Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Something Corwin said that I want to share...

My sons (ages 8 and 2, to be 9 and 3 next month. :O!!!!!!!!) and I were watching Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone yesterday and the scene where Hagrid gives Dudley a tail was playing. Xay asked why Dudley was jumping around when Hagrid zapped him. I explained that it must have hurt. However, Corwin turned around and said, “No! Harry scared the worm out of his pocket!” Clearly, that is what happened. All this time I thought Dudley was growing a pig’s tail, when really, he was harboring a worm in his pocket.

I thought this was hilarious and completely plausible. Good job, Diddy!!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hard life lessons.

My oldest son, Xay, and I were hanging out in downtown Augusta this past Saturday and we were ardently looking for a place to have lunch as it was 3PM and we hadn't eaten. As we were passing Metro Coffee House, an older man came up to me and asked if we could spare any money. I always feel terrible in these situations because a) I don't carry cash and can't help this person (and I seriously would if I carried cash; just giving it all away though I haven't worked in over two years) and b) I don't carry cash for just this reason and I'm secretly relieved because these situations make me a tad frightened. Especially with my kids in tow. I explained that I didn't have any cash on me and the man then asked if I could buy him a cup of coffee on my credit card. I thought this was incredibly ballsy and in a flat tone, I explained that I was most concerned with feeding my son at the moment. It was at that point that I went from sympathetic to irritated.

However, I could see that Xay was pretty affected. He asked what that man had asked me, and when I explained, Xay asked why he would do that.

I said, "He's homeless, honey."

I don't think Xay thought that homeless people were in our town or that they could look pretty much like anyone else on the street. I explained that I didn't have any cash to give the man. He was pretty shocked and saddened by seeing someone who was hungry enough to beg on a public street in broad daylight. The irony of us sitting in a restaurant (granted a BIG treat for us!) eating after the encounter was not lost on me. I was feeling cynical and upset myself, but I was trying to have a good day with Xay, too.

After we were seated and our Cokes* came, Xay asked if we could go home afterward and he could get some of his allowance money from his bank to give to the man. I said we'd talk about it. And, if he was serious about it, I would have gladly let him do whatever he was moved to do. I want to encourage both of my kids to be compassionate. After a few silent moments, Xay then announces that he doesn't think he can eat his whole lunch. Moments before he was starving; I knew where this as going.

"You eat until you are full, ok? Then, if there is anything left over and you want to give it away, we'll box it up and you can give it to that man if he'll take it, ok?" He beamed and my heart melted.

I could tell he was really serious about this and was genuinely concerned for this man. I felt so jaded and cynical because I don't like to give homeless people money for all the worst reasons: what if they just use it for alcohol or drugs? (So what if they do? It's the act of compassion, with no strings attached, that I should be striving for.) What if they think it's not enough and they try to mug me? (A genuine concern, especially when my kids are with me. Then again, I don't go into scary places with my kids.) Mostly, I'd rather do something tangible for someone in need rather than throw money at it.

So, I decided I would have half my sandwich and cheese fries boxed up for the man. That half would go to waste if it were just me eating it, and this would put it to good use. We added the celery that came with Xay's wings, three wet wipes Xay didn't use, and got a to-go Coke for him. Xay was so excited about giving this man a warm meal that he couldn't get out of there fast enough.

We left, and looked for the man where we left him. I was feeling happy, though a bit nervous, too. I didn't know what to expect of his reaction. We didn't find him for about a half hour; we were wandering around downtown doing our thing and suddenly there he was.

I said, "Xay, is that him?"

Xay nearly ran into traffic to get to him. He was giddy! I was (and am) so proud of him.

Then, everything sort of fell apart. As we were walking across the street to give this man the food we carried all over downtown for him, he walked up to three people leaving a sidewalk cafe and asked if he could have the leftover beer they were walking away from. He was trying to make a quick getaway with an open container when we walked up to him.

"We got you some lunch," I said as I handed him the to-go box. Xay stood next to me, practically bouncing, with a huge, hopeful smile plastered on his face.

The man mumbled, "Okay," snatched the box, then quickly walked away. No thank-yous, no smile, no nothing. Like we were handing out unwanted fliers on the street. Xay stood there looking from him to me, with this confused and stunned look on his face. He was so hurt.

"Mom, what happened?"

I didn't know what to say. So, I put my arm around him and told him that some people, no matter their living situation, don't know how to be polite or say thank-you, but that once he got to eat the food, even if he didn't think of us, he would be glad to have that and that Xay had given that to him.

We walked along in silence for a little bit after that. I could tell that Xay was thinking about it alot. I was angry at that man: he was rude and pushy when he forced his way into our afternoon asking scary, inconvenient questions, then when we try to rise to the occasion and do the hard thing, he brushed past us, grabbing the food we were trying to offer in love and leaving without so much as a hint of thanks. Most of all, he hurt my kid's feelings when he was trying to hard to do something good for someone, to make someone happy, to feed someone who was hungry.

