Oscar

I have recently started to paint portraits. I never knew I could do this. I don’t think I could before. Every attempt at art, other than on a computer, or with a blade of some sort to steady my hand and smooth the curves always seemed to look like my kindergarten work. That never even made it onto the refrigerator; it was so bad. This is therapy for me. It is good for my heart. It lowers my blood pressure. I started with a self-portrait. Now I have completed three portraits of two brothers and one sister from the parkway in Philadelphia: Rosalie, Alex and Oscar. Only Alex is still among the living, and he was the only one I had a photograph of. My paintings are cartoonish, not realistic. I am trying to capture something of the emotional and spiritual impact these people made on me, a touch of their beauty, if you will.

Oscar

I shared Oscar’s story more than 20 years ago in a newsletter shortly after he had died. Oscar was in his early 50s. It was 1992. I was 37. We were serving on the sidewalk on the City Hall side of JFK Plaza at that time, more commonly called the Love Park because of the world famous LOVE art in front of the fountain there. We would see Oscar on occasion. Every time he came, he made it a point to seek me out after to say how thankful he was for what we did. He would say how special that I am for doing this. I always deflected by saying something like, “I’m just doing what Jesus compels me to do. I wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t do it. It is Jesus who loves you.” He would reply, “I don’t believe in any of that god stuff. I just know that you are really special and I am truly grateful. Thank you!”

At times, we would talk about history or philosophy or the arts. He was well educated. He had had a good paying job at one point. I don’t know if I ever learned how he ended up on the street. He had used cocaine and had suffered a couple of heart attacks as a result. He is among the most civilized people I have ever known, with a twinkle in the eye and a Bohemian side.

Hurricane Andrew hit Homestead, FL, in August of 1992. Church groups were sending clothing and supplies down to the more than 100,000 families whose homes had been destroyed. Word got out that people were having a hard time surviving because it was it slow process to get any cash to buy necessities. So people started tucking cash into the pockets of clothing to short circuit that process, and get money into people’s hands quickly. Several bags of men’s clothing did not fit onto a truck bound for Homestead, so they got re-directed to The King’s Jubilee. They told me about the potential money in the pockets. Between working full-time, leading a Bible study at Graterford prison that afternoon while Bethann made the soup, coordinating with the Pottstown and SC serving sites, somehow searching pockets got missed.

When we gave away the clothing that night, it was a free for all, like always. There was one garment no one seemed to want. It was a corduroy sportcoat with suede elbow patches. Oscar grabbed it and put it on. It fit. It was warm. He said, “I’m not proud. It’s warm. It’s clean.” The others laughed and called him professor. Who knows? Perhaps, that’s what he had been. He disappeared for a couple weeks. When he came back, he told me what happened. Later that night, he checked the pockets of the sportcoat and found a $50 bill. He told me that he wished he could say he did something productive or constructive with it. Alas, he said, he had a good meal at a fancy restaurant and went on a week long bender. He said, “I’m sorry. But it’s been a long time since I had such a good time and could forget about all of this. Thank you. Can you forgive me?”

I told him there was nothing to forgive. He found the money. It was his to do with what he wanted. If he got some relief, well, who am I to judge? (I am weeping as I type this.) His eyes welled up and he thanked me again with a hug. The next time he thanked me for serving all the guys on the street. He said, “I thank God for you, Cranford.” My eyes welled up with tears.

I don’t know if he had found faith, or if he was just being gracious and kind to please me. It was the last time I saw Oscar. He died of a heart attack at 53. I attempted to paint this from memory. It is a poor likeness. The beret and the neck scarf are there. The beard, long, full hair, and brown eyes are there. I tried to convey both his thoughtfulness and the mischief, with the intent stare, the tilt of the head, and the slight smile.



Turkey, Kale Delight Soup

Someone just remembered to drop off his Turkeys ‘R’ Us turkey from November, this week. It was actually right on time. We had no meat in the freezer, so this week’s soup is turkey! I looked around for other ingredients. I had bought too much for the salad last Friday. Thankfully, the kale, carrots and radishes kept just fine. This is what I came up with. It may look weird on paper, but it smells and tastes great! I am a great believer in expanding people’s palates. Also, if food is good for us nutritionally, chances are, it will appeal to us, as well. In the couple of decades that I have been cooking, I have only had a few clunkers. All but one or two could be remedied with more hot sauce. However, this is not one of those.

