Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thursday: 'What Child is this' or the pets of Nickelsville

2 days before Christmas: James and I cooked LAZANKI today: a Polish comfort stew of cabbage and sour kraut and tomato and sausage mixed with noodles.  James is a pro - graduate of culinary school and on-call cook at one of the Seattle restaurants (nobody goes eating out much nowadays), now waiting for Alaska fishing assignment - so with his expert help it turned out pretty good.

Before cooking I run around the fire station grounds to capture on my camera the pets of Nickelsville.  Most of them are rescue pets:  abandoned, left or uncared-for by previous owners, and now adopted and loved by Nickelsville residents.  Here they come, ENJOY:

Spike.  He was left to be dog-sited.  His owners never chimed in to claim  him.  Andrea and Jeremy are caring for him
Miss Priss

Pagee Via
Little Bit - male
Cat 'Onyx'
Tiger-kitty-cat "Blue'

Honey Bear

Sleeping 'Smokey'

And now, my favorite Christmas carol for you:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tuesday: West African peanut soup again - with elbow noodles

Yesterday Richard helped me to chop veggies, and clean during and afterwords cooking.  We made a good soup, I think - not too spicy, just enough and overall healthy with all the veggies we put in it.  I was floored as to how everybody is concerned about things being clean in Nickelsville:  Richard was interrupting himself many times during chopping to just clean the area he was chopping on and the floor under our feet, covered with carrot peels and other refuse.  Also, I kept putting stuff into the sink, meaning to wash them after the soup was done, but no need - several times people who went through the kitchen while we were cooking did just that: stopped by the sink, and washed what was in it, then kept going...

When I arrived Mike was just in the middle of cooking chicken and dumpling soup: we smiled at each other, because he and I crossed our paths before, but none of us could remember when and how.  He was very serrious about his soup and obviously had experience regarding what he was doing:  managing to season the pot while adding dumplings made out of scratch (!),  and watching the buns in the oven.  I asked where he learned all of that and he said that the soup is his German grandmother recipe, and the buns from 4 years of working in bakery...

I have to say that I was truly inspired with everybody's politeness and good manners of  Nickelsville people: after an hour of fighting over the stove burner (Mike was there earlier and kept his access to the front burner), taking the chopped veggies across the kitchen to the pot, while many people traveled through the kitchen to who knows where, I grew a bit testy not used to such conditions. In the same time everybody around me was just serene and helpful to each other:  Mike was having trouble with turning the buns in somewhat malfunctioning oven: on the spot TWO people materialized to help him with that hot task, and after they closed the oven with now saved buns  they went away on their way; I was looking at the garlic bulb wondering how to proceed when Jeremy showed up with a garlic presser and peeled the cloves before disappearing.  Amazing harmony of the place.

Cody Bebe and the Crooks
Richard told me they a music band visiting them the day before at 5:00 PM: seven musicians performing  on guitars, drums and tambourins - a very welcome event that cheered the residents, who gathered in the garage to watch them playing selections of different music and different traditions:  jazz, blues and holidays.  Richard told me it was a really great event and also told me the name of the band -  I had meant to write it down, but forgot before leaving- will amend on the next visit, hopefully.  Thank you musicians!

12/24:  The musicians were Cody Bebe and the Crooks.  Click and enjoy!

Next time I'll take my camera and photograph Nickelsville's  numerous adorable pets for your holiday viewing pleasure.  Stay put till then,  and please read the previous post regarding what is needed in Nickelsville NOW.

Friday, December 17, 2010

What's needed: THE LIST

• CASH to pay for telephone, garbage and (over-due) porta-potty bills; if you want to mail your (tax-deductible) donation, use this address:
NickelsvilleP.O Box 2548
• DISPOSABLE PLATES, CUPS AND FORKS/SPOONS (the facility not equipped to wash after 100 people); also ladles, spatulas, serving utensils
• TOWELS (people are very frugal with them and have a serious shortage)
• FOOD, including ready made or hot dinner for 50 peeps+... There is a website for volunteering to prepare a meal, but I can't get it loaded... You can just show up and donate, though
• UTILITY FOLDING TABLES - for the common dining area in the garage and for the kitchen prep
• CHAIRS:  any chairs - lawn chairs, foldable chairs, armchairs
• MED SUPPLIES:  especially Visine, Aspirin, cold and cough products, first aid
• PET FOOD AND CAT LITTER - the adorable animals and their friends will love you for that
• GARBAGE BAGS, especially the big, durable black ones
• PAPER PRODUCTS:  toilet paper, paper towels and napkins
•  WORK, WORK, WORK:  the residents will do small and big jobs, paid or volunteer (one of the requirements of staying in Nickelsville is community work, which each resident must perform at least once a week), so consider asking them to walk your dog, clean your yard, help with snow or other chores like cleaning windows or parking lot (businesses around).

