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