Cooking by the Fire

This is really crazy nuts, but I had to cook in my fireplace one night. My stove went on the fritz and I had fresh fish on the counter next to a nice cold bottle of French white wine. A tossed salad waiting for its dressing was in the making and the most divine garlic bread was on the broiler rack with considerable anticipation. There was no question of calling a 24-hour repairman at their steep rates.

I was not going to miss this meal! The fish was fresh-caught and expensive from the best market in town. I used pricey endives in the salad, and the wine—don’t ask. It was a splurge but I was celebrating a very important occasion with a good friend, and we would both be crushed if the evening did not come to fruition.

You don’t mess around with electronic appliances, even the non-digital ones. This is why you get a warranty when they are new. A stove may never break, but if it does like mine, you won’t kill yourself fixing it. I certainly wasn’t going in there with my bare hands. But I was going to cook someway somehow. I had to be get out of the box for a moment and take an imaginary brain ride.

I do own an iron skillet my grandmother sort of bequeathed to me for making pancakes. I love hers so much that I keep it in on a lower shelf. So I lit the wood stove in the lounge room and let it sputter into a full flame existence. I didn’t feed the fire to keep it modest. The fish went into the pan with a little olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper after a coat of soft butter. Lemon wedges and parsley sprigs were to be the final garnish. A restaurant it wasn’t, but it would look darn close when the various elements were “plated.”

I’ve seen old movies and read books about pioneers. How hard can this be? It wasn’t. The fish didn’t take long although the bread was a bit dark and overly crusty on top—but still edible. No worries about the salad that didn’t need to touch a lick of flame. I did try to grill some vegetables but ended up with a sautéed version using the iron pan. There is too much flame in a fireplace for grilling without protection at the front and sides. I was worried about drippings, but there wasn’t any real grease to cause a major situation. I was very, very careful! I used a barbecue mitt (given as a Christmas gift with Santa on it!) even though I don’t own a grill.

Not that I would do it again. I was panicky the whole time. But it tasted great and was certainly a new accomplishment. I am not a cook and had planned a simple-to-prepare meal fortunately. Not a lot of sauce or spices. No need to get close to the pan to stir or glaze. Just heat and eat.

World Poverty – Beggar or Borrower?

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As Americans we have it not good, but great, when it comes to food. There is no doubt about it. We are asked regularly beginning with ads on television and popping up in our web browsers on the Internet to donate money to combat third world hunger. Many Americans see this as helping beggars who are not industrious enough to work to feed themselves. Many choose to contribute in the form of donations to international organizations such as World Vision, who has been around for quite some time and has an excellent public reputation. Of recent vintage is the concept of microloans, money that an individual can actually loan to someone in a third world country to finance growing crops for food the help people feed themselves.

There is an experience I would like to share about World Vision and the problem of donating. I was sponsoring a Peruvian 7 year old girl named Rosalinda. World Vision allows you to correspond with your child through translators, though the mail can take weeks before you get a response. Beyond your monthly contribution, you can send a single payment of a minimum amount that can be used by your sponsored child for clothes and other basic necessities. This is all arranged through World Vision. I had done this several times, and I received a picture with Rosalinda standing next to all the things she bought. New jeans!

Unfortunately, out of nowhere, I was informed that the child I was supporting has changed – with no explanation. The explanation came from Rosalinda in a letter, telling me that World Vision had withdrawn their support of their village, so sending support was no longer possible. To be fair, it is understandable that there are places so remote or dangerous to get to that this sometimes is necessary. But the least I expected was being informed by World Vision instead of a sad 7 year old.

The lesson in this story is that while donating money to reputable charitable organizations is a viable option, everything is not as it seems. Even with vetting the possible charitable organizations, there are things you may discover that you are totally unaware of. It is not as if these realities are intentional deceptions by the organizations, but as Americans we tend to be a bit naïve when trying to help others.

The alternative solution to help ending third world hunger is through microloans. If you have $25 that you can spare, you can actually receive interest on the money you send. The way it works is fairly simple. Go to a web site such as kiva.org and create a contract with someone who agrees to pay you an agreed upon interest rate for the loan. The money can be used for food, clothing, or a number of other available resources lenders need. You can also choose to lend to a group or individual, male or female.

The advantage is not in the return on investment, but that you get to choose exactly who will receive the money and how it will be used. Many people feel more involved with the microloan process, knowing that they have a direct hand in the outcome. Kiva is only one of a number of microloan programs that can be found on the Internet.

But there is another advantage to using microloans – the fact that you are helping people help themselves. Those Americans who believe that third world people are simply looking for a handout can sign up for microloans and decide for themselves who and what they want their money to go to. In a way, the establishment of the microloan program takes away the excuses for people getting involved and being part of the solution instead of standing on the sidelines.