Monday, May 31, 2010

Today is Memorial Day

In the Charles Causley poem Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience, turned into sonic form by Natalie Merchant, a young boy asks, "Sailor O sailor will you bring me if I give you my penny and my apricot tree." The sailor promises to bring presents from over the sea. Three long summer go by, the ship returns, without the sailor. His fate is implied.

While walking into the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City on Friday, I passed a couple of sailors in town for Fleet Week, and was striken by how young they looked. I thought of Owen Meany's reflection in John Irving's "A Prayer for Owen Meany" that children fight the wars.

This Memorial Day, I'm thinking a lot about the Causley poem, as well the John Irving novel, with its reflections on Vietnam. I'm not thinking about going to the mall. For retailers and for some consumers, it's just another sale.

Consider these words from Veterans of Foreign Wars National Commander-In-Chief Thomas Tradewell, Sr.:

"Do most non-veterans really recognize the importance of the day honoring their fellow Americans killed in war?

Judging from what Memorial Day has become—simply another day off from work—the answer is a resounding no. Perhaps a reminder is due, then. And it is the duty of each and every veteran to relay the message.

Sacrifice is meaningless without remembrance. America's collective consciousness demands that all citizens recall and be aware of the deaths of their fellow countrymen during wartime.

Far too often, the nation as a whole takes for granted the freedoms all Americans enjoy. Those freedoms were paid for with the lives of others few of us actually knew. That's why they are all collectively remembered on one special day."

Read the full passage.

In my car hangs a red poppy which I received from a veteran after making a donation, but never knew its meaning, so decided to look it up. Red poppies became associated with the war after the publication of the poem "In Flander's Field," by Col. John McCrae of Canada. Here is that poem.

In Flander's Field

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow,
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead.
Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved and now we lie,
In Flanders Fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw,
The torch, be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us, who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow,
In Flanders Fields.

Read more about the VFW Buddy Poppies, which continue to be assembled by disabled and needy veterans in VA Hospitals.

When you see a veteran, say these simple words, "thank you for your service." Say a silent prayer today for those who cannot hear those words.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Pinkster Fest: Celebrating Spring, Colonial Style

Remember what fun the Bergen County Historical Society's County Ball was to celebrate George Washington's birthday? Flashback. Now a proud, card-carrying member, I returned for their annual Pinkster Fest.

What is it, you ask? A bit of background, from their web site:

"Imagine you are back in a time when the spring planting was done and nature allowed a moment of relaxation and community celebration. The Jersey Dutch joyously observed Pentecost as Pinkster, a holiday marking the budding of trees, the flowering of shrubs and feasting upon the first harvest of spring grains. In farming communities, a May-tree or pole was set in the ground and decorated with nosegays woven from wildflowers. A sporting contest, usually involving foot or horse races, determined who would be crowned as a figurative bride and groom, the May Queen and King. This flower-crowned couple led merry-makers in a procession, going door-to-door and gathering dyed eggs, butter, bread, cream, coffee, sugar, and tallow candles in their baskets. Food collected in these spring baskets furnished the table of the communal Pinkster supper, actually a mock wedding feast, complete with ring dances. Toasts with buttermilk, known as "white wine", singing, and recital of the Pinkster Ode complete the celebration."

A young boy observes the festivities.

A traditional sweeping of the porch started the celebration (I wasn't there in time), followed by dancing around the May pole. Note the crown of flowers atop it.

Anne and Ridley Enslow were on-hand with ditties of yesteryear.

Observe the wooden shoes Anne has on, which would be traditional in the muddy fields.

A teacher observing this scene said some of her students were in disbelief that cotton comes from a plant. Not only do we forget our food sources, but also of the origins of the clothes on our back.

As Memorial Day is upon us, reflect on the life of the soldiers that provided us the freedoms we enjoy today.

A peek inside a few of the items inside a soldier's pack. The comb? Not for vanity, but to keep out lice, which could spread diseases, and in turn, destroy armies, we learned.

