Hurricane Night Food

It’s late and I just realized that if I don’t blog today there’s no way I’ll get in my Ten Days of Thanksgiving so I’m posting a picture what I ate on the night of the storm so that I had an excuse to blog.

A nice comforting bowl of polenta with meat sauce.

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Today I’m thankful for social media. There are A LOT of bad things about social media and trust me I could right a novel about that, but today I’m thankful for what’s right about it. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, I saw quite clearly how powerful a tool social media can be. After the storm people were sad and scared, they needed a community and they needed a quick way to check on friends and neighbors so they took to Facebook. One person who’d been able to get back to a hard hit area would check on friends and neighbors and property and then report back to all those Facebook friends, then those friends would post to their own pages and another set of people could see updates and so on and so on. Entire communities displaced by the storm found each other and offered each other words of support.

Facebook and Twitter and blogs also helped us to let the world know what was going on here. Most amazingly though, and entire movement of volunteers and donations was started and being maintained using social media. With the power of a few tweets, Occupy Sandy can let us know where volunteers are most needed or what supplies they’re in urgent need of and their followers step up to the plate and deliver.

So thank you social media, you’ve got many many problems, but often times you are simply awesome.

R is for… Romania; Better late than never

Alo

Romanian Flag

A couple of weeks ago I cooked a Romanian recipe. I figured I’d blog about it within a few days, but then we had that hurricane that you’ve heard me talk so much about and I kind of shifted my focus. This week I’m trying to get Back to Basics (a Christina Aguilera reference because I worship her like the Goddess she is and I’m so freaking excited that her new album came out today).

One of the guests at the United Noshes dinner I attended a few weeks ago had spent time living in Romania and gave me one major piece of advice; they eat a ton of polenta. Well that was music to this carb loving girls years! I had been thinking about making a soup, but I really wanted to gorge myself on enjoy some polenta (mămăligă in Romanian) so I chose to make Varza Cu Carne de Porc, a pork and cabbage dish.

Polenta and veggies and pork, oh my!

Varza Cu Carne de Porc

  • A couple of tablespoons olive oil
  • 1.5lbs pork shoulder; cubed
  • 1 onion; thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic; crushed
  • 1 green bell pepper; thinly sliced
  • 1/2 medium cabbage; shredded
  • 3 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons caraway
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1lb sauerkraut
  • 1 cup water

Heat oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add pork and brown on all sides, working in batches if necessary. Remove pork from pot and set aside.

Add onions and garlic and cook until onions just begin to soften, approximately 3-5 minutes.

Add pepper and cabbage and cook, stirring occasionally, until cabbage just begins to soften, approximately 5-7 minutes.

Stir in tomato paste and all spices. Add pork back to pot, stirring to coat.

Add sauerkraut and water. Lower heat. Cover pot with lid and simmer for 35 minutes until pork is tender.

Serve over polenta.

Serves 4-6

Ready to go.

 FINAL VERDICT: B

This was a really pleasant dish and would be especially well suited to a cold, rainy day as it’s definitely hearty comfort food. It’s also always great to add to the list of one pot dishes so there’s less cleanup later.

I love the way caraway and cabbage taste together. The two flavors are natural partners, much like Christina Aguilera and Blake Shelton dueting on the song, Just a Fool from her new album available today (yup I went there again). I also really liked the play of the fresh cabbage and the sauerkraut. The fresh cabbage retains just a bit of its coolness and crunch which cut through the tang of the nice soft sauerkraut. The only thing I’d do differently if I made this again is to double the spices.

Dinner!

poftă bună

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It’s Day #2 in my Ten Days of Thanksgiving inspired by Lisa.

On Sunday I spent all day at one of the Hurricane Sandy Relief hubs of Occupy Sandy. Yes, Occupy Sandy was started by Occupy Wall Street (OWS), but even people who disagree with OWS are commending them for their hurricane efforts and they have become the main relief organization in the city. If you call most local churches, synagogues, non-profits or community groups asking how you can volunteer they’re sending you to Occupy Sandy. During the brief new volunteer orientation you’re given, they do explain to you the principles OWS was founded on, but they also say, “It’s OK if you don’t agree with us, we’re just happy to have you hear volunteering for communities in need.”

My friends and I came to The Church of St Luke and St. Matthew at 520 Clinton St in Brooklyn ready to do whatever needed to be done including going out to the actual disaster sites. What we saw when we arrived was stunning. The church had been turned in to a massive base of operations. There was a communication center set up upstairs to field calls and emails and to communicate with those out in the field.

Downstairs were the kitchens where hot meals were being prepared and lunch bags with sandwiches and snacks were being packed. When Occupy Sandy began, the day after the hurricane  they were preparing 5,000 bagged lunches; they’re now up to 25,000 bagged lunches a day. The chapel on the main floor was home base for driver dispatch and donation drop off and pick up and though we had several jobs that day that’s where we spent most of our time.

