11–19 of 19 entries from the month of: October 2011

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October 18th

food stamp brochure

I attended a community meeting a couple weeks ago for an organization called Hunger Free Colorado. They are the lobbying arm of the Feeding America-fueled food banks in the state. They take direction from the five food bank leaders state-wide on what to lobby with local, state and federal officials to better meet the needs of hungry Coloradans.

In Arizona, the Association of Arizona Food Banks handles this responsibility. The director, Ginny Hildebrand, is a force to reckon with. She is savvy, kind and damn effective. I had a chance to go to Washington DC with her once on a lobbying trip and that woman moves mountains.

As a food pantry volunteer, I was interested to hear about the systemic changes that this organization is working on for the state. I’d noticed more and more families coming into the pantry who were seeking sustainable food assistance. I’ve had this nagging concern the system at hand is failing because our “emergency” food boxes were becoming routine.

Something is obviously broken, and I’m no expert in any aspect of the policial or practical system of getting food to hungry folk. That said, any volunteer would notice many of the families coming to the pantry are stuck in a “job of being poor.” It takes a lot of time to access most basic public health services to keep a family fed. This may include visiting a food pantry or more per week — which is typically an all day affair when you are on the city bus.

If you’ve ever spent a day in a food bank, you realize there are far too many ways things could be better.

Arvada Community Food Bank

For example, how about these statistics:

  1. 1/4 of families in Colorado report not having enough food, via a Gallup poll
  2. The typical recipient of “food stamps” (called SNAP in Colorado) are a family of 4 living on less than $12,000 per year.
  3. The application for SNAP, until recently, was 26 pages long. On page 4, the applicant was asked if he/she spoke/read English. Apparently up until then, they were expected to intuitively know what they were being asked.
  4. While more than $500,000,000 has been spent on Colorado’s SNAP and food assistance software system since 2004, it doesn’t work. The state of Maine spent $15,000,000 on theirs and it works fantastically. There is little political motivation here to change what exists, even though it doesn’t work and hunger experts testified to the fact beforehand, “because we don’t want to spend more money.”  (To me that’s like not repairing the navigation system in the Titanic because the deck furniture cost too much. The system isn’t sinking. It sunk.)
  5. All this said and done, the average Colorado family is on SNAP for less than 10 months.

It is daunting and entirely overwhelming to consider lobbying political issues, and yet — we are bucket brigading a huge fire that will consume Colorado if we don’t stop to install a fire department instead. (Not my analogy — one I heard in the meeting that I thought was rather apt.) And so, we continue bucketing as fas as we can and somehow muster the spirit and energy to create bigger, better change that stops the fire from starting.

Cornbread and black bean casserole

I have to believe the basic steps we — those who don’t need food assistance — can all take, no matter where we live, look a bit like this:

1. Invite a friend over with a similar passion, or grab your roommate/spouse, and visit your neighbors. Go to each door around the block and introduce yourself. Take mental notes. Chances are, 1 in 4 of those houses you visit are hungry.

2. Invite your neighbors over for a potluck/bbq. Make it welcoming for those who can’t bring food, and get to know who these folk are. Chances are, you won’t like them all. And chances are, you’ll really like some of them. With certainty, the type of change I’m encouraging requires having civil conversations with both and recognizing public health issues — like hunger — don’t discriminate.

3. Plant a garden. Harvest it for yourself, your neighbors and your community food pantry.

4. If you can give time, volunteer. If you want to give to the food pantry — give money. They can typically buy 10 times what the average consumer can with the same amount of money.

5. Vote. Talk to local, state and federal politicians about how hunger is influencing your neighborhood. Make it tangible with stories you’ve heard and your experiences. For those in Denver, the way to communicate with such officials can be found here,  here and here. 