I hope I covered it all.  But use your imagination, too: whatever you'd need to survive, sans home and family...

Nickelsville is presently located at the Lake City Way old fire station at 
2806 N.E. 127th Street (bus 41 and 72). Tel. (206) 450-5268.

Last night I stopped by, to get more info on Nickelsville needs, and thought separate WHAT'S NEEDED post might be easier to find, than correcting the previous post.  While there I attended the open-to-public first part of the meeting and then just stayed to hang out and socialize.  I highly recommend doing that, if you want to find out more about Nickelsville and perhaps individual needs of the residents - perhaps you have or know where to find some items which would make their life easier.  The meeting starts everyday at 6 PM, and you are welcome to participate in the 'external issues' part of it; you will be asked to leave the room when 'internal issues' are discussed (you can spend that time chatting with the entrance guards) and you can re-join the social/dinner fun after the meeting.

Yesterday I met Jeremy's wife, Andrea, who is a student at PIMA Medical Institute, studying to become a veterinarian; we talked about lots of homework she has to do every day, her joy of fulfilling her since-childhood dream of becoming a vet (she will be ready in a year), her love of animals and some other, unrelated chit-chatty stuff.  Before we parted I asked if there is anything she has trouble to secure for her pursuits; and she listed college ruled paper, pencils and pens, colored pencils and folders for her different class projects.   Easy: on the way home I stopped at the drugstore and felt like a kid at Christmas finding the items and being able in a small way to participate in Andrea's big dream.  On Monday she will get it with a bow attached.

I chatted with old-time resident Richard, the camp's oral chronicle keeper, and at some point he said: 'Another way to help is if you figure out something about helping the children; every 3 weeks or so somebody checks-in with a kid or a baby.  They usually end up in a shelter, but maybe there is a better place for them to go, maybe someone has a warm space for them to heal and get through, so they don't have deal with institutions for a while'.  Something to ponder...

So please go and visit;  some of the needed items you may have lying around your house: unused materials from by-gone projects like crocheting or scrap-books, games or books somebody may enjoy, or perhaps you are the same size as the person who needs a sweater or jacket and you would like to share in a personalized way.  There are also inexpensive ways to help from the right size of a dog leash to warm socks to a stylish winter hat or gloves; gift certificates for a haircut, or a meal, or grocery store would probably also be well received - so just find out.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Went to the new Nickelsville place, finally.

Nickelsville is now housed in the old fire station in Lake City way, a few streets away off the main traffic; the building was recently used for a food bank, so has a small kitchen, a few sinks and a few bathrooms - definitely improvement from living in the tents on the parking lot of the busy intersection...

The entrance gate is now stationed indoor, and so are most of the residents - they have their mattresses  on the floor along the walls in several big rooms.  The kitchen is fully functioning and cupboards neatly stashed with donations which previously were kept in the food tent.  The are pots and pans, although i have not seen one big enough to cook soup for 60-70 people.

Jeremy, the food manager, was kind to show me around: the rooms, the kitchen, the quiet/reading room where no noise is allowed and a few armchairs allow people to escape the natural noise of a place that houses around 100 residents.  One room is designated for people with pets: a happy dog or cat on every bed:),  there is also a closet room, with shelves for storage, and off the kitchen is a room where TV is stationed; that room also serves as dinner-serving buffet. The big garage houses some beds, but mainly serves as family/meeting room, where every day meeting take places and also after dinner chat or a game of cards or domino...  Jeremy also showed me outside, where some residents choose to stay in their tents - mainly long-term residents and couples, who value their privacy over the warmth of the indoors.  As Jeremy pointed out they always can go inside and as a matter of fact did a few weeks ago, due to snow and cold.

As always, Nickelsville is extremely well organized, and now it shows even more, as various notices (free health clinics addresses, etc.)  are displayed on the walls by the entrance, where everybody can see them well  for use, and various item previously stored in crates and tents now actually found their place on shelves and in cupboards.

