Friday, October 28, 2011

Nourishing an Occupation 4: Eggplant Pasta (with SNOW!)

Are you cooking for an Occupation? I'm looking for guest bloggers to write about their experiences of the Occupy movement and their food. Please contact me here (note: this link will take you to another website)

It was snowing when I left home to deliver my latest concoction to the hardy souls at Occupy Poughkeepsie. On a very cold night like last night, it's essential to have good, hot food to keep the body warm and fueled.

I was in the park on Wed night for a meeting of Occupy Poughkeepsie Moms and Dads and while I was there, I discovered among the donated food: 6 large eggplants, 3 cans of garbanzo beans, a can of black olives, and many boxes of dried pasta. I can make something with that!

If you've read any of my other blog posts, you won't be surprised to learn that I started cooking by chopping up garlic and onions and sauteing them in oil in the bottom of a soup pot. In this case, I used a whole head of garlic. While that was cooking, I washed and cubed 4 of the eggplants.

I added 2 large cans of crushed tomatoes along with the eggplant, a pound of sliced mushrooms, some water and about 1 cup of tomato juice that I had in the 'fridge. I couldn't actually fit all the eggplant into the pot, so I let it simmer for a while and after it had cooked down a bit I added the rest of it.

I seasoned the sauce with dried Italian herb blend, dried oregano, dried basil, black pepper, soy sauce, a squirt of Sriracha sauce and just a touch of sugar. This simmered for most of the afternoon. At some point, I chopped up 2 sweet red peppers, and the can of olives and added them and 3 drained cans of garbanzo beans to the pot.

I cooked 3 lbs of pasta in boiling water in my largest soup pot. 3 boxes, 3 shapes: rotini, rotelle, & rigatoni. When it was al dente, I drained it and poured it into a large aluminum serving tray. I poured the eggplant sauce over the pasta and mixed it all together. As I was getting ready to load it and 2 cans of sterno into my car, I looked out the window and saw the first snow of the season!

Here's what the camp looked like when I arrived.

By the time I got to Poughkeepsie, it was a wet snow, mixed with rain. Let me tell you, it was cold down there! I was glad I was able to keep the food warm with the sterno because as people arrived they really needed something warm in their bellies.

It's a great feeling to give a hungry, cold person a steaming hot plate of food.

Nourishing an Occupation 3: Vegetable Soup

Are you cooking for an Occupation? I'm looking for guest bloggers to write about their experiences of the Occupy movement and their food. Please contact me here (note: this link will take you to another website)

This episode of 'Nourishing an Occupation' is about using the ingredients on hand to make something delicious and nutritious. One night when I was visiting Occupy Poughkeepsie, I noticed that someone had donated a bunch of fresh vegetables - potatoes, carrots, celery, zucchini, peppers, and cabbage. These are wonderful, vitamin-rich foods, but the encampment isn't really set up to cook and I couldn't picture anyone munching on a raw cabbage or potato. I know it can be done, I just didn't see it happening. So I offered to take them home and turn them into soup. I say take them 'home' but I actually didn't make this soup at home. I was staying with Friends Val & Bob Suter for a couple of days so it was their kitchen I messed up with my chopping and concocting and their spice stash I raided for flavors.

As usual, I started by chopping several large cloves of garlic and 2 large onions and sauteing them in olive oil in my largest soup pot. When it was translucent, I added 8 carrots with their skin on and 4 stalks of celery. After they had cooked a bit, I added a large can of whole tomatoes and a large can of diced tomatoes. I broke up the whole tomatoes with my paddle. I added a fews cans full of water to the pot. While it was heating up, I kept chopping vegetables and throwing them in:

6 potatoes, skin on
1 large rutabaga, peeled
1 large green pepper
3 zucchini squash
1 medium head of cabbage.

There were so many vegetables, I had to add more water to the pot.

While this simmered, I seasoned the broth with 2 cubes of 'Not-Chick'n Bouillon', soy sauce, red pepper flakes, black pepper, and a seasoning blend from Adam's Market that the Suter's had in their cupboard that seemed to be a cross between Abodo and Old Bay.

This was so much soup that even after taking it down to Occupy Poughkeepsie and feeding everyone on site, I still had half of it left. On the next day, Saturday, a big rally and march were planned and a lot of extra people were expected. I decided to take the leftover soup home, add to it, and bring it back for lunch.

The next morning, I put the soup back on the stove and added more carrots and celery. These are the veggies I had left. I added more water and more seasoning.

I took the soup back down a little before noon and started serving it up. It was a beautiful day and lots of people showed up to take part in the rally. Most of them were surprised to be offered a hot bowl of soup - but radical hospitality is as big a part of the message of the movement as any slogan on a sign. The only picture I got of the camp that morning is before people started showing up; after they arrived, I was busy playing improvised music with my friend Noah.

While I was talking to others who attended the march and the later General Assembly, I found other people who had been bringing food or who wanted to start bringing food. We decided to get together and coordinate our efforts so that we all wouldn't bring food on the same night and that every night the full-time occupiers would have a hot, nutritious home-cooked meal.