~K

Posted in
Colorado, Community, Public Health
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Bergen

October 16th

Bergen Peak Summit HikePike’s Peak

I’ve been hiking around Evergreen in Jefferson County open space for the last several months. The one hike that’s alluded me — until this weekend — was the 10 mile round-trip summit of Bergen Peak. Five miles one way isn’t much, or so I thought. Once upon a time, I’d run 10 miles in my sleep. Come to find out, that once upon a time was many moons ago. Add in several thousand feet of elevation gain, one very excited dog and a backpack with a camera and supplies that felt like a ton of bricks by the time we made it to the top, and I was dizzy tired.

Bergen Peak Summit HikeMy car is in that tiny parking lot, way down there. Anyone seen the elevator?

But a very happy tired. The switchbacks on this trail were littered with golden leaves from the aspens running up the mountain. From the peak, the aspens look like veins of gold. The cool pine air, scattered snow patches toward the top and handful of forest animals we saw made it seem like something out of a Grimm’s fairy tale.

Bergen Peak Summit Hike

Plus, I’ve been working with Nelson on going off-leash. It is a lot more fun for both of us if he isn’t pulling me along. That said, he’s love and hunger for squirrel meat could be trouble. I didn’t want to end up chasing him through the forest. Thankfully, he did great, coming when I called and staying only a few paces ahead.

Fall in Denver

I’ve yet to find anything quite like a hard, head-spinning hike to get my thoughts in order. Maybe it’s the dreamy quality of that thin, crisp air this time of year. Maybe it’s spending 5 hours uninterrupted in nature, my Blackberry and responsibilities left far behind. Maybe it’s taking a break on a big rock, closing my eyes, and listening for God.

Bergen Peak Summit Hike

Whatever it was — yesterday it worked. And while I don’t plan on conquering Bergen again any time soon (poor Nelson has never slept so much), I am so thankful we pushed forward to reach the summit.

~K

Posted in
Colorado, Happy Hippie
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Aesthetic

October 12th

Autumnal Walk with Nelson  Friends! You are my friend, right? I mean, everyone is my friend — especially if you let me sniff your butt first. Even Chaco is my friend and he took a bite out of my ear last week, wearing a short-bus cone. Friend! Let’s go to the park. I LOVE the park, almost as much as I love bacon and meatloaf. The park is so fun! I don’t know if you’ve heard of this place, but it is this huge space with ducks and geese and poop everywhere to sniff!

And let’s get real. This adorable pom pom tail? It wasn’t meant for just the backyard. No, this cuteness belongs in public.

Autumnal Walk with Nelson

Tall Lady won’t let me swim. I try. Every time we go to the park, I pull her toward the edge to look for giant geese and ducks — swimming snacks. How I want to just human paddle my way out there for a couple laps. Apparently the mucky water is off limits. Whatever. I like my fowl foul. 

Autumnal Walk with Nelson

The summer is gone and everything is a gorgeous golden. Of course, that’s what “I hear.” According to Tall Lady’s people, I can only see in black and white. Who makes this stuff up? How do they know what colors I can see? Maybe I’m an aesthetic kinda guy who can appreciate the hues of a changing season? The jeweled tones of falling leaves. The darker indigo of a chilly night air. The delicious orange pumpkins I’m going to yank off the neighbor’s porch at first opportunity.

Autumnal Walk with Nelson

Dirt. I love dirt. Isn’t dirt perfect? I love to roll around in it, run through it, create little storms of it behind me, track it in the house and have it on my paws at all time. The only thing better than dirt is its cousin mud.

Autumnal Walk with Nelson

Leaves are so fun to chase as they fall from the sky. Take that squirrels! Your trees are balding, making you that much easier to hunt. Even your home doesn’t love you. My home never sheds. Why? Because my home appreciates me. I bring it dirt. And sometimes even your refugee leaves.

Autumnal Walk with Nelson

This stuff is called yarrow. It was red earlier this summer — not that I’d know as a “color blind dog.” Ahem. It’s really nice, but you have to watch out for the bees. Those little things are like chihuahuas. Their size is totally deceptive.

Autumnal Walk with Nelson

Wait. Hold the leash! Those people did not ask if they could come to my park. Don’t they know this is my park? Mmm…. park.