Refreshment time. Have a seat in their tavern.

Enjoy some cherry strudel, with some apple cider and punch. It was refreshing to see volunteers washing the plastic cups they were served in by hand. One woman said they are mindful of conservation.

My favorite house: the back kitchen.

What magic is being whipped up?

Blueberry cornbread. I will definitely try adding blueberries to my next cornbread batch.

In a very un-colonial style, I admit to using the Trader Joe's cornbread mix, and use plain soy milk and Ener-G egg replacer to omit the dairy and eggs.

This Dutch dish of potatoes, apples, carrots, onion and mushrooms can be made vegetarian by omitting the bacon.

Brussels sprouts are delicious served roasted, and would be delightful for a Sunday supper alongside Field Roast vegan Meatloaf, mashed potatoes and apple crisp. Just thinking aloud!

American flags in the gift shop. Remember how patriotic we once were, and how American flags were in high demand? The last time I can remember was in 2001.

If we don't favor our officeholders, whether of town, state or nation, should we love our country any less? If we feel we're headed in the wrong direction, aren't we obligated as citizens to change that course even in some small way?

I think of Johnny Wheelwright's words in John Irving's "A Prayer for Owen Meany" that, "Americans are not big on history. How many of them even know their own, recent history? Was twenty years ago so long ago for Americans."

So many don't even seem to follow current events, let alone reflect on our past. I'm thankful that groups like the Bergen County Historical Society work to preserve and celebrate our history and traditions like the Pinkster Fest. Check out all of their upcoming events.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Kitchen in Englewood: It's the Cat's Meow

If I could build a time machine (and how I wish I could), it would definitely make an extended stop in the 1920's and 1930's.

That's why I was so excited to visit The Kitchen, a new restaurant in Englewood, New Jersey, that celebrates American food and 1930s.

Why this time, and this cuisine? From their site:

"The 1930's was a special era for America in terms of entertaining and dining out. Although in the depths of the Great Depression, new restaurants opened at a rapid rate and entertaining at home increased each year. With the repeal of Prohibition, cocktail parties with passed canap├ęs grew in popularity even with the middle class. Americans had not legally been able to import alcoholic beverages for over ten years. Bourbon, an American spirit, became very popular among Americans and the Mint Julep became the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby...America was developing an identity for food and beverage."

Images from the era adorn their walls.

I would love to be in this crowd for a night.

Don't you think gloves and chic hats should come back in style? I do.

I adored the centerpieces on each table: all pots of fresh herbs. Ours was one of my favorites: aromatic and woodsy rosemary.

It's BYOB here, which translates into a big savings on the bill if you imbibe.

To give you the feeling you are at a festive party, about five complimentary passed appetizers come to your table. My sweetheart had to eat two of each for the tuna tartare, beef brisquet, and shrimp. I got to enjoy the vegetarian options.

Sweet potato pancakes, with a tropical chutney.

Mushroom tarts, with a warm sherry glaze.

I was eyeing the baby greens salad with mandarin oranges, caramelized almonds and citrus dressing, but my sweetheart had a strong craving for...

A chopped salad, $6: iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, cucumbers and bleu cheese dressing. Simple and comforting.

A roasted vegetable napoleon, served with with an oven dried tomato sauce, $18, and vegetable assortment, including candied sweet potatoes. All entrees are served with two market sides. Not pictured, it came with roasted baby potatoes with fresh herbs, and warm beets.

The dessert list was mouth-watering. Caramelized peppered pineapple and strawberry rhubarb crisp were strongly considered, but we went with the toasted sponge cake, from a recipe created in the 1930's, with berries, raspberry sauce and whipped cream, $7.

I left wanting to dig up magazines from the past in antique and vintage shops and get in the kitchen for some soul-nourishing food like this all the time.

Take a musical journey to the 1920's and 1930's with The Big Broadcast on WFUV each Sunday night. Listen online to the past two week's shows in their archives.

