Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Nourishing an Occupation 10: Occupy Thanksgiving!

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)

photo by Jeff Green
Thanksgiving 2011 was one of the most joyful days at Occupy Poughkeepsie so far and one of the most memorable Thanksgivings of my life. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I know the history of it is fraught with injustice and worse, but for me, what it has become is a day dedicated to gratitude. As Meister Eckhart said, If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, 'thank you,' that would suffice.”

Understanding that gratitude, a day of rest, and community outreach can all happen at the same time, the Occupy Poughkeepsie Moms & Dads got together to organize and host a community potluck and meal. We invited people by word of mouth, by making announcements at general assemblies and rallies, by posting it on the Occupy Poughkeepsie website and Facebook, and with a cardboard sign at the side of the road. As is the case in events like this, when the day arrived, we had no idea if anyone would come, if we'd have enough food, or if the weather would cooperate. At the end of the day, plenty of people came, we had more than enough food, and a beautiful sunny day.

When we arrived and started to set up, there was even a reporter there from YNN. He spent the day with us and enjoyed a plate of food. Click the picture below to watch his report:

As food arrived, we set it up on long tables. Volunteers, like Nikki & Russell (below), made sure that hot food stayed hot and cold food stayed cold by setting it up on wire frames with cans of sterno below.

We covered the tables with white paper and laid out crayons so that kids of all ages could decorate for us.

Lots of neighborhood kids joined us for dinner. After shooting hoops, their motto turned out to be 'Eat dessert first'. After they sampled the pies, some did actually try the mashed potatoes and I may have even seen one young boy try the green beans. We had enough food left over that some of the kids made up plates to take home to family members who weren't able to be in the park with us.

People brought turkey, Tofurkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied yams, collard greens, green bean casserole, mushroom salad, green salad, cranberry salad, lasagna, macaroni & cheese, oh my! Marina brought her signature rice & peas and a small friend.

And then there was dessert. I made pumpkin bread pudding. We also had pumpkin pie, apple pie, apple cake, homemade chocolates, crumb cake, cheese cake, blueberry crumble, and even the kids couldn't eat it all.

We sat on the bleachers next to the basketball court and enjoyed our meal together. Our conversation turned to gratitude and we discussed what we are grateful for in our personal lives. Many of us talked about the Occupy movement as a focus of gratitude and change. For me, it is a celebration of the death of apathy. Cars drove by just a few feet away. Many beeped and waved, a few shouted 'Get a job' and one yelled 'Happy Thanksgiving, Hippies' in a not-nice way. None of that put a damper on our spirits.

photo by Jeff Green
After we had eaten our main course, a group of about 8 of us assembled a large tray of food - turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, and pie - and walked down to the Poughkeepsie Police station. In gratitude that the relationship between police and occupiers has been very positive here in Poughkeepsie, unlike some other cities, and in solidarity with working people who are required to be on the job on holidays we shared our abundance with the police officers. One of the ways we aim to change society is to see one another as real people instead of as resources to exploit and to treat others as we'd like to be treated.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Nourishing an Occupation 9: the Quaker Bellydance Peace Team

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 will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before."
-- Leonard Bernstein

So far, in this blog, I've talked about nourishment only in terms of food - but it's not the only way to nourish. Our bodies and spirits need to be nourished in other ways as well. This post is about nourishment in the form of dance and music - in other words in beauty and joy.

Occupy Poughkeepsie held a big rally and march, 'the People's Day' on Nov 12, 2011. Often, what motivates people to get off their sofas and onto the street is anger. That is useful as a first step but it's not sustainable and ultimately it doesn't build the kind of movement or society that we want to live in all the time. Joy and beauty are much better long-term responses to injustice. In most rallies, you have a mixture of both. As an activist and organizer, I feel that we can be deliberate about fostering one energy or the other. I choose to promote beauty.

One way of doing that is through music and dance. I'm a drummer and I've seen that when one introduces rhythm into a gathering - if it is done well and is not so overpowering that no one can hear themselves think - something happens. If one observes carefully, you can see a subtle shift in body language even in people who appear to not be paying attention.