I LOVE THE PARK.

Scratch my belly?

~wNelsonM

 

 

 

 

Posted in
Colorado, Flora and Fauna, Nelson
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Bon Meh

October 11th

Bon Meh

Last week I mentioned I’d be preparing a fancy new recipe with my new 2 week food planning guide. (By the way, that guide is changing my life. I no longer do a dozen market runs for odd ingredients, or worry if I’m going to have the right items on hand for a meal. The mystery is gone, and I love it. It’s planned, working and yummy. Booyah.)

Bon Meh

That fancy new recipe was this month’s cover for Bon Appetit: prosciutto-wrapped stuffed pork loin, over apples.

Pros:

Beautiful presentation

Bon Meh

Kale. Any time I can use kale, for humor’s sake, I do. Adam hates kale and thinks I’m insane for regularly finding ways to include it in my diet. And so, as our friendship goes, I find ways to add kale to breakfast. And cocktails.

Bon Meh

Bon Meh

Bon Meh

I learned a new cooking technique: butterflying a loin. Who knew it was so easy? (And here I thought butterflying a loin was pulling a muscle in the 200 meter.)

Bon Meh

I got to use a meat thermometer I didn’t even know I owned. Score one for the gadget gods!

Bon Meh

 

Did I already mention beautiful presentation, with cooking twine and all? Such fun to put together. Bon Meh

The baked apples. Propping up the loins to cook over halved apples is genius. And the result is savory, sweet deliciousness. The meat with the cooked, tart, green apples is nothing short of delightful.

Cons:

A dozen expensive ingredients, including $10 worth of mushrooms that ended up being indistinguishable

Not a recipe for a single cook. If Alma hadn’t been visiting, there was no way I could have tied the pork together alone. It was not a hard job, but one that certainly required 4 hands.

Bon Meh

DRY. The cook time is totally off. Comments on the recipe show that I’m not the only one to be disappointed with how dry the meat came out of the oven. Come to find out 100 minutes at 400 degrees is a MOTHER LOAD OF HEAT for one little 2.5 pound loin. Some 45 minutes would suffice. (Use yer trusty thermometer to judge.)

Bon Meh
And perhaps most “con:” gross leftovers. I tried having this for lunch today and it just wasn’t good. Chances are I will not make this recipe again. The meal cost more than $50 to cook for the 3 of us, with ample leftovers. Sadly, I was counting on those for lunch and dinner today.

~K

 

Posted in
Domestic Art, Heirloom Homestead, June Cleaver, Kitchen Talk
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Elk, Donkeys and Ducks

October 10th

goofing around with the bokeh lens

Over a snowy breakfast this weekend in Evergreen with my friend Alma, we heard a bull elk has been seen repeatedly downtown with windchimes in his antlers. Apparently the creature isn’t as afraid of man, or porches, as he probably should be. The local barista thinks the bull is a good omen. With a sincerely friendly smile, he told us stories of looking the bull in the eye and trying to connect with him. We tried not to giggle at his intensity.

The snow laid out a white welcome blanket for Alma — who is visiting from Phoenix and hasn’t spent much time in the cold. We walked around a lake with Nelson while thick, juicy flakes dropped and clung to our eyelashes. The lake, full of honking geese, couldn’t have been a more picturesque route.

goofing around with the bokeh lens

But of course, Colorado this time of year isn’t just snow and mountains. There is this little football team in town called the Broncos. Attending the game Sunday was an unbelievable cultural experience. The stadium was packed with face-painted, brat-eating, beer-gulping happy fans of all ages. (Root beer for the little ones.) We blended the best we could and cheered as loud as our lungs would let us.

Broncos vs. Chargers 10-9-11

Broncos vs. Chargers 10-9-11

Broncos vs. Chargers 10-9-11

Broncos vs. Chargers 10-9-11

Broncos vs. Chargers 10-9-11

I’ve never been a football game, and to be honest — I still don’t understand all of the rules. But I do now have an appreciation for the culture of going to the stadium and cheering for the team. It was fun to dress in orange and blue, join in the songs and chants and boo the winning/opposing team.