Coming up: let's go back even further. How about a few hundred years.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Stepping Back in Time at Conrad's

Eager to flee momentarily a confusing world of Blackberries (how often do people need to check their e-mail?), SUVs, and Lady Gaga, I've been time traveling quite a bit.

I lunched at Conrad's Ice Cream Parlor as a kid, and this place hasn't changed since. There's something comforting knowing that there are constants that don't need to modernize with the times.

They have booths or tables, but doesn't sitting at the counter sound like fun?

Have a cherry lime ricky, $3.

Soup cans from New Jersey-based soup maker Campbell's.

Soul-nourishing tomato soup, $2. I love their sky blue plates and bowls, which the teenage girls behind the counter wash by hand.

Homemade ice cream.

I'll take coffee served this way over a disposable cup and plastic lid any day: a cup of joe, $1.

Okay, some things do change: the music that was playing, not any 1950s music or something more festive that would match its theme. Instead, Nine Inch Nails!

Visit Conrad's Ice Cream Parlor and Luncheonette, 107 Westwood Ave., Westwood, New Jersey.

Up next: a visit to the 1930's.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Taste of Greece, With Our Own Forks

Can't make it to Greece? Neither can I. How about a trip to the St. Athanasios Greek Orthodox Church's annual Greek Festival as a consolation prize? I love local food festivals such as this.

Some musical entertainment while we dined.

This man was on his head for several minutes during this flirty dance.

I think beer must be an acquired taste. Not my beverage of choice. These were my mom's and sweetheart's.

Greek fries, with lemon, pepper and oregano, $4.

Other than a Greek salad, the only other vegetarian option was spanikopita, a spinach and cheese pie in filo, served with a salad and bread, $9.

How many desserts do three people need at a Greek festival? The answer, if you are us, is four!

Desserts Winnie the Pooh would be in awe of, all $3: Kataif (Shredded filo, nuts and spices with honey syrup), galaktoboureko (custard filling in filo and covered with honey syrup), and baklava (filo, walnuts and honey syrup).

Loukoumades (light Greek doughnuts, dipped in honey syrup and dusted with cinnamon or powdered sugar), 6 for $4.

A Greek frappe to wash it all down, $4. I took the cup and lid home to recycle it.

To reduce our impact, we brought our own silverware and a reusable container for the desserts. One woman came up to me and said how great it was I brought these things and that she wants to start doing that too, and pointed out to her daughter that we need to be mindful of our waste. Compliments like these are so meaningful to me, but they also are a sign of how little steps add up and are contagious to others.

Coming up June 3 - 6, The Cathedral of St. John the Theologian is holding its annual Greek Festival in Tenafly, NJ. I went last year and had a grilled vegetable pita, which I so hope to enjoy again. They also have a White Elephant sale, where you can shop for all types of second hand wares. I have a brown cotton Limited brand shirt I paid $3 for a few years ago at the sale that I still wear.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Ignorance: No Laughing Matter for Animals

One of the many happy scenes of life on the farm ingrained on us since childhood. The reality: that it's a myth on par with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Yet long after we learn the truth about Kris Kringle, we continue believing in the farm animal myth for life. Why?

In the film Leap Year, Amy Adams and Matthew Goode are at an idyllic bed & breakfast in Ireland. In the garden, Goode takes one of the chickens strolling about and breaks its neck, much to the shock of Adams. He asks where she thinks her chicken comes from. Adams says the freezer case, and lets out a nervous laugh.

Now to real life: in my French class, a student brings back culinary souvenirs from her travels to France, including a can of foie gras. "Doesn't it bother you how it's produced?" I asked. The reply, "No, not really. I've seen the ducks and geese and it looks like they have very nice lives." I have a good idea of where she got this impression. A Rick Steves travel show, in which he visits a foie gras farm in the Dordogne region. The owner gives a "family-friendly" tour and says the ducks and geese eat a large supply naturally for their long migrations. If so, I wonder, why are the long metal pipes needed to shove the food down their throat? Why would "force feeding" be needed at all? How would the owner know it doesn't bother them? Maybe she should have a metal pipe forcing food down her throat as an experiment. Kate Winslet narrated a not-so-family-friendly look at foie gras farms.