Generally the new Nickelsville has a happy feeling - with major stresses of being out in the cold and noise gone, the residents concentrate on building their new community: organizing communal eating area, scheduling meal cooking and just having life.  Stopping by feels like stopping by any old friends who just got new and better digs and happily go about making themselves home.  Jeremy told me that the neighbors treat them well which adds to feeling welcome, for sure.

I asked about current needs to write to world and you - the reader - about; this is a partial list, as I didn't make notes - but today I'll ask for help with correcting it:

•   CASH (tax deductible, you will get a receipt) donations are always welcome, to pay the bills (telephone, garbage and Nickelsvile is behind with payments for porta-potties in the previous place).  Will try to figure out mailing address, if someone prefers that.

•  DISPOSABLE PLATES, CUPS & UTENSILS - the facility is not able to support washing after that many people.

•  As always: BLANKETS, WARM CLOTHES, FOOD, especially fresh produce and perishables which now they are able to store properly in refrigerators and freezers (hey, next time you see '2 for the price of one chicken' grab the second one for our friends - they'll appreciate you remembering.

• And BOOKS, MAGAZINES, GAMES and anything for the mind.

•  WORK, WORK, WORK:  the residents will do small and big jobs, paid or volunteer (one of the requirements of staying in Nickelsville is community work, which each resident must perform at least once a week).

If you would like to volunteer for Nickelsville, let them know, too; will find out tonight what the needs are for now only know, that if you would like to volunteer with dinner prep, it'd be appreciated: don't just walk in, though - they keep a schedule at the entrance, so no 2 organizations or people show up the same evening, while leaving them empty on others.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Doc Gurley: Be selfish, give a gift to a homeless person

This is from San Francisco Gate, written by a physician:

What To Give:
1) Earning power is primo. One of the best possible presents is something that helps a homeless person earn some cash. Consider buying a harmonica, recorder, or sheet music for the a cappella singer who starts to sound hoarse by the end of rush hour. If your neighborhood, like one in Berkeley, has a street person who paints tiny abstracts on rocks to earn some bucks, a set of acrylics or a handful of Sharpies could be a life-saver. Finally, anyone who's ever had to dumpster-dive knows the value of some study work gloves, or a pair of fingerless mitts. But what if you don't know someone's talents? Never fear. You can still spontaneously give any homeless person a great present. Consider some of these types of gifts -
2) Hats, scarves and gloves. Any of these are heart-warming (literally) gifts, especially this time of year. Prices range anywhere from $9.99 or $4.99 for men's items at Target and Longs, to all of $1 at the (of course) Dollar General Store. Homeless people try to blend, because the streets are not a good place to attract attention. For that reason, choose gender neutral colors that won't show wear and tear so fast (navy, brown, black). And if you're giving any clothing item, it's nice to leave the tag in place. Lots of homeless people have gotten unfortunate cases of lice and scabies from accepting used articles, so it's reassuring to know, if you're the recipient, that what you're getting is new. Coats are really nice, but hard to hand out discreetly, and expensive to buy in quantity - but if you can provide them, go for it! Another lovely present is a pair of sweatpants. Sweatpants are both gender and size neutral. Buy men's large in dark colors, regardless of who you're gifting ($19.99 Target and other stores).
3) Rain gear. When considering a present for your typical street person, keep in mind the requirement that everything must be carried on your person at all times. For that reason, umbrellas are not often used on the street. Umbrellas, in general, are both too heavy and flimsy. However, the ultra-useful rain poncho ($3 and up at various stores) is both cheaper, and better as a gift.
4) Bags. Carrying everything you own is not easy, especially when almost all of it is packed in hand-creasing, thin white plastic bags. This year, due to the widespread interest in saving the environment through re-use, there's a fine selection of collapsible, sturdy bags at truly affordable prices. These make great gifts for the homeless. Almost every store has a branded reusable shopping bag for around $1 (Longs, Target, Trader Joe's) but my favorite is the Ikea large blue bag - it has a  set of wide, durable shoulder straps (key for carrying heavy items), plus a second, hand-length set of straps, is only $0.59, and it's made of the same weather-resistant material as blue tarp, which means it can also be used as an impromptu pup-tent if necessary.
Read more:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

New Place for Nickelsville

The last time I went to Nickelsville was Thursday, November 11th, right before the scheduled move on Sunday, November 14th.  The soup was what I call an 'emergency soup' and Daniel helped me again in the Lutheran Church kitchen.  I usually carry in my car a huge can (8 lbs) of sauerkraut (great Vitamin C source), for days Nickelsville has not much to offer in donation - potatoes, carrot and sauerkraut make a wonderfully filling and spicy winter soup, especially if enriched with sausage, as was my luck at that day.

