The Slow-Cooked Sentence

Happiness by the spoonful

Rachael Conlin Levy
A school lesson.

More than a week of snow, bitter temperatures, ankle-deep slush and freezing fog forced a new routine on my family: At 8:30 a.m., the six of us pile into our one car and I make a giant loop — kids at school, husband at work, milk or eggs at the grocery store and home again.

One morning we passed a boy that left me feeling punched in the stomach.

He was running to school wrapped in a fleece Spiderman blanket, which loosely covered his T-shirt and backpack and flapped about his ankles. He looked about 10.

Is this a kid who rejects a jacket on the grounds of style? Is this a parent practicing tough-love and natural consequences? Is this poverty?

My children’s friends come over to play in the snow and have no boots, jackets or mittens. They’re fingers are bright pink, their shoes soaked when I invite them inside for hot chocolate.

The school hands out jackets, backpacks, some children regularly receive bags of groceries, and weekly all students get a healthy snack thanks to the federal Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.

“Why do they give you that?” my son asked his friend, peeking inside the bag at the juice boxes, cereal and cans of soup.

“Because my family’s poor.”

It’s not always easy to tell, but I know some of my neighbors struggle to survive because I’ve been mistaken for being in their shoes. Twice cars have stopped me as my children and I walked down the street. The first driver handed me a flier about a church event involving food. (We’ll have hot dogs, lots of them and they’re free!) The second driver wanted to give me groceries.

“No, no. I’m good, thank you. Take them to the food bank,” I said.

And I walked on feeling humble and grateful for our steady income, warm clothes and food. Gifts, indeed.

In the bowl:

white bean chili

White bean chili with salsa verde

White bean chili with salsa verde
Recipe by my friend Heather at Yo Mama en Espana

Serves 6 to 8

1 teaspoon lemon pepper (I used black)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
4 chicken breast, halved and skinned
olive oil, non-stick cooking spray or 1 teaspoon oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
2 (9 oz.) packages frozen corn
2 (4 oz.) cans diced green chilies, undrained
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 to 3 tablespoons lime juice
2 (15 oz.) cans great Northern beans, undrained
2/3 cup crushed tortilla chips
2/3 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

In a large saucepan, combine 2 1/2 cups water, pepper and cumin. Boil. Add chicken. Reduce heat to low and simmer 2o to 30 minutes or until chicken is fork tender and juices run clear. Remove chicken from bones, cut into 1 inch pieces. Return chicken to saucepan.

Spray skillet with oil. Over medium heat onion and cook until tender. Add garlic and cook one minute. Add cooked onions, corn, chilies, cumin and lime juice to chicken mixture. Bring to boil. Add beans. Cook until thoroughly heated.

To serve, place tortilla chips and cheese in bottom of the bowl. Ladle chili over top and serve with salsa verde. (In my case, I only had fresh jalapenos.)

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