This classmate also said "I try not to think about where my hamburger comes from." Amy Adams-style nervous laughter followed.

The Frugal Girl documents her food waste weekly, and one post focused on chicken. One commenter bemoaned, "I think it is so terrible when meat is wasted. These animals were living breathing creatures, often having lived their short miserable lives confined in cages. For me, it feels so disrespectful to have them slaughtered only to be thrown in the trash." I couldn't agree more.

To which someone replied, "the animal was dead b4 you bought it. i don't think it has any feelings on the subject. it's not sitting up in "chicken heaven"saying "what you threw me in the garbage?" LOL. i agree that sometimes their lives aren't very nice but that has nothing to do with the person eating them, but the people raising them."

Personally, I'm not LOL, and I think it has very much to do with the people eating them. Do people really think they can wash their hands morally because they are not doing the dirty work themselves? Their sense of entitlement, particularly among people who insist on meat, milk or eggs at every single meal at the cheapest prices available, is the very root of the problems. The Frugal Girl may be "cheerfully living on less," but the animals she eats aren't living so cheerfully.

Is there a chicken heaven? I hope so, because for them, it's hell on earth.

According to the Humane Society,

"Nearly all animals killed for food in the U.S. are chickens and turkeys—more than nine billion each year. They're shackled upside down, paralyzed by electrified water and dragged over mechanical throat-cutting blades...all while conscious. Millions of birds each year miss the blades and drown in tanks of scalding water. This occurs because the U.S. Department of Agriculture exempts birds from its enforcement of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which requires that farm animals be insensible to pain before they're shackled and killed."

If animals had the life of the chicken in Leap Year - freedom in the countryside and a quick death, eating animals might not seem so horrific. But today's farm animals have no freedom whatsoever. How natural it is to eat animals is up for debate. What is against nature to me is bringing them in the world to endure - not to enjoy life whatsoever. Never a dust bath for a chicken, never a frolic in the hay for a pig, no time to bond between mother cow and calf. People who run factory farms aren't worthy of the term "farmer." They are businessmen. The do not cultivate life, they suppress it.

People feign ignorance, but more often, it's denial. Whether ignorant or in denial - a population in either state is easy to control, much to the delight of people who wish to profit off of them.

The psychology of our thinking toward food is fascinating. Why, for instance, are we so disgusted by tap water, but it's not disgusting to regularly eat drugged up chickens, cows and pigs raised in factory farms that have been wriggling around in their own feces? I think of a line in Philip Hensher's The Northern Clemency in which one character observes of another, "she had shaped reality to suit her." Denying extreme cruelty, the use of growth hormones and antibiotics, the effects on workers and the environment doesn't deny the reality just because it doesn't suit one to think about it, and people shouldn't shift the blame onto the producers and say those who eat it have "nothing" to do with it.

Think local food is the answer? An article in The New York Times, "Push to Eat Local Food Is Hampered by Shortage" did a reality check: "Independent farmers around the country say they are forced to make slaughter appointments before animals are born and to drive hundreds of miles to facilities...causing stress to livestock." Know a local butcher? Ask where the animals are raised, and where they are slaughtered.

The Times went on to note, "As the locavore movement and self-butchering movements grow, so do cries of 'Not in my backyard.'"

Most seem to want cheap food, but hands up anyone who wants an industrial sized pig, cow or chicken operation in their backyard? How about doing the job yourself? Would you want to collect the eggs for those 99 cents a dozen cartons yourself in a shed with thousands of chickens stacked in metal cages? No, it's someone else's dirty work, someone else's polluted waterways, someone else's suffering.

Do I still hear nervous laughter?

"I just wanna feel what life should be.
I just want enough space to turn around.
Someday maybe you'll treat me like you." - Free Me, Goldfinger

Friday, May 14, 2010

What a Mom Wants: Mother's Day Weekend

Instead of fresh cut flowers, my mom requested geraniums from Old Hook Farm, which will last all summer. Her mother's window sills were brimming with geraniums in Switzerland, which I also nostalgically recall through photographs and from visits there as a child.