If you ever need your faith in humanity renewed go spend some time at one of these hubs and witness the goodness of people. There were people there of all ages, races and economic circumstances. If you came with a laptop they needed your help up in communications. You’ve got a car, great they’ll send you out in the field; kitchen experience, head downstairs and have at it. If you show up they will find you a way to help.

One of the sweetest things I saw was the huge number of parents who came with their little ones. There were two main projects for kids. The really little ones were given crayons and paper to make cards for people affected by the storm. The slightly older ones were put to work making sandwiches and packing lunches.

Last time I posted that I was thankful for all of the amazing people around the country who were doing all they could to help us out. Today I am grateful for my own community, right here. I’m thankful that people can put aside politics and any other disagreements and just help. I have always believed that New York and New Jersey are filled with amazing people who will always be there for a neighbor in need and Sunday’s experience just hammered that home. So thank you to my neighbors, I am awed and humbled by all that you’re doing.

If you are able to please send items like cleaning supplies, first aid, adult diapers, flashlights, batteries, blankets and baby needs to:

Church of St. Luke and Matthew
520 Clinton Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11238

Thank You

In case you couldn’t tell I was pretty angry last time I posted. Well this post is now long overdue.

I am a bleeding heart do-gooder, the friend that everyone goes to when they’re looking for places to donate, ways to volunteer or organizations to support. As such my email and Facebook feed are filled to the brim with requests from various organizations for my help and after a disaster they explode. Before, during and after the hurricane I received incredible messages of concern and support from friends all over the country and the world, but my email and Facebook feed were strangely quiet. I was pissed. I have been consistently impressed with the response to other tragedies, but now when my friends and family, my city and my home state needed help I couldn’t seem to find any.

I began my last blog post by wondering if perhaps the national media wasn’t doing a good enough job of reporting what was going on here. It was the only explanation a cockeyed optimist like myself could come up with. Well, guess what… I was right.

From what I’ve heard it took a few days for the gravity of the situation to trickle out of the area. Once the rest of the world heard though, they stepped up in a big way. Utility crews, policemen, fire fighters all made their way from out of state to help us.

On Sunday I went out to Staten Island to volunteer and saw the devastation first hand. It was gut wrenching and something I’m not likely to forget, but I also saw incredible acts of kindness out there. Runners who’d come for the NYC Marathon came to Staten Island, where the race was to have begun, after it had been announced that the race would be canceled. They donned their running gear and set out to volunteer and help Staten Islanders in need. I even had a celebrity chef sighting out there! Renowned pastry chef and chocolatier Jacques Torres came out to Staten Island on a cold day to give out free hot chocolate.

I blogged about my experience in Staten Island for work and I just don’t have it in me right now to do it again, but I’ll tell you this; the words I heard more than any others were, “Thank you.” My fellow volunteers and I would sometimes happen upon a block where volunteers had already been through and so the supplies we were handing out weren’t needed. Still every single person we met (literally every one) took the time to thank us and it was humbling. I didn’t feel like I was doing all that much, but it was clear that just seeing people there who cared meant so much to these people who’d lost everything.

In the past few days I’ve also seen the internet explode with information about fundraisers going on for hurricane relief in other parts of the country so here is another heartfelt thank you to:

I am sure that I’ve missed many many others so please let me know if you hear of anything in your own communities. Also, tune in to NBC Nightly News tonight where they’ll be highlighting some of the efforts around the country to help us here in NY/NJ.

My friend Lisa writes Ten Days of Thanksgiving every year over at her blog. In the 10 days (ok 10 posts) leading up to Thanksgiving she writes about something that she is thankful for in her life and she encourages others to participate if the project speaks to them. I’m going to try to participate this year and I’m starting today. I am incredibly thankful for the amazing kindness of people all over this country who are helping my home heal. I have no better way of saying this; hurricanes are really bad, but people are really really good.

Thank you!

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Photos from Staten Island

Crickets

Tell me that news stations in the rest of the country, actually the rest of the world, are just not reporting on the aftermath of the Hurricane Sandy. Tell me that and I swear I’ll feel better because I just can’t believe that people outside of my corner of the world could’ve watched what’s happening here and remained silent.

Looks like a bombed out city after WWII right?
Well it’s Breezy Point, Queens post-Sandy.
(Photo by Mark Lennihan, AP via USA Today)

I’m a pretty plugged in gal. I’ve got Facebook and Twitter accounts, I read blogs, I keep up with things! Time after time again when tragedies strike I see those networking tools fill up with messages of encouragement, calls for donations and suggestions on how to help. It’s what I love most about social media. Yet right now New York and New Jersey are in a bad bad way and all I hear from the rest of the country is crickets.