The soup happened to be an addition to a full meal served by the volunteers from the 'Floors Association', if I understood correctly what the woman on the food line told me about who they were:  they had spaghetti,  some meat and noodles concoction and other great belly-filling stuff. Everybody in the camp seemed very happy about the great supper.

Jeremy, the food manager told me that they'll eat the soup as well, as they are not in the habit of refusing food; they are often short of it. He also told me that he cannot tell me where they are moving, as they do not want cameras and journalist face them in the new place... If I leave my name and telephone number he would notify me about Nickelsville new whereabouts.

Then a friend emailed me: 'Nickelsville -did you read?' About an article in Seattle Times:

Nickelsville's homeless pack up for move to North Seattle

Even as they packed up their belongings on Sunday and prepared for a Monday move, most of the 75 or so residents of Nickelsville did not know exactly where in North Seattle they were moving to, believed to be a swath of city-owned property with a building on-site for indoor access.  More here...

Oh, ok, they made it safely then...  A day later the same friend emailed: 'They are here now':

Nickelsville tent city moving to old Lake City fire station

Nickelsville relocated from the University District on Monday to a former Lake City fire station, owned by the city of Seattle. More here...

Snowy Thanksgiving came and went. I'm glad Nickelsville residents  have a roof over their head now. Last week was no fun around here:  watch this video...

new link from my friend, who watches Nickelsville developments:

Sodo site selected for homeless is found to be contaminated

The Sodo property selected for a homeless encampment is being placed on a state list of contaminated sites because of petroleum byproducts and a toxic cleaning solvent in the groundwater.  More here...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Asian Chicken Rice Soup and Daniel again

11/ 9/10: welcome with flowers 
'Hello, Soup Lady, can you move your car?  Somebody wants to pass through'.  I parked in the alley by the gate to Nickelsville, but instead of usual quick going through the kitchen tent in search of soup ingredients and departing with a volunteer to the Lutheran Church kitchen,  I got drawn into discussions about the camp soon leaving the U-district parking lot.

Everybody seems nervous about it, as it is unclear where will they go - the only known factor is the date of leave, this coming Sunday, November 14th, but no place to go.  You can see all around the camp efforts to organize for packing, and joy from probably soon having permanent space, as promised by the city mayor's office, but the people spirits a bit dampened by the immediate uncertainty of their future.

Kitchen tent at Nickelsville 11/8/10
Daniel was standing close to the gate, so I asked him if he wants to help again, and he graciously agreed.
This time we actually 'know' each other, as we are past the first careful encounters of strangers, and Danny lets me see his playful side:  he cracks jokes about being ready 'to pack and depart in 24 hrs', should the Alaska fishing company call him before his scheduled for January 20 assignment.  'Sometimes somebody has to get off the boat, so they call somebody else to work, and the ship is not gonna wait for me'.

He makes jokes about his family 'eaten by greed', his previous jobs as cabinet maker and tells me he used to build websites.  And where did he learn html code?  'I can read', he quipped, 'books and internet, that's where'; it made me laugh, because it's so true - most of the things we learn nowadays is because we learned to read once.

It's obvious that Daniel misses sunny Florida, and the rain in Seattle  is not making his waiting for job easy, but that, too, he dismisses with laughter; he is tough and 'at 37 I'm not very, very young, but still have enough time to do what I need to do'... While chopping he says he really likes chili:  'I bet you never had chili made with the hearts of palm' - surely sounds exotic, and something tells me it's the 'palm' part, and not the chili what makes Daniel sound nostalgic.

This kitty will be moving soon, too...
Took photo of a young cat in the camp today - very playful and hard to photograph as he moved fast, looking at me from different angles and suddenly changing position or climbing the chair's back.  A group of people sitting on the chairs were amusing themselves watching the tricky kitty.

Decided to peak at the Nickelsville container garden and see how it's doing in the rain - still quite well.  While at it, noticed a washroom in front of the porta-potties: a very clever fixture with two stations for washing hands, built-in containers for soap and hand towels and even a mirror attached on top.