A night out at Brooklyn's Brick Oven Pizzeria with the works: Eggplant Parmesan, Caesar salad, a small pie and cannoli, all to share. The Ridgewood location (cash only) is BYOB, so we had a pleasant red for the table.

A night of comedy with a legend. My mom, aged 70, said if Betty White at 88 can stay up, she could stay awake until 11:30 to watch her Saturday Night Live appearance. I, at 34, couldn't stay awake past 10 p.m. and have to watch it online. Pathetic, I know.

Loved her witty monologue. A class act. I am a proud, unabashed Golden Girls enthusiast.

Flowers from church. Each Mother's Day, the church we attend hands out flowery plants to every woman, married or unmarried, mothers and those without children, to show their appreciation toward the women of the church.

Isn't that a lovely idea?

An outdoor picnic at Demarest Farms. A peek in the greenhouse.

Her meal was not vegan or vegetarian, so I'll show you mine. Mushroom soup (loaded with assorted mushrooms, noodles, carrots and celery), with an onion roll and Jersey Blues blueberry iced tea.

We got an unexpected picnic guest: Jake, a Golden Retriever. His guardians own the farm and he is often socializing with farm visitors. He's getting a little TLC from my sister.

This my mom's first year as a "mom" to a dog, who we adopted through a local rescue group we found on So we topped the day with a stroll with him over the always magical bridges in Van Saun County Park in Paramus.

I still recall Ben Stein's words about showing appreciation for our parents, "that they spent the heart of their lives taking care of you, feeding you, teaching you, putting a roof over your head, warming you with their love and concern."

Thank you for all those things, Mom and Dad.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

For the Love of the Library

A sign of the times outside a local library in New Jersey.

Over the weekend, I was enjoying dinner at Brooklyn's Brick Oven Pizzeria in Ridgewood with my parents when I had the most delightful sighting: a little boy reading a book as he was walking out of the restaurant. His father had a book in hand too. Like father, like son, in the best sense. Not long after, a family sat down and a little girl was attached to her gadget the entire time. That sight, not so delightful, but much more frequent to see a child glued to electronics over a book. I recalled a cartoon I saw in which a young child asks, "Mommy, can you text me a bedtime story?"

In a tamer Carrie Bradshaw moment, "It got me to thinking" about the wonders of a good book, so good in fact, that you have to walk and read at the same time, like the little boy did. Remember Blind Melon's words in No Rain, "All I can do is read a book to stay awake, and it rips my life away but it's a great escape." And with books on my mind, I couldn't help think of my beloved library.

Libraries in New Jersey (as in other states) are under attack, with Governor Chris Christie proposing to slash 74% of their state funding. Local newspapers having been covering this important news story almost daily. Why is it so important?

An op/ed piece in The Record, Libraries Matter, opined this:

"Public libraries, public schools, small businesses, police, fire departments and hospitals, these are the cornerstones of our democracy." They go on, "Doctors pledge to care for the sick. Librarians' work is to care for the mind, which means enlarging a person's field of learning." As I've lamented before, our society seems to so often pursue vanity and a ridiculous obsession with a youthful appearance with such vigor, while only tamely (at best) seeking wisdom and expanding our minds. The libraries help us in our goals of achieving the latter.

As someone who doesn't relate at all to some people's obsession with constantly upgrading their cell phone, TV, and other gadgets to the next best thing, I cheered on The Record's columnist Bruce Lowry's words in "In praise of libraries."

"In our world a library card doesn't carry the same cachet as an iPhone, but for some of us it is just as valuable. Like the Social Security card, it is a constant in our lives, that piece of personal luggage we would not think of leaving behind.

My driver's license may help me navigate the realities of daily life, but the library card provides escape.

In these days of economic hardship for so many, the library is a place the unemployed find answers and the overstressed find calm."

