Archive for December, 2011
Good Gifts for Good Causes
Gifts and presents meant so much to me growing up in a Santa Clause-centered household. Giving, I learned early on, was more blessed than receiving, but truth be told, I never took that one to heart until I became a parent more than two decades ago. My Santa-list development involved much thought and longing. Bicycles, games and toys stayed at the top, with dolls, doll houses, books and an Easy-Bake Oven in rotation over the span of ages 3-to-12. A pony and a puppy made the list a few times, but when stuffed (that was our way of saying “plush”, children) versions of said creatures showed up, I got the message, and focused in on the realm of the possible. We knew to list many items, so that Santa had some leeway; these were options, not demands, and whatever was under the tree (unwrapped — Santa didn’t wrap gifts on our route) I recall as being gloriously enough. My family still asks me for lists, as I do of them, and moans when it skews toward kitchen gadgets (it is not my fault that I wear out oven thermometers and lose candy thermometers and cookie sheets when taking my cooking “show” on the road) and books. I already have, at this point in life, everything I need and plenty of things to give away ( as soon as I edit and get them to a donation place). So do many of my dear ones who share the blessing of having lived through many decades of holiday seasons.
This year of 2011 is winding to its end, and the tax-deductible gift-giving deadline is upon us. I’m making my list for donations, and perhaps you are doing so, too. In case you could use some inspiration, or are open to the power of suggestion, I’ve gathered a few candidates for your generosity which are dear to me. I like to support groups that I know about because of some personal connection, a version of acting locally as in “Think globally; Act locally!” Some are here in Piedmont North Carolina, and others are located far away but are near to my heart because I have come across them on my way through this good life I get to enjoy each day. This is to get you thinking — give to these folks if you wish; or think about what moves your heart, mind, and spirit and consider ending the year with donations in those directions. And if you’d like to share your own favorite groups and causes, let me know in the comments section. I am always delighted to know who is doing good things in the world, and how I can support them; this list can’t ever get too long. Happy New Year to you and all your dear ones!
SMALL is Beautiful:
Here are some small groups out there everyday, doing wonderful work that I love:
My Peace Corps service in Thailand ended decades ago, but the Peace Corps’ presence in the kingdom of Thailand is still going strong. I’m a proud happy member of Friends of Thailand, an organization of former Peace Corps volunteers who served in Thailand as well as anyone who supports the mission of FOT, which is to celebrate and support Thailand and the Thai people. The FOT website will educate you as to FOT’s past and present work, mission and activities. One particular good thing is the opportunity to support current Peace Corps Volunteers living and working in Thailand today. You need not be a member of FOT to donate to this good work. My good friend Carolyn Nickels-Cox works hard to keep this group going and growing and the opportunity to put a small amount of money to work in support of Thai people and PCV’s is a real gift. Donation checks to the FoT Project Fund need to be made out to Friends of Thailand, with reference to the Project Fund on the memo line, and mailed to:
Friends of Thailand
c/o Carolyn Nickels-Cox
1418 Striped Bass Street, Unit D
San Francisco, CA 94130
You can also donate online at the website of Friends of Thailand.
This organization is based in Hillsborough, NC, and works in multiple and creative ways to find and support musicians whose life’s work benefited (and in many many cases still benefits) the world, but whose compensation for that work was not what it should have been, given the world they lived and made music in. Read all about their work at their website; they have an excellent track record and a powerful positive attitude about what can be done to right old wrongs and support artists in every possible way. Living national treasures are out there and I love what MMRF does to find them and lift them up and celebrate their work past and present.
Music Maker Relief Foundation
PO Box 1358
Hillsborough, NC 27278 919-643-2456
Shea Yeleen is a business and a non-profit, created by a former Peace Corps Volunteer who served in Mali and came home wanting to help women in rural West African communities to benefit from their traditions of work in the production of shea butter. You can support Shea Yeleen both buy donating to the work of the non-profit as well as by being a customer. Shea Yeleen sells natural body-care products and it’s a win-win for you and them when we purchase their excellent fair-trade products. I found out about Shea Yeleen at the Peace Corps 50th Anniversary programs at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival this past summer, and loved meeting women from Ghana who had come to Washington DC to share their work and their business with festival visitors. You can donate and shop online, or contact them here:
Shea Yeleen International, Inc.