Direct action is about putting our bodies into the play of creating change in the world. That means being aware of our bodies and managing how they feel. In the face of threat or challenge, adrenaline floods our bloodstream and we experience a 'fight or flight' response that makes holding a discipline of non-violence more difficult. We ignore our bodies at our peril.

One way to help our bodies, minds, and spirits connect to our best intentions is through movement and dance. The Quaker Bellydance Peace Team is about doing that. My collaborator, dancer Donna Barret, and I are not a performance group. We are a participation group. Our goal is to invite others to play and dance with us and experience the movement of positive energy towards peace and justice.

On Saturday, Nov 12, we were scheduled right in the middle of a long lineup of speakers and performers. The overall tone was very positive and about building community and reinventing the institutions of our society as much as about tearing down the power structure of oppression. We began by inviting the crowd to join us in a moment of silence and then began slowly to drum and dance. As the tempo increase, Donna passed out some little tambourines and encouraged people to clap, shake, and dance. After a moment, a man sat down next to me with a saxophone and asked if he could join in.

He started to play, and right away, I heard a beautiful trumpet joining in from across the park. I searched with my eyes to find the source of the amazing trumpet counterpoint, and finally found a grey-haired man standing behind a cluster of people holding signs. In a moment, 2 clarinets, a trombone and a tuba joined in. As this spontaneous band improvised to an Egyptian rhythm, Donna encouraged more people to dance. Some members of a women's drum circle supported the rhythm on buckets and drums. Within minutes, the park was filled with dance and music

What amazed me the most, personally, is that Donna & I came with the intention of shifting angry, protest energy into defiant joy and ultimately, we weren't needed. The joy was already there and we simply added our small measure. We did, however, demonstrate that, contrary to popular belief, Quakers are not 'just like the Amish'.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Nourishing an Occupation 8: Guest Blogger Jill Ferguson & Occupy Columbia SC

Vonn's Note: Jill Ferguson has been cooking for Occupy Columbia in South Carolina. She has also compiled a series of recipes she prepared during the 2008 presidential election called Obama Campaign Cookery. She generously contributed her reflections and a recipe here for Cornish Pasties.

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)

Why I do this.
One of the Barrigan brothers (Dan or Philip) was asked why he poured blood on draft cards at Catonsville back in the '60s. His answer was, "My whole life." That fits my answer as well. From the peace and civil rights movements to 'Keeping Biafra Alive,' to feminism and many other causes, not least the 2008 Obama campaign, I've been active and have used my very limited talents and abilities to effect progressive change. After the 9/11/2001 attack, I sent cookies and care packages to the troops in the Middle East.

Cooking is something I enjoy doing. The Occupy movement is, in my view, this is the opening salvo of the Second American Revolution--or the First Global Revolution. Corporatism has replaced nationalism as the major threat to peace and human well-being; perhaps even existence. It's certainly a serious threat to democracy and an open society. In 1776, our forefathers rebelled against taxation without representation, calling it tyranny. Today, our representatives' loyalties can be purchased by the wealthy as campaigns become more expensive and the Supreme Court allows corporations to donate as persons. It's a challenge to every patriotic American.

As a senior citizen, I'm not able to spend a lot of time demonstrating. My involvement is demonstrated in my little kitchen.

The Occupiers thank me for my contributions. They are in all weather, staying outside and moving around. As a former Child Feeding Adviser for UNICEF, and also as a nurse and American Red Cross volunteer, I understand the need for calories under these circumstances. During the course of dropping off food and receiving schedules and other emails, as well as meeting other food providers, I've become a part of a group of supporters. Also, I'm trying to use what connections I've developed in this community (I've only lived here for 6 years) to help meet the Occupiers' needs.