I could not have said it better. In the Libraries Matter piece, one commenter, JGrace, said this: "Its time to close these patronage mills. If you want to get or read a book go to AMAZON.COM AND LEAVE OUR WALLETS ALONE."

Which got me to thinking even more: what if everyone had to purchase the books, magazines, and newspapers they rely on the library for, especially for avid readers? In addition to the impact on our wallets, what would be the environmental toll of that? How many trees and precious resources are spared through this communal sharing?

Singer Tori Amos praised librarians, the gate-keepers into a never-ending universe of knowledge, saying "I've always thought that librarians know where the information is hidden." Librarians should be revered for their service to the community. Like too many people, they are undervalued.

Please visit Save My NJ Library to learn more.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Spring Cleaning, of the Earth

With like-minded, caring individuals or on your own, there's no better time to extend your spring cleaning to your parks, hiking trails, and other outdoor locations. Here are my favorite ways.

1) With a group. Springtime means the start of clean-up season for local environmental groups.

On an unseasonably hot Sunday in early May, the Hackensack Riverkeeper and the Water Works Conservancy held a cleanup of Van Buskirk Island in Oradell.

Gloves for all sizes.

It was so inspiring to see so many kids at the cleanup.

My mission, clean-up this polluted section of the river, using both waders, and then a canoe.


Let's take a closer look. I found what I was pretty certain to be discarded goldfish in a plastic bag. It never ceases to amaze me what is considered "disposable."

After: Much better, don't you think?

Later that day, it was off to Kenneth B. George Park in River Edge, for a clean-up held by the River Edge Environmental Commission and Hackensack Riverkeeper. My sweetheart joined me for this one. Not 30 seconds after launching, and he was declaring we should take a canoe trip!

Our canoe took us to some remote areas not accessible by footpath.

What did we find? This, everywhere. Enough to fill about five or six bags worth.

Always so many tires in the river! Volunteers found all these, and recovered enough trash to fill a massive dumpster.

An image of hope: a father and son came with their own canoe to cruise the river for trash.

2) DIY-cleanups: Do it yourself. There is no shortage of trash, ever. I've taken to walking on a track at a local high school for exercise, and the parking lot and nearby road are littered with single-serve beverage containers. This is a typical amount I pick up, which goes into my apartment complex's recycling bin.

The next time you are out, take a look at the sheer volume of trash on the road. I never noticed it before. Now I notice it everywhere.

Learn more about the Hackensack Riverkeeper's anti-litter campaign.

I saw a commercial during NBC's green week featuring an actress saying she goes green by recycling her water bottles. Even better would be not using the bottles at all. What did we all drink before bottled water? Pledge that today will be the day you'll remember those reusable cups and totes. Could you bring reusable containers with you when you dine out for leftovers? Or 'just say no': to plastic straws for your water or soft drinks.

3) Rescue from the curbside, repair if needed.

While running errands, I noticed a chair by the side of the road. I figured I would stop for it later, and if it was still there, it was meant to be.

No one had taken it, I would guess because it had two tears in the seat cover.


And one quick visit to a fabric store in Westwood, the After:

How much did it cost? $1, with fabric from the scrap bin, and the help from a neighbor's borrowed staple gun. This is a cheerful addition in my living room.

I happened upon a news item about vegan actress Emily Deschanel's favorite eco-friendly products in Elle magazine. Among the items, which included a $940 dress, a $398 necklace, and $332 shoes, was a chair that was listed "price upon request." We all know what that means.

The above chair might not have a slick marketing ad campaign, but rescuing and refurbishing a chair or any other item, or acquiring one through other second hand means, is about as eco-friendly as it comes in my opinion.

Please do not think you cannot afford to live a green lifestyle because of all these high end products. I'm not a Hollywood actress (nor do I have the wallet to match). But I shop thrift and consignment shops (as well as donate), co-host clothing swaps, browse garage sales and rescue things destined for the landfill from the curb all the time. In my book, that's as green as any $940 dress. Green living is about reducing our impact, not about going to the mall.