280 Madison Avenue
New York, New York 10016 Tel: 212-386-5576
Based in Chapel Hill, NC, Spoken Revolutions is an amazing program created by my good friends Kevin and Suepinda, who are the founders of Spoken Rev’s parent organization, CHC PACT: Chapel Hill-Carrboro Parents Advocating for Children Together. I’m a member and have watched with awe and gratitude as they have worked with teachers, parents and administration within our local school system to make our schools great places where every child can learn, grow and succeed. This cycling program sent a group of local high school students on an 1800 mile bike-tour of the longest route of the Underground Railroad in the summer of 2011. Read all about it on their website and blog, and consider donating to support their work. Donations go through The ReCYCLEry NC, another fine organization dedicated to getting kids on bikes and getting them riding. They have a big celebration of last year’s trip coming up in January, and their cycle adventure for summer 2012 is in the planning stages. I am proud to be friends with Kevin and Suepinda, and delighted to be supporting their amazing work and the young people to whom they are so creatively dedicated.
The Tasting Cultures Foundation
250 West 90th Street #8D
NY, NY 10024
My friend Sarah Khan created the Tasting Cultures Foundation and here is a bite of what she says about TCF: “The Tasting Cultures Foundation collaborates with artists, educators, community groups, scientists, chefs and culinary experts, farmers, and environmental advocates to create dynamic educational materials and multimedia events that explore the rich variety of global foodways and the manner in which these cultural practices influence our lives; our communities; and our local, regional, and global ecosystems.” I met her when TCF presented an extraordinary and moving performance by Theaster Gates and the Black Monks of Mississippi as the Sunday morning program for the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium in 2010. Sarah is a genius and a force-field of energy for art, music, community, cooking, nutrition, humor, justice and fun; she writes, produces, explores, and works in her professional fields of public health, plant science, nutrition, and ethnobotany. Explore the TCF website and see what she has cooking. You will love supporting her ever-evolving and meaningful work.
And BIG is Beautiful, Too!
These are some of my favorite big-time organizations. I like to highlight groups like the ones above, ones without a big name and reach. It’s a privilege to support the work of bigger groups who have the power to make a difference on a larger scale. Here are my favorites, big groups with big hearts and big impacts.
My father grew up on East 53rd Street in New York City, and always spoke with warmth of good times at the Kips Bay Boys Club. Both he and my younger sister Susanne worked hard for the Boys and Girls Club of High Point, NC for many years. They loved being part of the Boys and Girls Club programs. Sports, arts, leadership, tutoring, community: Boys and Girls Clubs have a hundred years behind them and a 21st century attitude, all around the country.
Having taught school for a number of years, and having many friends and family members “in the business”, I know personally how much teachers do for the world, for kids, and for free. We overwork them, underpay them, and yet there they are, showing up every day to educate and inspire youngsters. I never knew a teacher who didn’t reach into her own pocket on behalf of her students. Donors Choose allows you to back them up; to find classroom teachers who request specific financial support on projects they’ve dreamed up for their students. You can browse by city or state or region; academic subjects or arts or sports; technical equipment, classroom-sized sets of books, a particular grade level — . I’ve loved doing this and I’ve loved receiving messages from the teachers and students when the project is complete.
I love the Southern Foodways Alliance and I can’t shake the vain feeling that it was created just for me; like they read my mind and dream up projects and activities that I would have designed myself if I had had just a little more time on my hands. Turns out there are many many people out there who feel the same way, who love and cherish the food, cooking, culture, history and traditions of the Southern table, and adore SFA for serving it and serving it up for all of us. I’ve been a member for years, and not only does SFA do fine work in documenting and preserving foodways, they host delicious, fun, educational events. Their oral history work, led by Amy Evans Streeter, is a gift to the world, one that grows better by the year.
Based in Montgomery, Alabama, SPLC provides everyday superhero-service against the forces of evil, with a tireless, dedicated, brilliant, energetic team determined to fight hatred and bigotry and get justice for people who have been wronged. As they put it on the website: “The Southern Poverty Law Center is dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society. Using litigation, education and other forms of advocacy, we work toward the day when the ideals of equal justice and equal opportunity will be a reality.” They are not afraid, they fight hard and well, and they win. They also work to educate, inspire and create community with positive, proactive work, particularly in schools.
Walk through an airport and you will see service members in uniform on their way to and from their places of work, which tend to be far away from home and putting them in harms’ way. The USO has a long history of taking care of a few of their needs in countless ways, here in the USA and wherever they are stationed around the world. They serve those who are serving, in more ways than I can count, and they do it well. Love backing them up.
Short and sweet, the YWCA’s website and logo say it all: “YWCA is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.” Since 1858 they have been doing extraordinary, powerful work in every aspect of women’s lives. Their 21st century work on behalf of women, girls, and families, is moving, focused, energetic, comprehensive, and smart.