We call ourselves 'Occupy Poughkeepsie Moms & Dads' even though most of us are not parents of the full-time occupiers. We care about the goals of the movement and would rather support it by providing food and comfort than by sleeping in the park. Since we took this photo, the group has grown to 14 people and we've provided hot meals every night for 2 weeks. We've also taken on providing blankets and insulation, having a list of nurses on-call for medical questions, and are working on getting flu shots for any occupier who wants one.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Nourishing an Occupation 2: Sesame Noodles

Are you cooking for an Occupation? I'm looking for guest bloggers to write about their experiences of the Occupy movement and their food. Please contact me here (note: this link will take you to another website)

In this episode of Nourishing an Occupation, I show you how to feed 34 people a delicious, nutritious vegan meal for about $14. The occupiers at Occupy Poughkeepsie, along with visitors and hungry kids from the neighborhood all dug in and enjoyed these Sesame noodles.

With this dish, I started by making a sauce. In a large sauce pan, I heated a bit of oil and added several tablespoons each minced garlic and ginger. After about a minute, I added about 1.5 cup of smooth peanut butter, 1/2 cup of water, 1/3 cups of soy sauce, 1/4 cup vinegar and an extremely generous squirt of Sriracha sauce and sesame oil and stirred it well so it would melt. I tasted this and adjusted the ingredients, adding a bit more of this or that until I had a sauce that was nutty, a bit tart, a bit salty, and with a bite of heat. I let it warm and simmer on the stove.

I filled my largest soup pot 2/3 full with water to boil and cooked 3 lbs of linguini. Cooking that much pasta at once is tricky because if your pot isn't big enough it will stick together. If you don't have a giant pot, cook in 2 or 3 batches. As soon as the pasta was al dente, I drained it and immediately rinsed it well with cold water.

While the sauce was simmering and the pasta cooking, I chopped up a large napa cabbage, 3 sweet red peppers, and a bunch of arugula and put them raw, into a large foil serving dish. I chopped a bunch of green onions and put half of them in with the other veggies. I chopped up a bunch of cilantro and set that aside with the remaining green onions for a topping.

I cut up 2 lbs of firm tofu into small cubes and stirred them into the peanut sauce, then let the sauce cool a bit.

I put the pasta into the big foil dish with the vegetables, and using my clean hands, mixed everything together. Then I poured the cooled sauce over everything and mixed it through thoroughly. I topped the dish with chopped green onions, cilantro and a sprinkling of black sesame seeds.

This was a big hit with the occupiers and the neighborhood kids who stopped by the park couldn't get enough.

Nourishing an Occupation 1: Red Lentil and Brown Rice

Author's note: After several months of hiatus, I've been inspired to return to the Ministry of Soup, by a leading to help nurture and nourish the full-time occupiers of Occupy Poughkeepsie.

Are you cooking for an Occupation? I'm looking for guest bloggers to write about their experiences of the Occupy movement and their food. Please contact me here (note: this link will take you to another website)

Ever since the Occupy Wall Street movement took Zuccotti Park on Sept 17, I had been watching and reading and trying to understand the movement. As a life-long activist, I have been discouraged by apathy for a long time. To find a group of people so inspired by the justness of their cause as to be willing to sleep outside and risk arrest and police brutality captured my imagination. As October rolled around, the movement began to spread and I learned of a small group trying to get started in Poughkeepsie, near where I live. I made connection with the group through email, but something held me back from attending the first march on October 15. I think I was uneasy and needed to meet the people involved and get a feel for their commitment to non-violence before taking to the streets.

On Sunday, the 16th, I learned that Occupy Poughkeepsie did not intend to be just a simple march through downtown, but was set up as a full-time encampment. As I left my Quaker meeting after our monthly potluck, the weather was turning grey, damp and chilly. A message came through on my Blackberry. We're in the park, we need food and water. I knew immediately that it was time for the Ministry of Soup to spring into action.

Fortunately, I had just been shopping at Krishna Indian Grocery so I had a good supply of dried lentils, which cook faster than other legumes. I decided to make a modified red lentil dal to warm and nourish the folks in the park.

I started by chopping 2 large onions and 3 cloves of garlic. I heated some oil in my biggest soup pot and then sauted the onions and garlic. When they were translucent, I added 1 large can of whole tomatoes, which I broke up roughly with my cooking paddle, and a large can of diced tomatoes. I threw in about 1 lbs of red lentils and 2 cups of brown rice and added enough water to cover it all by a couple of inches. I cooked it over medium heat.

As the soup cooked, it thickened and I added more water to keep it at a nice consistency for a hearty soup. I seasoned it with garam masala, black pepper, salt, tumeric, and uwe plum vinegar.

While it was piping hot, I took the whole pot out to my car and drove it to Hulme park in Poughkeepsie. Since I didn't know what kind of supplies they had, I stopped at the store for bowls, spoons and supplemented the whole mess with a large bag of day old bagels and a giant jar of peanut better.

When I arrived at the park, I discovered that the occupiers had been subsisting on pizza for 2 days - not very nutritious or financially sustainable. Some were a little reluctant to try the strange soup at first, but after a couple of guys tried it and exclaimed that it was delicious, so even the 'picky eaters' were diving in.

I was received with graciousness and gratitude and stayed for the General Assembly where I found tremendous caring and earnestness. I came down to the park to fill and warm stomachs. I left with a warm heart.