My local Facebook friends, many of who grew up in The Rockaways and on the Jersey Shore, are doing an amazing job of getting their stories out there and self organizing to help victims, but the rest of the country seems to think it’s not their problem. Well that’s if they’re thinking about us at all.

Ortley Beach, NJ
(Photo by Andrew Mills via The Star-Ledger)

In case you hadn’t heard people lost their homes and every single thing they own. Entire neighborhoods have been obliterated. Some people are lucky to still have homes, but haven’t had power for 5 days which means no hot showers, fridges full of food going bad and no heat as the temperatures dip in to the 30’s. A mother in Staten Island lost her 2 and 4 year old sons when they were literally swept out of her arms by a crushing wave. Their bodies were found days later and more victim’s bodies are being found as the cleanup continues.

Hoboken, NJ
(Richard Perry/The New York Times)

Yeah things are really f’ing bad here. We need help and we need to spread the word outside of the affected areas. I am one of those annoying people who believes that most people are basically good and human beings yearn to help each other in times of crisis so please prove me right. If you have a Facebook account, Twitter account, a blog or any other social media tool start talking about what’s going on here in New York and New Jersey and encourage everyone you know to make a donation. Every little bit helps.

NBC News has a great link that you can share which lists organizations helping with the relief effort. Please open your hearts and your wallets so that the sounds of crickets I hear are quickly replaced with the sound of hammers as homes and lives are rebuilt.

Staten Island, NY
(Photo by John Makely via NBC News)

And to those of who’ve already donated or have been paying attention/spreading the word: THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF OUR HEARTS!

Here comes the story of the hurricane

I got a little busy last week and intended to catch up on posting this week. Then we had a hurricane and it was bad. It was really bad. And the aftermath, well that’s really bad too.

I rarely talk about anything personal on this blog because it’s a food blog, but right now I’m heartbroken and I just can’t separate that from the rest of my life.

First I want to tell you this; everyone I love is safe and that is the absolute most important thing and certainly what I’m most grateful for. I live uptown, in an area far above sea level so we never lost power sustained very little damage. If only  rest of the city had fared that well.

New York is a city that wears its emotions on its sleeve. Unfortunately, as I walked the streets the day after the storm what I felt was a palpable sadness that hung over the city like a fog. Huge chunks of lower Manhattan are still without power and there are elderly people stuck in homes still waiting to be checked on,  our subways were flooded and have only just started running limited service, the backup generator at NYU Medical Center failed and patients had to be evacuated at the height on the storm. Manhattan is a mess, but there are so many areas that are doing even worse.

The Rockaways, just off of Brooklyn though actually part of Queens, lie on a narrow spit of land between the Atlantic Ocean and Jamaica Bay. The towns on the Rockaway Peninsula have been decimated. You’ve likely seen images of Breezy Point on TV. First the ocean rose up an met the bay, submerging the whole of the Peninsula. Then on Breezy Point, a beach community of only 5000, a fire started and due to the high winds it spread… and spread… and spread. Because of the flood conditions firefighters could barely get in to the Rockaways and it took them all night and in to the morning to extinguish it. When the damage was done 110 houses were destroyed. That’s 110 houses in a town of only 5000 people. I have family and friends in the Rockaways and so far no word on how any of their homes fared so for now all I can do is pray for them.

Then there’s my home, New Jersey. Yes, it’s been a long long time since I’ve lived there, but when someone says the word home I still think of New Jersey first because it is the place that made me. Seeing my home in pain kills me. Thankfully my parents are fine and their home sustained no damage, but their entire town is still without power and heat. We have no idea when the power will return so they’re bunking up at in my 250 sq foot apartment while I crash at a friend’s place 2 blocks away, but clearly we are fortunate. The Jersey Shore didn’t get off so easy. I see footage of boardwalks I went to as a kid to win prizes, buy orangeade and eat salt water taffy destroyed. Entire chunks of boardwalk were torn off their foundations and now sit in the middle of beaches. I watch these people, my people, being rescued from houses frightened and shocked and it feels like a punch to the gut.

I see all of these images and I am irrationally angry. It’s the kind of anger you feel when a loved one dies. It is senseless and frustrating because you don’t know where to put it, but you just can’t shake it.

If you asked me what quality of character growing up in this area has most instilled in me, I wouldn’t even need to think before answering, resiliency. In NYC and the metro areas we just do, we just keep on. It is simply accepted that things will go back to normal and life go. Life goes on.

Thank you to all the unbelievable first responders who have worked tirelessly before, during and after the storm and thank you for the maintenance workers and the MTA workers who are getting things up and running  again. Thanks also for all the wonderful messages we’ve been receiving from people in other parts of the country and the world.

If you live in NYC remember to thank your building staff who left their own families at home and came to work during a hurricane. Since I have a rule that all posts on this blog must have some mention of food I’ll leave you with this image of how I thanked my building staff, trust me it was the least I could do.