All I could say was, "Honey, what you did was wonderful, compassionate thing to do. His reaction didn't matter, and a thank you would have just been a bonus. You can't let that get in the way of you doing good; you can't let it make you hard-hearted to those in need. You gave a hungry person food. There's nothing in the world better then that." He nodded, and said I was right. I hope he believes it.

My sons make me want to be better, they help me BE better. I hope this doesn't make Xay hesitate to help others. I've emailed a local soup kitchen to see if Xay and I can volunteer. I think he would like that, and it would do him good to see people who sincerely appreciate what you are doing for them. I'll keep you posted.


*Yes, I had a Coke. My third since giving up sodas weeks ago. I don't feel bad.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

My Chili Recipe

I love to cook, and especially to bake. I really wish I would have paid attention to my Mom and Dad all those years they told me to pay attention in the kitchen because I'd know so much more, including family recipes and techniques. I'm lucky that I'm still able to learn them from my parents when I'm with them. This stubbornness (ie "I can read. All I have to do is read the recipe." What a little jerk I was! And foolish, too.) lead me to leave home with very little kitchen expertise and a sadly lacking imagination for menu planning. I still struggle with figuring out a menu for my family that is consistently satisfying to them yet varied enough for me and isn't boring to prepare.

One of the first recipes I came up with was what would later be known as my Sweet Chili. I've given it out to a few people, usually after they've eaten it and been convinced that chili can be sweet, not just savory or spicy. Lately, I've taken to sharing it online or giving it out on a nice recipe card in swaps. I've been really honored to have gotten some very kind and enthusiastic feedback on my chili and I love to share. So, I thought I'd share the recipe here, too.

Jeannie’s Sweet Chili.

1 bottle of V8 (I use the medium-sized bottle, and I usually get one fortified with calcium or antioxidants)
1 can each of mild chili beans, light kidney beans, dark kidney beans, great northern beans, black beans
1.5 pounds of hamburger or ground turkey (they both taste GREAT!) Or soy crumbles.
1 family-sized boil-in-bag brown rice
Chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, season salt, sugar

Brown the meat with a few dashes of garlic and onion powders, just to make the kitchen smell fantastic and get you in the mood to cook. While that is cooking, open all cans of beans. Once meat is cooked through, drain thoroughly (I even wipe out the pan to remove as much residual fat as possible), return to pot and heat.

Add V8.

Empty all beans EXCEPT the chili beans, into a colander and rinse with cool water until it runs clear. Add all beans to the pot. Marvel at how pretty all those beans look together.

Cook boil-in-bag rice per manufacturer’s directions (I cook mine in the microwave for ten minutes in a micro-safe bowl, covered in water).

Bringing the chili to a simmer, add enough chili powder to cover the surface of the chili in a dry layer (you want enough chili powder to make it taste like chili and not tomato soup). Stir. Add garlic and onion powders to taste. If you feel it needs more salt, use season salt so you get less sodium and more flavor. Stir in about a 3/4 cup sugar until it is dissolved. Taste often to be sure it’s just how you like it.

Stir in hot cooked rice, heat to steaming and serve.

My family gets two meals and leftovers out of this recipe, so I’d estimate that it would serve 8 comfortably.

Notes: I make this chili because my family loves it and my husband just recently started eating veggies. So, with the V8 and a glass of milk, I could be sure he was getting a complete meal in a bowl, with lots of fiber and protein to boot. However, I’d make this a bit differently if I were making it exactly how I like it: I’d add a can of crushed tomatoes, saute a large onion and a few mild peppers with the meat, and serve it with a dollop of sour cream and grated cheese on top with a slice of wheat bread smeared with peanut butter. Everyone thinks I’m crazy to suggest peanut butter bread with chili, but I promise that if you try it, you’ll love it! Just dip it in the chili, and give it a shot; you’ll be amazed at how yummy it is!

If you don’t want to add the rice directly to the pot, it makes a nice presentation to allow the rice to sit in a bowl to cool for a few minutes and become a bit sticky. Then, use an ice cream scoop to place a rice ball in the middle of each bowl of chili. If you like a spicier chili, get hot chili beans, and add more chili powder or a few spicy peppers to the browning meat.

Yum!! I hope you enjoy it! I just wish I could make it for you!


Please note, I'm sharing this because I love giving. So please, if you make this and someone asks for the recipe, it would be very cool of you to call it "Jeannie's Sweet Chili." It took years for me to get this consistent and yummy, and I'm very proud of my little recipe, so giving me credit or directing curious recipe-seekers here would be kind, cool, and appreciated. :)