One group of recipes I discovered online recently was for Cornish pasties (pass-tees). They were a favorite in the older generation of my family--my great-grandfather came from Cornwall, England and was a coal miner. Pasties are a tradition among miners, because they can be held in one hand and are a complete meal. I never ate one until I looked up the recipes. Here's one I used:

Cornish Pasties

A layer of rutabaga slices (I boiled them in beef bouillion)
A thicker layer of potato slices
A layer of diced steak or lean roast (or whatever meat one has)
A layer of sliced onions
A little gravy or meat sauce
Salt and pepper

A half pound (one cup) of lard
Four cups flour
1/4 cup of water (or maybe more)

Cut the flour and lard together and knead, adding salt and water as needed. Roll out the dough on a floured board and cut a circle the size of a dinner plate (or whatever other size you want--some use saucers). Put the filling on one side of the dough, leaving space at the edges. Brush the bottom edge with water, bring the sides together by folding over the empty side and crimp the edges. Brush the tops of the pasties with beaten egg or milk and be sure to cut openings in the tops with a knife to let juices escape. Bake in a 400 degree oven until browned, about a half hour.

For other recipes, use your online browser. There are a lot of them, as well as interesting stories about the tradition. Enjoy your pasties. One consumer wanted "dipping sauce," so maybe some gravy on the side would be good.

Thanks, Jill!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Nourishing an Occupation 7: Red Curry Pumpkin-Peanut 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 autumn, I find myself in the very happy situation of having an abundance of pumpkins.  Pumpkins are one of my favorite foods and are a wonderful medium for creative cooking.  They are not just for jack-o-lanterns or pie, but are a great basis for both savory and sweet dishes.

This Sunday, I looked at my pile of pumpkins and started a free improvisation soup composition.  The result: a savory Red Curry Pumpkin Peanut soup that was heartily enjoyed by guests from Occupy Wall Street and Vassar College at the Occupy Poughkeepsie encampment.

This soup is packed with protein, fiber, flavor, and thermal inertia.  You might be a nerd if you try to convince someone to try a bowl of soup based on its thermal inertia, but those are exactly the words I heard come out of my mouth, standing on the dark streets of Poughkeepsie.  By that, I meant it 'holds its heat', once warm, it stays warm for a long time and will keep your body warm too.

For this soup, I started with 2 pumpkins of 2 different varieties.  One 'Long Island Cheese' which is shown cut open above with the seeds mostly cleaned out, has a dull pale outer skin and a deep orange flesh.  When you cut into one, you'll get an aroma like a sweet melon.  These pumpkins are as big as the jack-o-lantern pumpkins that most people don't eat, but they have a much more flavorful and dense flesh. 

The other pumpkin was a smaller 'sugar' or 'pie' pumpkin.  It has a deep orange outer skin and pale, but sweet flesh on the inside.

After scooping out the seeds (I'll toast them later for snacking), I laid them face-down in backing dishes, put a little water in the bottom of each dish and roasted them in the oven at 375F.  I tested after about 45 min.  They are done when you can insert a fork into them easily.  The large one took about an hour to be done.  They smell really good while they're baking. When they were done, I set them on the counter to cool.

While the pumpkins were roasting, I soaked 6 oz dried bean thread (a/k/a cellophane) noodles in hot water and rinsed and soaked 10 dried shiitake mushrooms in a separate vessel of hot water.  Dried shiitakes are one of the best ways I've found to provide that richness of flavor called umami into vegan food.

I chopped 1 large onion and 3 large cloves of garlic and sauteed them in hot oil in my largest soup pot.  When they were translucent, I added a couple quarts of water. a couple cups of split red lentils (masoor dal) and a little salt and brought to boil. I cooked this at a rolling boil until lentils disintegrated.  I decided to add the lentils for 2 reasons: first, to add protein to make the soup more nutritious; second to give the soup a smooth, thick texture (and thermal inertia).  Red lentils are about the same color as pumpkin and fairly neutral in flavor so they did not interfere with the overall aesthetic that was developing.

When the lentils were nearly disintegrated and the pumpkin cool enough to handle, I scooped the flesh out of the pumpkin with a large spoon and plopped it into the soup.  The lentils and pumpkin simmered together for a moment while I went upstairs to borrow my landlady's immersion blender.  Being very careful, not to burn myself with molten pumpkin and lentils, I blended until the contents of the whole pot were nice and smooth.