'Washroom' at Nickelsville, complete with a mirror
About the soup:  it's the traditional chicken rice soup, made the same way your grandma probably made it, by cooking chicken with herbs (we had fresh lovage, bay leaf and winter savory) and onion, then throwing the rice in and cooking some more.  We additionally chopped in what we had: potatoes, cabbage, carrots, peppers and collard greens.

What made it 'Asian' was the seasoning:  several star anise pods and lots of fresh ginger root pieces while cooking chicken, splash of sesame oil and soy sauce on the end + fresh cilantro and the 'kick', of course: Thai hot sriracha chili sauce, after we turned the burner off -  just to infuse the soup with their flavors, but not really cook it.

For the soup to be a hit in Nickelsville - I learned - it has to be thick, substantial and have a 'character', or a kick.  Daniel and I spend considerable time tasting and trying to give it just the right amount of spice: more sriracha, what do you think?  'maybe just a hint more, it's a bit bland the way it is, and believe me, we see enough bland everyday'.

Here a few links, about Nickelsville current moving situation from Seattle Times:
•  Homeless campers pleased at Seattle's plans but need a place now
Seattle mayor McGinn, citizens panel want homeless camps
Embrace the opportunity for partnership with Nickelsville

“But I, being poor, have only my dreams. I have spread my dreams under your feet; tread softly, because you tread on my dreams.”
- William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Thursday: Tony and Nepalese Sambar Soup

Another stolen from the restaurant recipe: had it years ago in Annapurna Cafe on Broadway and asked what makes it: oh, special types of lentils, sambar curry powder, vegetables (their had pieces of okra).   I hunted Toor dal (yellow lentils) somewhere on the internet, bought 4 lbs of it, only to find out later that I actually prefer sambar  made out of ordinary brown lentils mixed with red lentils; it's somehow lighter that way.  The remaining 2+ lbs of Toor dal were not good food bank donation candidates, because they require overnight soaking and the label had no cooking instructions, so they sat in my cupboard like a giant pang of conscience. Now I found a way to erase it.

I soaked and pre-cooked the whole lot the night/day before with an added extra pound of regular lentils, packed it into a big container and took it to Nickelsville on Thursday.  Richard was already waiting for me at the gate and after we exchanged greetings, he set out to look for the soup bucket .

Nickelsville container garden:  corn, herbs and more...
One thing that changed in Nickelsville from the previous time they were in U-district, is that they seem very much improved organizationally.  During my previous 5 months visiting, a  big chunk of my time was spent hunting the bucket, trying to find people to volunteer with me, find fresh food to cook with, and basically organizing the whole experience each time anew.  Back then the tent city was just starting and perhaps people didn't quite know what to expect, what is given, and what's iffy - several times I had to find various camp authorities to solve small problems, as only they seemed to know what the full set of rules were.

This time it works like a Swiss watch:  Jeremy, the food manager, is always there to help gather donated food, people seem to be aware that I'm 'the soup lady' coming twice a week, they are quite eager to take turns to volunteer in the kitchen and generally appear to have settled in their sense of community of which I'm a guest to be helped.  This year they even grew container garden, in pots and coffee cans, and moved it with them when they came back to U-district in August:  corn, tomatoes, herbs, peppers and more.  I caught a few glimpses of their evening meetings while delivering soup (the meeting is everyday at 6 pm), and even those sound awfully professional nowadays:  "those in favor say aye, those opposed say no', except I never saw such a group enthusiasm while shouting 'aye' - I don't know what they were voting for, but their joyous participation  was unparalleled to any suited people I ever heard voting.

A young man volunteered to cook with me; he told me his Laotian name, but said he prefers to go by Tony.  Tony is very gentle mannered and soft-spoken, he carried most of the bags to the gate, and there is a general sense of  appreciating everything in life about him.  He told me he moved to US with his parents when he was 8 yo, 'my parents didn't like it there, in Laos, too much fighting'.  Tony speaks with a strong accent, which indicates that he spent most of his speech-formative years talking his primary language, and not English (human speech apparatus gets 'set in stone' around the age of 14, which is why children who switch countries/languages before that age usually have no accents in their second language).

