Art to FEED; “Community Hearts” and the Children’s Center at Modesto Gospel Mission

img_9466

Myself, Lilly and the lovely Angela, a volunteer at the center. 

Sometimes reality can  hit you hard. Going to the Modesto Gospel Mission to volunteer at their children’s center one evening with a group from church, I remember thinking, will there really be a need? Do we have too many volunteers to really help, will we be standing around, wanting to be helpful but doing so in vain. Many different thoughts come up whenever we try to do something of value. We start to believe all the negative voices, the ones that keep us from getting up and out to help. The sad reality is our world is a fallen one and the need is overwhelming. In entering the children’s center I had to take a seat. I was hit with this reality that exists in my own back yard. Children, infants, families without hope. I also write this having lost a childhood friend last month, after drug addiction and living on the streets ended in tragedy.  I don’t believe you need a worldly perspective to look around your own community and know things aren’t right.

Modesto is increasing in it’s population of homelessness,(Modesto Bee, August 2015). An increase in alcoholism, drug addiction, low literacy rates and mental illness seems to be only fueling this problem. It is easy for many to ignore this issue, how would one even begin to help?  One only has to drive down the La Loma neighborhood of Modesto, an area I used to ride bikes as a child, and one can see this growing problem first hand. The Modesto Gospel Mission exists here to help, and the children’s center offers a safe place for children who otherwise would have nowhere to go but out on the streets. This is a home to many, a community to many. It is at times a chaotic and volatile place, but there are much needed rules, structure, warmth and encouragement. The Mission has aims to improve community with a larger medical facility, women’s center and a newly purchased warehouse in order to teach skills for employment to its participants in their program. We donated our “Community Hearts” painting, done at the Homestead Market Fair in Ripon, CA. The painting was done by the community, who all painted their “hearts” as a symbol of support for the children’s center at the Modesto Gospel Mission.

Many homeless desire to work and be productive. Art to Feed has a vision in line with our philosophy that connecting people with food and agriculture improves community. This year we plan to create a small maintainable garden providing fresh produce for a salad bar daily for the children, women and men that come to the mission for meals. The garden will also teach skills and allow for a positive environment for the residents and the community that surround the garden. We also hope to incorporate some children’s programs with the help of a local garden club. We envision the garden growing every year and possibly leading to the selling of produce at local farmers markets, providing employment and skills for our homeless community. There have been successful models with a similar concept by Sol Food Street Farms, and we can only aspire towards this. For now a garden. I am not naive to think that this will solve all of our problems. But its a small step, and as one resident said in hearing of our plans, a much needed bit of “life.” Giving something living to take care of and watch thrive in an environment that is so accustomed to  failure is enough of a step for me and one I cant wait to get started.

If you are interested in donating towards the garden I will be having an art show thru February at the Carolyn Huff Gallery in Modesto, also a part of the down town art walk. All proceeds will be used to fund this garden. If you are interested in volunteering for the Modesto Gospel Mission, or just to learn more you can attend their monthly tours, and visit them online to learn more or donate at http://modestogospelmission.org/

 

Harvest Short Ribs; Braised in Brown Butter and Tarragon on Bed of Creamy Yogurt Polenta

img_8608Tried to sound fancy; got you didn’t I?? This is simple as food gets, but we can make it sound pretty elevated. This is “peasant food,” which by the way is the kind of food I love to eat and cook. It is about using what you have, making the most of it. When cooking my recipes, have fun be creative. Don’t have nutmeg? Don’t drive to the store, use something you may have, cloves or coffee can warm up this dish with flavor just as well, then it will be truly your creation.

img_8110

The short rib is by no means a fancy cut, but when cooked right it is buttery melt in your mouth divine. I used the last of our garden vegetables as I prep our garden beds for a fall garden. I roughly chopped up the vegetables, letting them cook down through out the day, and then puree in a blender. I plan to use the other half for a vegetable based soup. The ribs are braised with tarragon,  butter and coconut oil, then allowed to stew with the sauce until tender. The coconut oil allows the butter to get to a high temperature without burning. I serve this over polenta. My mother and grandmother always had polenta, I was shocked at how little other people use this Italian staple!  I like my polenta creamy, but not watery, similar to a thick “grits,” with the grain of polenta is finer. I stir in my yogurt made fresh from the dairy farm to give the polenta extra creamy.  If you haven’t tried to make your own yogurt try it using my method! This is a perfect meal for a cold fall night. Make extra and invite friends!

Ingredients:

  • 4-8 Qts vegetable puree. (A full 8 Qt Pot of chopped vegetables)
  • 4- 6 lbs Short Ribs
  • 2 Tbsp Fresh Chopped Tarragon
  • 2 Tbsp Butter
  • 2 Tbsp Coconut Oil
  • 1/4 C wine
  • Salt and Pepper to Taste
  • 1 tbsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/3 C molasses
  • 1/3 C balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 C sugar

Polenta:

  • 1 1/2 C Corn Meal
  • 6 Cups of Chicken Stock
  • 2 Tbsp Butter
  • 2 Tbsp Yogurt
  • Parmesan Cheese

Directions: Roughly chop what vegetables you have on hand (carrots, celery, onion, kale, garlic, eggplant, zucchini etc) Add olive oil, salt and pepper and cook until all vegetables are tender. Puree in blender or with immersion blender in pot.

In separate pan, brown short ribs. I will explain the method of braising; start by heating the butter and coconut oil in saute pan. Season short ribs with salt and pepper. Chop tarragon and add to pan. Pace ribs in pan and let brown on one side, then flip. Approx. 3 minutes a side at very high heat. Make sure you get a nice “crust,” this will allow the ribs to seal in any juices and lead to tastier meat. Now you will have some burnt looking bits, this is the fat that has been rendered and is full of flavor. Add a little liquid of your choice, wine, water or chicken stock. About 1/4 cup. Using spatula scrape these bits with the liquid and let it reduce a bit. Add ribs and browning liquid to vegetable puree.

Add molasses, nutmeg, sugar and vinegar. Simmer on low heat for 1 hour. Place in 350 F oven for 2-4 hours. Make polenta by boiling chicken stock and butter. Add Polenta slowly with whisk to avoid lumping. remove from heat and let sit for 30 minutes stirring occasionally. Serve short ribs over polenta with extra juice and a little parmesan if desired! Enjoy.

img_8602

Because if I ever become a mother who keeps their family from eating to get a good picture, please tell me to stop