Broncos vs. Chargers 10-9-11

We were gifted the tickets through family friends who have season passes and weren’t in town.

Broncos vs. Chargers 10-9-11

Lucky ducks, indeed.

~K

 

Posted in
Colorado
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Food, Sex, Money

October 7th

Gallo Blanco

There are nights I dream of Gallo Blanco’s tacos.

Just kidding about the sex. But since you’re here…

One of my goals for 2011 was to be better about tracking expenses. I spent September intentionally using only debit, and Mint to categorize where my expenses landed.

Needless to say the dining slice of the pie was ala mode.

apple pie for Rex

hi! I’m unfashionable pie. Somebody give me a scoop already.

Nothing makes me feel more disgusted than throwing food away. It’s disgraceful. In an attempt to be better about both controlling silly food related spending and reducing food waste, I requested the advice of friends on Facebook/Twitter.

There were a variety of clever ideas, with one central theme: make soup. Save what you don’t use and throw it in a pot and clean up your fridge regularly with a hodgepodge soup. Also, plan. My friend Stacey provided an ideal solution. Her two-week food planning Google doc tracks groceries and meals. It makes you sit down, look at your calendar and appropriately schedule meals, and related shopping.

Pumpkin apple chestnut soup

mmmm… soup. Likely to use this roasted squash recipe to clean up what’s left of the gourds in the garden.

I love it.

Earlier this week I set up 2.5 weeks worth of meals, leaving ample room for eating out (with friends in town, this is a certainty), and the chance to cook one fancy new recipe that requires speciality ingredients. These will both help me stick to the plan. Then I cut coupons. For less than $150, I purchased enough food to cook 8 large dinners (to feed 4+), breakfast and lunch. I also restocked my trifecta of bad habits: Diet Coke/coffee/chardonnay. There are leftovers scheduled too. (Those who say “I don’t eat leftovers” make me crabby. There are 7 million children starving in the horn of Africa. Shut up and take the to-go box.)

Mexican meatloaf

The next couple of weeks include: Mexican meatloaf, arroz con pollo, BBQ, chicken enchiladas, prosciutto wrapped roasted pork loin, crock pot green chile and chicken pot pie.

So, here I am. The coupon-cutting meal planner who revels in Type A organization and budgets to the penny. In other words, I’m a raspberry beret away from becoming this woman.

The kind you buy at a second-hand store,

~K

 

 

Posted in
Colorado, Heirloom Homestead, June Cleaver, Kitchen Talk
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Word Craft

October 6th

Dreaming of Frida

The other day in yoga, the instructor stopped the class to emphasize we were “practicing.” Yoga is a practice. Not a routine, or a class. Or just an excuse to sweat with other people in public in really awkward positions.

I’ve found writing is much the same. I started writing Under the Same Moon when I was 22, freshly working in public health and traveling for the first time to southeastern Africa. I’d always wanted to write novels, but my training for such a career came from nothing more than a degree in journalism, a love of words and an insatiable thirst for reading. Full of naivete, I plowed forward — taking three years to finally produce a draft I was willing to forward for editing. There were many, many drafts of this first novel. Today, it is still far from perfect — with three versions in print. So it goes with writing as a practice.

In moving to Denver six months ago, I heard about a writing cooperative downtown. There were whispers of an old victorian house full of dusty couches, warm coffee pots and tattered yellow pads, scribbled with inspiration. Joining Lighthouse took three months of research. I even drove by before I was willing to walk up the steps past the ornamental lions, and knock on the big glass door.

There is something about being around other writers — taking classes, workshopping the latest draft, swapping painful stories about the critic who wouldn’t shut up — that is wildly intimidating. What if they all wore skinny jeans and Chucks and had agents in New York and dropped names of famous authors and publishers? What if they were all making a living by the might of the pen?