I drained and chopped the softened bean thread noodles....

and shiitake mushrooms, and threw them into the pot.

I seasoned the soup with several Tbs of Thai Kitchn brand red curry paste, about 1/2 cup of smooth peanut butter, a dash of salty ume plum vinegar. a generous dash of soy sauce (I would have used fish sauce but I was making this soup be vegan), a splash of cider vinegar to brighten the flavor, a large dollop of tamarind concentrate and a squirt of Sriracha sauce for a bit of heat.  I was dismayed to find my fresh ginger had given up the ghost in the fridge, so I used some dried ginger, but fresh would have been much better.  As you might guess, this was not a precise process.  I rummaged through the flavors in my spices and condiments and added a bit of this and that, tasting as I went along.  This is the fun part!  I recommend you try it and don't worry too much about conforming to any standard.  Just balance salty, sour, sweet, umami, hot, and bitter and keep going until it makes your mouth happy.

The flavor was nicely balanced and the texture was almost there.  The broth was smooth and rich on the tongue.  The mushrooms were nicely chewy and the noodles were fun, but it needed a bit of crunch.  I had a purple kohlrabi in the fridge from the last CSA pick up of the year.  Kohlrabi is a member of the cabbage/turnip.  It has the texture of a very crisp apple and a flavor like very sweet brocolli.

I cut the kohlrabi into matchsticks and used them as a crunchy garnish with color contrast.

Who says occupation dining can't be elegant?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Nourishing an Occupation 6: Guest Blogger Alia Gee & #OWS

Vonn's Note: Alia and I connected through our blogs. She's been cooking for Occupy Wall Street from her home and delivering her food to Liberty Plaza. Below is her recipe for split pea soup with variations, along with an excerpt from her blog, Cooking Up Something Good.

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)

Alia: I'm very proud. I had made him a sign that said "Whose future? My future!" and he said, "No, Mommy, I have my own idea for a sign." There I am, oppressing my kid... So I told this story to my protest buddy just as the Gothamist photographer came by, and they took his picture and his awesome interview.
Friday I took down red lentils with star pasta and Snickers candy bars. (Er, in separate plastic bags.)

Chatted with Cheryl the Kitchen Lady and got the number for someone who is organizing comfort trips to greet protestors when they get out of jail. The poetry anthology at the park keeps getting stolen, so they’re asking people to email their poems to the guy organizing it. Crowded but good vibe, everyone seemed focused and determined and I saw at least one working group meeting. I always feel better when I see people sitting in a circle on the ground.

Someone needed help carrying boxes of apples and cider, three of us raised our hands but I was the only one who managed to keep up with the nervous donater. He looked around, scowling, “People aren’t volunteering as much as they did at the beginning,” he grumbled. I thought about it. When there are a handful of people, it’s easy to see how if something needs doing, You need to do it. When there are several hundred people, it’s easy to think Someone Else can do it.

My fix was to haul boxes out of the street to the police barrier, catch the eye of someone with empty hands, smile, and say, “I need you to take this box to the kitchen.” It looked like everything got where it was supposed to go, mostly, so I am satisfied with that.

Split pea soup

I love split pea soup, and I love that this recipe is both vegan and a complete protein. My friends and I meet up on Friday nights to cook together for the local Occupation.

2 big onions (or, enough to completely cover the bottom of the biggest pot you have)
Olive oil (more than 2 Tbsp… enough that you can cover all the onions at the bottom of the pot with a thin coat after you’ve stirred it)

Cook over low heat while you scan the contents of your vegetable drawer.
Finely chop up a small bulb of garlic and add it if you have it, don’t stress if you don’t.
Consider your drawer, and add (if you have it) chopped mushrooms and/or sweet peppers and/or celery.

Cook over low-medium heat, stirring at least every 5 minutes so that nothing sticks to the bottom. Add more olive oil if you think it needs it. The occupiers do not care about cholesterol. It’s very freeing.