Ingredients:

  • ~ Medium sized turkey (12 to 15#) Roasted, covered, with 2″ of water in pan with celery seeds and basil in the water.
  • 1 pound bag Kale Greens
  • 2 pounds Radishes
  • 2 pounds Carrots
  • 2 Sweet Red Peppers
  • 1 teaspoon fresh frozen Thyme
  • 1 teaspoon fresh frozen Sage
  • 3 inches fresh Ginger
  • 1 Avocado, peeled and cubed (may be underripe)
  • 4 yellow onions
  • 1 Tablespoon Ground Cinnamon
  • 1 Tablespoon Paprika

Directions:

Put the turkey (as indicated above) in the 350º oven, and roast until it reaches minimum 170º internal temp. While that is roasting, fill a 22 quart stock pot to about 6 inches with water and start simmering. Chop Thyme, Sage & Ginger in a bullet or Ninja & add to pot. Top & half carrots, then pulse them in Ninja until “soup size”. Add to pot. Do the same for the Radishes, Peppers & Onions, being careful to wash them beforehand, of course. Add the Avocado. Add the Paprika and Cinnamon. Bring to a boil and cook these until tender. Be careful to stir regularly, so nothing scorches. Once everything is tender, turn off heat.
Wash and chop the Kale in a Ninja to “soup size” and add to pot. When the Turkey is done cooking, drain liquid into soup pot, peel back skin and let sit to cool for a bit.
DSC02882This is a good time to set up the soup pot into the canner on top of a couple of rags with water, to form a double boiler. Set it on a burner and start it heating. Don’t let it boil dry, and your soup will never scorch.
Once the turkey is OK to handle, tear it into bite sized pieces to add to the  soup. Let it stew until it is ready to pour into the Igloo cooler to head for the city.
(Igloo is the only brand of plastic cooler that doesn’t leak that doesn’t melt.)

There is no salt in this recipe. I usually do not use salt. We offer a salt grinder, so people can add their own if they wish to.

Kale is naturally bitter. So I chose Ginger and Cinnamon, which are full frontal sweet to counteract that. Paprika is sweeter that Black Pepper. Basil and Sage are on the sweet end of the savories. All in all, it works!

Try it! You’ll like it!

We will be offering it along with a vegetarian alternative, sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs, water, fruit and granola bars to about 100 homeless friends tonight on the streets of Philadelphia. We are facing foreclosure ourselves, but as long as I have a stove to cook on and someone shows up with a turkey …



Martin’s Ground Beef Hash

Thursday, it was unclear whether or not we were going to be able to serve anything in the city on Friday night. I had spent $400 of personal funds to make the TKJ-mobile operational again. Our personal budget was blown for the month. There was not enough money to buy any food and drink for Philadelphia, for the guys on the street. I shared the last post on Facebook with the tagline: “We are out of money and out of food for the street. The car is fixed, out of personal funds, so we are out of money for the month. But I deserve to end up homeless, so don’t send money to help the poor.”

One friend responded with a $100 donation. So I called up Tony and told him to get himself up here to help me cook and gear up for the street. Friday morning, we shopped, then Tony peeled and diced potatoes while I cooked.

Ingredients:

  • 9-1/4 lbs. 80% lean Ground Beef
  • 7 lbs. red potatoes, peeled, diced to ~1/2″ cubes and rinsed
  • 3 lbs. yellow onions, diced
  • 5 large, sweet red peppers, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1 head Garlic
  • 1-1/2″ fresh Ginger
  • Black Pepper Grinder
  • Ground Red Pepper
  • Paprika
  • Ground Coriander

In the largest cast iron skillet you own, start to fry up a large handful of Ground Beef. Add a diced Onion or two and some of the Sweet Pepper. Add a bunch of the diced potatoes. Grate some ginger onto it. Crush a clove or two of Garlic onto it. Shake some Paprika, Red Pepper and Coriander on. Grind some Black Pepper on. Keep stirring and turning this until all the beef is cooked and the potatoes are looking delicious, but not crispy. Dump into large, agate roaster pan and repeat. Try not to have the skillet so full that you end up with your range full of potatoes and onions at the end of the process (voice of experience). Stir everything together in the turkey roaster pan. Cover. Place in the oven and slow roast for three to five hours at 190º.