Daunting. This from a woman who once walked up a group of men at a busy bar on a Friday afternoon and joined their table for happy hour because I couldn’t find my friends. They were just dudes in a bar. How bad could it be?

They are just writers in an old house. How scary could it be?

Working at Lighthouse makes being a novelist feel like both a badge of honor and punishment. Novel 1 did well. Some statistic I read said most books published don’t sell 1,000 copies. UTSM has done that and more. Not much more, but still. Friends and family heard about this book for nearly a decade and my community bought it in supportive, lovely droves. There are no promises Novel 2 will see the same generosity.

And yet. Working at Lighthouse is a new community — one of folks who trade opinions on style guides and literary journal submissions. One where my little novel and the progress on a second are applauded for bravery and discipline, not for the strength of my talent. Being in this house for classes, Saturday morning socials, Monday afternoon writing marathons makes me feel at home — even though the cool kids are wearing hipster uniforms and dropping names like they are hot. They make me want to practice. To throw up on the page, see it for what it is, rip it up, start over and do it again and again and again until it is something I want to frame and name my first born in honor of.

So, I’m reading the New Yorker with a clenched jaw and McSweeney’s with delight. I’m entering writing contests. I’m training with those who are much better than me in hopes that their smarts, talents and drive will rub off.

It’s a lot like training at pool with Olympic hopefuls a couple of lanes over. You can’t help but gawk, throw your shoulders back and go like hell.

~K

 

 

Posted in
Colorado, Novel
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Nelson-Approved Literature

October 4th

I adore this poem. It’s printed and hanging in the window of a bookshop in my neighborhood.

Love is like owning a dog

My favorite part:

On cold winter nights, love is warm.
It lies between you and lives and breathes
and makes funny noises.
Love wakes you up all hours of the night with its needs.
It needs to be fed so it will grow and stay healthy.

Love doesn’t like being left alone for long.
But come home and love is always happy to see you.
It may break a few things accidentally in its passion for life,
but you can never be mad at love for long.

Is love good all the time? No! No!
Love can be bad. Bad, love, bad! Very bad love.

Love makes messes.
Love leaves you little surprises here and there.
Love needs lots of cleaning up after.
Sometimes you just want to get love fixed.
Sometimes you want to roll up a piece of newspaper
and swat love on the nose,
not so much to cause pain,
just to let love know Don’t you ever do that again!

Nelson approved literature.

~K

Posted in
Happy Hippie, Nelson
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Making Friends with the Butcher

October 3rd

Braised Short Ribs

I try not to buy copies of magazines while I’m waiting at the grocery store. I canceled several subscriptions when I moved because I just couldn’t keep up.* But when I saw the October issue of Bon Appetit, I couldn’t resist. I so love finding a magazine recipe for something I’ve never even considered making, heading off to the grocery with a list of ingredients and watching it come to life. Rarely do I get out of my normal BBQ-meatloaf-casserole routine. Red wine braised short ribs, thankfully, shook up the schedule. Soon enough I was introducing myself to the local butcher and walking out with pounds of 2-inch ribs, vegetables and bottles of cabernet.

Braised Short Ribs

Worse case scenario, you open the bottle of wine and order a pizza. Best case scenario: the recipe worked. And oh, sweet heavens, it was one of the best meals I’ve ever made.

Braised Short Ribs

Braised Short Ribs

Braised Short Ribs

I paired the ribs with my friend Juliann’s mashed sweet potatoes and whipped up a peach cobbler for dessert, using up the last of my bushel from Palisade, CO.

I’m adding this recipe to mine for rack of lamb. So incredibly easy to prepare for such great results. The key is to find a good butcher who will trim the fat and cut the ribs for you. Otherwise, buy an extra bottle of wine to sip while these cook away.

Winner, winner spare rib dinner. (With left overs, if you are lucky!)

~K

*Come to find out after a month of careful budgeting, it’s these little expenses that kill me softly.

 

 

Posted in
Heirloom Homestead, June Cleaver, Kitchen Talk
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