When the onions are translucent and the mushrooms are small and brown and squishy and the peppers have done whatever it is that peppers do… add a lot of dried split peas and double the amount of liquid. (Water works, or vegetable stock if you have some you like. If you use enough onions you don’t need the stock for flavor. When it’s on sale/I’m feeling fancy, I’ve been known to use apple cider.) Stir. 

Add some barley. I usually do 2 parts peas to 1 part barley, but the soup police will not arrest you if you differ from that ratio.

Chop and add any root vegetables you have—carrots, parsnips, maybe even potatoes. Add them, and turn the heat up so it might eventually get to a rolling boil before you go to bed.
I like my peas properly dissolved, which usually means cooking them for at least three hours. What I’ve been doing for the Occupation is cooking things for an hour or two, then turning the heat off and going to bed. In the morning I turn the pot back on again, but time has worked its magic and the peas usually dissolve pretty quickly into the mush that I like. If it’s too runny at this point to safely decant into gallon Ziploc bags, I add more barley because it only takes half an hour to cook and sucks up liquid pretty well.

If you have room in your pot and want to make room in your pantry, adding 2 cans of sweet corn and/or 2 cans of diced tomatoes will add fiber and color. Yea, color!


Substitute red lentils for green split peas. They cook more quickly than the peas, which is convenient, and they look less like mushroom vomit than regular lentils. Win! The other day when I made them, I substituted star-shaped pasta for the barley so it was adorable as well as delicious.

The above is also how I make squash risotto—start with olive oil and onions and whatever I have in the veg drawer, add rice and liquid and 4 boxes of frozen squash. Stir. (If I have fresh or frozen spinach and nothing else to do with it, I’ll throw that in half way through.)

At the end the rice should be a little too damp, and then I add lots and lots of cheese. And then it is super delicious and thick but alas, not vegan.

Oh well, what a shame. More for meeee…


Thanks Alia!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Nourishing an Occupation 5: Pumpkin Bread Pudding

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)

Occupy Poughkeepsie Encampment 11/3/11
This week, I only cooked for Occupy Poughkeepsie one time, because other people in our 'Moms & Dad's' group shared cooking duties and covered other nights. This week, I prepared and served a vegan split pea soup that I wrote about in an earlier blog post and a pumpkin bread pudding that turned out so delicious and smelled so good that it seemed to disappear almost as soon as it appeared.

I decided to make a bread pudding because there was a large quantity of donated bread at the encampment and I wanted to make something that would use it up before it spoiled. Since the bread already wasn't vegan and I didn't know how to make a vegan bread pudding (though I'm sure it can be done), I made this dish vegetarian, but it does contain egg and dairy.

I started by taking 2 loaves of bread, one white and one wheat and tearing them into rough pieces into a large baking dish. I scattered a handful of raisins over the bread and fluffed and mixed everything together with my hands.

A few weeks ago, I roasted a large 'Long Island Cheese' variety pumpkin in the oven, scooped out the flesh and mashed it. This I froze in containers for future uses like this dish. In a large mixing bowl, I put 4 cups of pureed pumpkin. I added 8 small eggs. I get my eggs from a farmers market and this particular batch of eggs were small. If you have regular large eggs, I'd say use 6. I added 1/3 cup dark brown sugar, 1/3 cup granulated sugar, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1 tsp nutmeg, 2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp salt and about 1.5 cups of half and half and beat this together until smooth.

I poured the pumpkin/egg mixture over the bread and gently mixed it in until every piece of bread was sopping in pumpkin goodness.

The whole pan went into the oven at 375F. I wasn't sure how long to cook it, so I checked on it every so often. After about an hour, I judged it was done because a knife inserted into the center came out clean. The smell was beyond heavenly.

After removing it from the oven, I covered the top with aluminum foil, wrapped the whole dish in a blanket, and drove it directly to Occupy Poughkeepsie in Hulme Park. When I arrived at the park, I opened the hatch of my car and the aroma immediately attracted a trio of Occupiers to help carry the food down to the camp. It was a cold night and even though the soup was also popular, most people there, including me, ate dessert first - and who can blame us?