Tony said he didn't finish high school, 'I was thrown out for no good reason'; like for what? I asked...  'This other boy didn't like me, and I didn't like him, too. He was a snitch.  He was thrown out first, and he wanted me out, too,  so he snitched.  Everybody was doing what I was doing, but I was the one out'.  Tony's parents live on Beacon Hill, he also has 'two sisters who don't care about me, and two brothers, they are OK, but we don't talk much'. When it's cold he goes home and stays with his parents, he doesn't like it cold, but Nickelsville allows him to keep his tent for his returns.  And why is he residing in Nickelsville? "I thought I might try camping'.

We are in the church kitchen now, starting to prep veggies: sorting, scrubbing, asparagus must go - too slimy already. I hand Tony a vegetable peeler and ask him to do potatoes:  it doesn't go too well, as he obviously never used a peeler before.  Can I show you? While showing how to peel I realize Tony uses different motions - peels away from himself while I peel toward me - perhaps the darned thing works only one way?  If you prefer, I can peel and you can cut.  'No, no, let me try again...  Got it now'...

Tony likes the church, he looked at its corridors earlier and wondered where the altar is, asked me if I'm a member here, and what kind of church it is...  Both of us have accented English, so sometimes we misunderstand each other:  'did you say Muslim Church?'  No, no, Lutheran church, and no, I'm not a member, the church people are just very kind to let us use the kitchen....  'So very nice of them', smiles Tony.

He talks about DVR people helping him, 'and they are good to me, I need help.  It's about getting a job, getting GDR diploma... They also helped me to get alcohol treatment'.  He goes three times a week, Monday through Wednesday, for vocational and related counseling.  Sounds like you were lost for a while, Tony.  He looked at me, smiled and  said:  "Yes, I was. But now I'm in good hands, those people are helping me, and that is good'....

We chop in silence for a while: he is cutting up cabbage, I work on peppers.... 'You know, I never went back to Laos, since coming here'.  Would you like to? 'Yes, some day I would like to go back and see it, again'.   I asked for Tony's approval to reveal all those details on the blog and he said 'it's ok, you can write about it all', and I promised to print this page and give it to him in return.

One of the adorable puppies in Nickelsville
There is another change in Nickelsville: previously they were a few cats and puppies in the camp, and always a worry how to feed them; the pet food donations didn't seem regular.  Now there are about 6 or 7 cutest puppies, all leashed and very well cared for:  they have toys, lots of attention and caring and somebody told me that one local church supplies pet-chow regularly now.

When I was taking pics of the container garden a young man said 'hi', a very content black cat with a shiny fur on his shoulder.  The cat looked like this was the most comfortable place on earth for him; it looked grown up, but in fact was only 8 months old - probably spent most of its life exactly where I saw him - on the young man's shoulder.

Ah, and the sambar soup; I usually follow directions on the Sambar powder packet x whatever the amount of soup you want:
1.) Cook 500g of vegetables of your choice (mine MUST have okra, got it frozen for Nickelsville).  Keep aside.
We cooked the veggies with a few cups of rice, for extra nutritional value - real Sambar doesn't contain rice, but it's eaten with rice in Asian countries, where Sambar is not considered a soup but rather a thick, stew-like spicy condiment.
2.) Cook 75g of Toor dal in 1 ltr of water with 1 tsp vegetable oil and pinch of turmeric
3.) Add cooked vegetables, tamarind juice and salt to taste (I use chicken bouillon base for all Nickelsville soup cooking)
4.) Add 3-4 tsp of Sambar Powder.  Boil for 8-10 minutes (I don't follow that step, as I prefer to have veggies not cooked to death; heating it up a bit is usually sufficient)

When Tony and I were gathering the Sambar soup ingredients a few people volunteered to tell  how the West African Peanut soup went:  'That was so good on a rainy day..'' 'Man, that was great, and it cleaned you, totally' (it was fairly spicy hot), 'It went fast on a rainy Monday night, and we ate it all...'

Where the Weapons of Mass Destruction Are? I know where weapons of mass destruction are... Joblessness is a weapon of mass destruction. Poverty is a weapon of mass destruction. Homelessness is a weapon of mass destruction. Poor health care is a weapon of mass destruction. And when the government lies to the American people, that is a weapon of mass destruction.' - Dennis Kucinich

Monday, November 1, 2010

Monday: Daniel & West African Peanut Soup

I had that soup in a restaurant many years ago, and told the waitress I'm not leaving without the recipe, my all time favorite since.  Nickelsville has lots of donated peanut butter but, frankly, mentioning anything with peanut butter has not a good effect on people there, they are simply peanut-butter-and-jellied-out by now. I remember from last time I cooked for Nickelsville that they were quite resistant to the idea, and why should I cook something they wouldn't eat.