Here is my list of wonderful, marvelous, varied, worthy, fascinating, beautiful, interesting, practical, fanciful, thoughtful, moving, funny, poignant, truthful, inspiring, delicious, fine, and worthy cookbooks and food-centric books that are on my list for 2011. It’s a long, no, make that generous and thorough list. There is no short list. It is completely subjective and very personal, and if you know me well, you will know that many of these authors are my friends. Not all of them, but many of them. I love my work, which brings me into friendships with people who share my fascination and love of food, cooking, history, stories, and such. This is not a list of the Very Best — it’s a list of my favorites, and I know I left something out. I was going to comment on each one, but that would have made this the 90,000 word post (verbosity is my blessing and flaw), so I leave you to figure out why I like each one (different reasons), or more importantly, whether you might want to buy a given book for your own kitchen or as a gift for someone who would enjoy it and appreciate you. Please go to or order from an independent bookseller. They are angels straight from God, and it’s not easy in 2011 to make a living, even a Bob Cratchit-level living, from being a merchant of words, stories, pictures and ideas. I want them to prosper and stay open. If you need to find the lowest price, no harm done. But if you, like me, are lucky enough to have discretion in what you spend and where, consider being a patron of booksellers and authors (Full disclosure: I am one and surely my opinion is colored by that fact.) But here we are. You can find a bookstore near (-ish) to you, or find ways to order these books, by going to http://www.indiebound.org/ . Holiday greetings and happy winter wishes to you. And if I missed your favorite food-centric book this year, tell me all about it in commentland!
by Gabrielle Hamilton
Jessica B. Harris
Julia M. Usher
Elizabeth S.D. Englehardt
Martha Hall Foose
Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart
Edited by Sara Roahen and John T. Edge
T. Susan Chang
Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
Stephanie L Tyson
You made it all the way to the end! How wonderful. May I wish you the very best as this year of 2011 winds down and the New Year of 2012 blooms open like a winter sunrise, slowly and filled with promise, hope, and if we are lucky, friendship and love. “God bless us every one!” as Tiny Tim hollered in his outside voice.
Mother’s Cinnamon Pecan Coffee Cake, photographed by Becky Lugart-Stayner
This classic cake makes an excellent centerpiece for Christmas morning breakfast, which is when my mother always served it to our family prior to the gift-fest around the Christmas tree. She made it ahead of time and warmed it up gently in the oven, covered with foil. I do the same thing, but we go right to the Christmas tree and turn to orange juice, coffee, and this simple and wonderful cake as a breather. Country-style sausage patties, scrambled eggs, cream gravy, and biscuits follow, once every present has been opened, and all that holds us until a Christmas dinner much later in the day. I love this time of year, and I love going to my local grocery store and seeing a major section of the green metal shelves lining the baking aisle completely empty, except for a snowy dusting of flour. Clearly, people who don’t bake constantly turn to it and hooray for that! I hope this time of year pleases you, whether you decorate, bake, and watch favorite movies, or whether you travel, hibernate, or pass the time in simple ways.
Mother’s Cinnamon Pecan Coffee Cake
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups raisins
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped pecans
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, melted
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspooon vanilla extract
1 cup milk
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
Heat the oven to 350 F, and grease and flour a 13-by-9-inch pan. To make the filling, combine the light brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon in a medium bowl, and stir with a fork to mix everything well. Combine the raisins and pecans in another bowl and toss to mix them. Place the cinnamon mixture, the nut mixture, and the melted butter by the baking pan.
To make the coffeecake batter, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl, and stir with a fork to mix them together well. Stir the vanilla into the milk. In a large bowl, combine the butter and the sugar, and beat with a mixer at high speed, stopping to scrape down the bowl, until they are pale yellow and evenly mixed, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs and beat for another 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl now and then, until the mixture is smooth and light.
Using a large spoon or a spatula, add about a third of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, and stir only until the flour disappears. Add about a third of the milk and mix it in. Repeat two more times with the remaining flour and milk, stirring just enough each time to keep the batter smooth.
Spread half the batter evenly over the bottom of the prepared pan. Sprinkle half the cinnamon mixture over the batter, followed by half the melted butter. Scatter half the raisins and nuts over the batter, and then carefully spread the remaining batter over the filling, using a spatula or a spoon to smooth the surface all the way to the edges of the pan. Repeat the process, using the remaining cinnamon mixture, butter, and nut mixture to cover the cake evenly.
Bake at 350 F for 45 to 50 minutes, until the cake is golden brown, fragrant, and beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool the cake in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes on wire racks or a folded kitchen towel, and then serve in squares right from the pan. The cake is delicious hot, warm, or at room temperature.
This recipe comes from Southern Cakes: Sweet and Irresistible Recipes for Everyday Celebrations (Chronicle Books 2007), by Nancie McDermott. All rights reserved.