –“thank you for feeding me.” I thought about how the weather was getting colder and wondered if he would have a place to stay warm. I couldn’t help but feel a renewed sense of gratitude for the everyday things that we so often take for granted.

A sincere thanks to everyone who took part in the event, and for allowing me to be a part of it - I continue to be inspired and humbled by all of you.

For more information on the organizations, go to:

*Founded in 2002 in response to the 9/11 attacks, Be the Cause’s mission is to create meaningful opportunities for service. Through the efforts of volunteers and donations, BTC has organized over 400 projects in numerous countries.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Leftover Turkey: Sriracha Sliders

I love having Thanksgiving leftovers, but by about day 3, I'm pretty much over having the same meal. At an annual potluck I have with some attorney friends of mine, one of the guests brought Hawaiian rolls instead of traditional rolls. Lucky for me, there were a few left for these delicious sliders. The slight sweetness in these rolls make the perfect offset to the spicy spread.

4 hawaiian rolls
1 cup cooked turkey
4 tbs sour cream*
sriracha -now here is where your personal preference/tolerance for heat comes into play. I would start off with a bit and add more to taste as you go along.

Split each rolls in half and toast them in toaster oven. Start with about 1/2 tsp sriracha and whisk it into the sour cream, adding more depending on your spice level. Spread sriracha sour cream on bottom half of roll, top with turkey and top half of roll. Repeat for the other three. Enjoy!

*You can use mayo and make a sriracha aioli instead, but I was feeling guilty after eating that huge Thanksgiving spread the night before!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Kitchen Tip: Leftover Wine

I know most of my friends will read this and say, "leftover wine? There's no such thing!" But even I have to admit there are times when I end up pouring perfectly good wine down the drain.  There have been other times when I'm craving just a glass but forgo it because I don't want the rest to go to waste. It was while I was cooking one day that I found the perfect solution.

I was making a roast and found that it needed a bit of wine for acidity.  I looked around and realized that the only bottles I had left were a couple of really nice wines I had bought from my last trip to Napa. Not wanting to use those, I ended up going to the store just to get a bottle for the 1/2 cup I needed. I never run into this problem anymore. Now, my freezer is always stocked with pre-measured portions of frozen* wine. It's perfect for when I just need a cup -or even a few tablespoons- of wine for cooking.

I freeze the wine in 1-cup plastic containers or in ice cube trays -then take out cubes and store in freezer ziplock bags, making sure to get as much air out as possible before sealing. I've even just poured the wine straight into the freezer bag and it's never been a problem. Just make sure to prop the bag up in a container or bowl for stability. Though some suggest thawing to room temperature for use, I've always just scooped out the needed amount and added it to the pot.

Note: this Tip is only for use in cooking. I wouldn't recommend drinking it!

*It doesn't actually freeze to a solid state, but is semi-slushy.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Eggs w/Sauteed Spinach and Tomatoes

Think you don't have time for a healthy breakfast? Saute some garlic in olive oil, add fresh chopped spinach, diced tomatoes, and a pinch of salt. Transfer to plate. In separate pan, cook two eggs over easy. Add fresh cracked pepper. Top spinach mixture with eggs, and voila, a healthy breakfast in about 15 minutes.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Easy Butternut Squash w/Roasted Cumin

This is a quick and simple twist on my mom's slightly more involved Indian-style pumpkin dish.

1 bag cubed, frozen butternut squash (defrosted)
1 medium red onion, sliced thinly
2 tbs cumin seeds
2 tbs olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

In saute pan, heat olive oil. Add cumin seeds, watching carefully so they don't burn. Add a pinch of turmeric and onions; saute for 3-4 minutes on medium heat. Add squash, salt and pepper. Cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Serving suggestion: serve with rice or naan, and plain yogurt.

Cook's note: It was my first time using frozen cubes of butternut squash. They didn't hold their shape as I would have liked for certain dishes, so best used for pureed dishes or soups.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Cumin and Sea Salt (Baked) Tortilla Chips

1 12 oz package corn tortillas
olive oil in mister, or cooking spray
ground roasted cumin
sea salt

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. With kitchen scissors, cut each tortilla into 4 wedges. Arrange wedges on a cookie sheet, in a single layer. Spray surface of tortilla wedges with oil/cooking spray. Sprinkle with cumin and salt. Bake for about 7-8 minutes, watching closely so they don’t burn. Carefully flip chips over (they will be hot!) and continue baking for another 7-8 minutes.

I served these with a mixture of my mom’s roasted eggplant dish and plain yogurt, but they are great with guacamole, salsa, or any of your favorite dips.