But finally the day came when nothing else was available, but a lonely cabbage and a few potatoes, one pepper and lots of peanut butter jars.  It must have been the combination of mellow taste of peanuts with acidy tomatoes plus a healthy kick of Sriracha hot chili sauce that won them over - they loved it, and we cooked it often.

It's also a very forgiving recipe - as long you have the basics mentioned above the rest is really up to you.  Normally i don't put any rice or noodles in it, but considering that I wanted it extremely hearty tonight I asked Daniel, who volunteered to help me cook, what does he think would be better.

'Noodles, definitely, we are kind of riced-out'.  Peanuted-out and riced-out, OK, better follow the advice - we packed a few boxes of elbow and penne pasta, several cans of tomatoes in juice, a jar of each creamy and crunchy peanut butter, all the fresh veggies we could find and off we went, to the Lutheran Church kitchen.

While chopping onions and carrots  Daniel told me he was raised in a small farming community in Maryland; he obviously knew his veggies, mentioned his uncle growing  bok choy for living and taking it to a local farmer's market.  We threw carrots and onion into a pot of water and let it cook with a half of a bag of left over lentils while Daniel and I went for more chopping: zucchinis, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens and broccoli.  Daniel was talking about eating real, made from scratch  food in childhood, because stopping for processed food at McDonald or Burger King was simply not an option; they weren't any around.

While i was throwing pasta into the pot (the package said it needs 11 minutes to cook), Daniel was opening cilantro and chipotle bouillon cubes  and telling me how his family moved to Florida some 13 years ago, and how much he loved it there: the sunny, balmy weather, the blue waters, all the fishing and  beaching.  There was not much work there, so he supported himself mainly cutting lawns and through commercial fishing.  The water is bubbling again, so all the veggies went in, save for broccoli (needs not to be overcooked).

Now Daniel is chopping finishing touches:  fresh green and red pepper and cilantro, while i started to open tomato cans.  Then we switched: Daniel is opening the cans, while I add chicken bouillon (at home I use veggie bouillon),  and a jar and a half of peanut butter, then chopped pepper and all the tomatoes. We threw in a couple of cans of green been for a good measure (fresh beans are fine, too). Cillantro on the end.

The soup is almost ready.  We let it simmer while Dan tells me what brought him to Washington State: he would like to work as a commercial fisherman in Alaska, but no amount of faxing information on the topic is going to make up for showing up in person with the fishing companies. So in mid-August Daniel flies in to Seattle, leaving behind his comfy home, couch and TV, only to find out the next assignment is in...  January.  Ouch!  Waiting for January in shelters, now in Nickelsville.

Daniel is getting nervous now: at 6 Pm there is a camp meeting he has to attend. The camp has rules. It's getting very close.  On the way back he tries to memorize my name and other details to report on why he is late:  I was with Miss Aleks, cooking West African Peanut Soup in Lutheran Church for Nickelsville dinner.  He placed the soup bucket in the tent- kitchen and disappeared. I put the soup cups and spoons next to it. Some people smiled at me, but most were looking at the meeting's speaker. I left at this point.

While driving away I looked at Nickelsville's container garden in the corner of parking lot: ripening corn and tomatoes, some herbs.  Must bring a camera next time and photograph it!

"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges."
- Anatole France

Friday, October 29, 2010

Thursday: Ben & Chicken Minestrone

Or close:  the classic minestrone would have beans in it, ours had lentils instead.  We grabbed a few boxes of penne pasta from a shelf of donated dry goods in Nickelsville, found onion, cabbage and potatoes in produce donation bin; chopped the veggies and cooked it with precooked chicken breasts, lentils, carrots, 2 red peppers and noodles in a chicken bouillon. Spiced it with red crushed pepper, red paprika and chipotle seasoning cubes, a bit too much of chipotle, HOT, so we cooked a whole extra package of soy noodles (good protein) we found in our bags and added it to the soup + fresh chopped cilantro and italian parsley.