Notes: Do not short circuit this recipe by failing to slow roast it. That is the secret to its success! The initial sauteeing released all the flavors, but the slow roasting allowed the subtleties of them to blend throughout the dish.
Coriander adds a very subtle, earthy flavor note. It is more important as a nutrient. It is helpful to the kidneys. Ginger is a bit of a surprise, but subtle in this amount. It plays a bit with the garlic. Only the more sensitive palates will notice, but they will smile.

It’s a low sodium recipe. We let people add their own salt. Very few people did. This is the first time in 30 years we served hash. The guys were enthusiastic! They told us to make it part of our regular rotation. We said we would try. Now we just need to try not to become homeless ourselves, and find some regular support.



The Lady on the Basilica Steps

This article should just about write itself. It has all the elements to tug at the heartstrings like classic poverty porn. However, this is what has made it so hard for me to write. After more than 30 years writing newsletters and blog posts about the shocking way the poor, the disabled and the aged are treated in our country, it has gotten old. It has only gotten worse, with the government cuts to every kind of assistance and the general hardness of hearts in our society. It is just downright depressing.

Last Friday evening, Tony found a woman, about my age, lying on the Cathedral steps and invited her over to see what we had to offer. She was very timid. We had to invite her to accept each thing, some soup, pumpkin rice, hard boiled eggs, pie, etc. It was apparent that she could hardly speak due to stroke damage. She needed a better hat and a blanket. Susan found these for her. She had tears of gratitude as the hat was placed on her head and the thick blanket was wrapped round her shoulders. She shuffled as she walked and didn’t have full function of her hands. What a picture! She sleeps outside the Basilica. St. Basil founded a city for the poor with free hospitals and shelters funded by taxation on the rich! She sleeps in the cold on the steps of the Basilica! In one of the richest countries in the world, where we pay three times more per capita for healthcare than all but one other country, yet, somehow, we can’t afford to take care of the lady sleeping on the Basilica steps.

Perhaps she can qualify for Medicaid or public housing, or SSI. I don’t know. I do know that the process to get these benefits is anything but easy. I am a fully vocal person, with a place to store my records and a phone. It took months of back and forth and filling out forms to get Medicaid. It took years to get SSI after having six strokes, kidney failure, cPTSD, a summer of disabling migraines, my business failing, and almost losing my house to foreclosure. We are almost certainly going to lose it to foreclosure because they still have not paid the back benefit that they owe. So how does one who lacks speech, lacks confidence and sleeps on the steps of the Basilica with no phone and no safe place to keep her records follow through with that process? IMPOSSIBLE! The govt. made it this hard for two reasons: to keep out the riff-raff; and to necessitate lawyers to navigate the system. The problem is, the lawyers are the riff-raff, and it keeps out the most deserving of help.

Then there are so many who say, this is not the government’s job. It is the church’s job to help the poor. Did I mention that she is sleeping on the steps of the Basilica? These are the same steps that Tony McNeal, Director of The King’s Jubilee, used to sleep on at times, when he was homeless. Back then, there was a sexton (that’s the church word for janitor) who used to secretly let some homeless sleep on the pews inside. Tony would then assist in keeping the peace, and cleaning up afterward. This all had to be done on the down low. If the priest were to find out, the sexton would have lost his job and possibly been charged with criminal trespass. Then there’s the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in North Phila. who put razor wire around their vegetable and flower garden rather than trust God for how its fruits were distributed. That’s so welcoming to their church, now that it looks like a prison. So much for relying on the church.

In fact, as government assistance has gone down in recent years, so has church’ and non-profit orgs’ assistance to the needy gone down. It seems people’s politics spills over into their religion in America, not so much the other way around.

We are not some big agency. We are basically a couple of families and a rag tag band of poor people with hearts breaking for the poor and oppressed. We love to give other people’s stuff away for them, and cook wonderful, nutritious meals for people who need them, with dignity and respect. Everything you give will help us continue to do this. Please give until it stops hurting. You’ll feel better for it!