Knox Backpack Program for hungry kids surges!

Retired? Not!

Well, one thing or another has delayed this post. Like announcing my Retirement to various clients and then immediately getting slammed with work by people who knew I was partly kidding. I like writing for hire. Always have, and presumably always will. But I’m still Retired. And getting work.

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Some short bits: beef cheeks

We now own a tagine (ta-ZHEEN), a cone-shaped stovetop cooker/steamer in wide use around the Mediterranean, especially North Africa. We’ll be cooking with it soon. The recipe that most intrigued me was for beef cheeks. These are, as you may gather, cheeks from cows. And I gather they’re extremely tender, because they’re muscles that are hardly ever used. The only use for cheek muscles is to enable you to smile. And the last time I checked, cows don’t smile. So it’s a completely unused muscle and must be soft and tender.

I don’t know if specialty meat markets carry beef cheeks, or can even get them, but a quick burst of Googling indicated they are available for gourmet cooks. Here’s one cheek:

beefcheekOne large Beef Cheek. (photo by Krista [scaredykat] from flickr, Creative Commons license)

Breaking News: I just checked with Curtis Custom Meats in Warren, and yes, they have beef cheeks!!

I do know, from experience, that pig cheeks are the creme de la creme at pig roasts, and that the cagey wise hungry eater will snatch them from the pig’s skull when no one’s looking (as I have done a couple of times). But beef cheeks? For me, it’s a little queasy-making. Maybe, as the recipe suggests, I’ll substitute well-marinated chunks of chuck roast or even pieces of beef tenderloin.

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Easy squash soup

About every gardener I’ve talked to agrees their veggie gardens this “summer” are stunted and pathetic, since from June till now has felt consistently like September. Even the cukes are struggling. But hold on, the summer squash and zucchini seem to love this kind of “summer,” doubling in size every 3 hours as is their wont, and you can’t even give them away because people in large parking lots wind their windows up to prevent these “random acts of kindness” like free squash tossed into their back seat. So: what to do?

My wife made soup from summer squash and zucchini yesterday, and it’s simple to make and delicious. Try this:

  • Cut up 5 or 6 or 8 medium sized squash.
  • Saute one diced onion in butter or olive oil till caramelized, and set aside
  • Peel and dice one potato (this will add some body to the soup)
  • Put the potato in 48 ozs. boiling chicken broth or stock for 4-5 minutes to soften, then add the squash slices and cook everything for another 2-3 minutes.
  • Ladle the squash-potato-broth into a blender, and add the sauteed onions. Blend till silky smooth, and pour into a large casserole or stockpot.
  • Heat gently, and add 2 tsps. of concentrated chicken bouillon (“Better than Bouillon” is good stuff), black pepper, a tbsp. or so of curry powder, and taste-test it, adding more concentrated bouillon or curry or pepper till you like it. Let’s face it, squash by itself is not exactly a carnival of eye-popping flavors, so it does need a big kick in the pants from your spice rack.

The bonus? the soup is much easier to give away than the squash itself.

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Update: Backpack program roaring toward its goal

Aug. 17: Now $25,000 in matching grants!

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The goal? Raise $45,000 to feed 200 hungry school kids in Rockland’s South Elementary and Middle Schools for the 2015-1016 school year — filling their backpacks every Friday with five weekend meals that they might otherwise miss. That’s about 180 meals for each child for $225, or a super-economical $1.25 per meal.

The $45,000 goal is now within reach, just in time for September’s school opening. Several large donations have come in, and now the program has two matching gift donors!

I’ve been in frequent touch with the brains and energy behind this program, Sherry Cobb (director of the Area Interfaith Outreach program and food pantry in Rockland), and she’s brought me up to date:

AIO reports that their wonderful matching grant donor called to say that a friend of his after hearing about the $10,000 matching grant, has offered to add another $5,000, making it a $15,000 matching grant. and he are now offering a total of $25,000 in matching grants! Their hope is to encourage smaller donors to add their 10, 25, or 50 dollars, knowing every gift counts double.

The only possible attitude about this has to be Optimism.  People are responding:

• This week a Tennessee couple here on vacation sent in a check to cover two backpacks.

• The collection milk jugs are filling and refilling on store counters, typically more than $50 in quarters, dimes and dollar bills.

• Gifts are large and small, but what matters to us is that the community is taking ownership of this.  People love children, everybody’s children. Once they know, they want to help.  At AIO we are smiling a lot.

• The first bags of food will be slipped into new backpacks very soon — on Thursday, September 3rd, because there’s no school on the first Friday.  Now we’re lining up teams of volunteers to form assembly lines for packing and drivers for hauling and delivering those bags to the two schools.  We’re almost there.

Sherry concludes: “That old phrase keeps running through my head: ‘Build it and they will come.’  People are being so generous that we’ve stopped worrying about the money. We don’t need to pay for the whole year the first day.   It will come.”

How did it come to this?

Well, I don’t know. Not really. But when all the statistics indicate that more than half of the kids in RSU 13 don’t get enough to eat over the weekends, you may have to go back to all the political and social dynamics over the last 30 years or so that fueled such appalling disparity in wealth distribution in this country. Not enough food comes from poverty, and poverty is a crushing, grinding force that affects everyone in the community.

As I’ve said before, the idea of hundreds of hungry kids in Knox County is morally unacceptable. One hungry kid is unacceptable. It’s up to us who don’t go hungry to close the gap and help a child grow up healthy and strong and safe.

There it is, for now.

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Ned White

About Ned White

Ned White is a writer, novelist, crossword puzzle constructor, humorist, traveler through 49 states, and at times a danger in the kitchen. He lives with his wife in South Thomaston.