Ben was helping me very expertly in the kitchen: cleaning vegetables and chopping them till he cried over the third onion, his pieces very uniformly cut, then grouped into neat piles, his movements measured and assured.  He also cleaned most of the mess after we tasted the finished soup (yummy), cleverly figuring out how to deal with the fact that the pot was bigger than the sink (we are using  the small church office kitchen) and no garbage disposal - he used his fingers to separate solid stuff from washing water before dumping it into the compost bin.

Even if he didn't tell me I would have guessed from his purposeful manner that Ben had been trained in being self-sufficient - he had completed 4 months training with US navy before he was discharged due to respiratory problems which would be hard to deal with while on the ships and far from hospitals.  Ben is from South Carolina and drove  all the way to Washington state several years ago; 'I totalled my car with that trip'.  He is fairly new in Nickelsville, only since it moved back to U-district last August.

Found Richard and we chatted a bit:  almost everyone is new in Nickelsville, except for him and Ian, and Peggy, of course, who represents Seattle chapter of Veterans for Peace (sponsor of Nickelsville) and often sleeps in the tent city, after her day of being a school teacher.  Rose?  She is out there, on the Ave, but sleeps in shelters now.  Bonnie?  In some sort of facility where her medical problems could be attended to.  Nickelsville newly married Donna and Bruce?  They got a place of their own now, doing well. Billy?  Billy is washing windows downtown, but not staying here.  Wasn't he on some short list for subsidized housing?  Yeah, he was, but got some problems, off the list.  Brian?  No, nobody knows where he is, had some problems, too.  Serius? (sp)  No, don't know what happened to him.  Gina? don't know...  Richard smiled and pointed to his long hair, asking what I think :  they were freshly cut and washed, and just the length to show off their beautiful curls.

Four or five young ladies were sitting around the table by the kitchen tent, politely thanking for the soup even before they tasted it.  A man came over asking what the soup is; he smiled around the chipotle part. Ben was ladling the soup in the plastic food gloves he noticed for use in the church kitchen, he went around and offered it to everyone who might not know it's ready, including the gate guards, who couldn't abandon the post. Before I left Richard introduced me to Manuel from Berlin, who is writing his PhD thesis on tent cities and is visiting several of them for his research.

Here is a link to chicken minestrone soup recipe, very similar to ours.  Minus chipotle, plus beans and a few veg we didn't have.  But, as Brian would have put it - we got the 'soup essence'.

Persons who have been homeless carry within them a certain philosophy of life which makes them apprehensive about ownership.  
-  Jerzy Kosinski

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Nickelsville Back in my Neighborhood!

Same parking lot in U-District on the corner of 15th Ave and 45th Street as last year.  Stopped to chat on Monday - new people on duty at the gate, but they were able to tell me a bit about the people I met there last winter.  Nickelsville  is scheduled to be here till November 20th, and they don't know what will happen next and where will they go after that.  Still waiting for that 'permit to be here' document from the city.

Richard is still in the camp.  The gate guards went to look for him, but he was away - I visited around 3 pm, when most residents are still at work or on errands, doctors appointments, busses to and from places they go to.  But yes,  the hot soup in the evenings would be welcomed:  someone is already catering Friday-Sunday: fried chicken, lasagna and stuff.  Monday through Thursday is open, though.

My next stop was at the church nearby that let me use their kitchen last year.  Smiling Mary was still there, and 'yes, of course  you can come back; was thinking about you when saw the tent-city back'.  I was thinking about you, too, Mary, when I saw them:)  She said the evening manager will help me if I need anything Monday and Thursday - that would be Jorge, the old friend, who helped me to solve so many snugs last winter.  Maybe even Rosemary - the WonderKid  who came on Christmas 2009 to serve lasagna will resurface; who knows...

David over at 'Snappy Dragon' restaurant gave me a new soup bucket today: a- post-soy-sauce food grade sturdy bucket  with a handle, great for soup transport from church to the camp.  Have to tie the lid again to the bottom, so it stays, like forever. And doesn't get used for other things, just soup.  Got cups and spoons at 'cash & carry'. Cheap veggies and meat at the QFC sale. Will see  tomorrow what is there in Nickelsville, that could be used, too.

BLANKETS, FLASHLIGHTS, 30+ gallons GARBAGE BAGS - all needed in nickelsville right now, as always. Anything, that may help them to get through the night...

You don’t live in a world all your own. Your brothers are here, too.

~Albert Schweitzer