Monday, May 20, 2024

(Banter) Advice to Graduates. Updated


Gary T. Czerwinski

Since it's graduation time again, I'm re-posting this .... with a few
updates and today from its original publication of 2004.

(Receiving graduation invitations was part of having taught public school for twenty years. To bring something unique, I began devising “Advice to Graduates” that I sometimes slipped into cards. I’ve added to it year after year. And I probably will continue to do so. Such is life and its lessons.)

We live in an age of technology that is shrinking the world. Ironically, it is alienating societies and individuals. Tribalism isn’t diminishing, it is growing. So be careful to what “tribe” you choose to belong. In your lifetime, many will appear and beckon. And that includes techy toys. Do you own them? Or do they own you? If you are "woke," who is asleep?

Learn to spend a day or two without any technology, without electricity. Make it a family affair. Learn how to cook over an outdoor fire. Learn how to communicate without an electrical devise. Learn how to imagine. How to improvise. How to communicate verbally. Why? Because, one day, it may just save your life.

And learn how to preserve food!

Talking about food . . .  Governments and corporations are slowly, but intentionally, poisoning us. Beware where you buy your food. What you eat. What you feed your children. Teach your family how and what to cook. Read labels and ingredients. Food is a celebration of our planet and our Creator. It should be Christmas every single meal. A gift . . . God's gift to us. Manna.

We live in the prescribed "age of information" where we just have to push a button to find out anything.  Well, be very careful. "Easy" is often pleasurable. Instead, seek the responsible. Seek the reasonable and the logical. Think for yourself. Never mind media sources nor their minions ...

With information, there is also mis-information. I am sorry to inform you, but you go into the world and the future having to do even more homework. That is correct. Even more, not less, homework. Do not take any "opinion" for granted. Your life may/will/does depend on doing your own research. America was built during "The Age of Reason." Test and question all evidence. Even if it does not follow the "science" of the time in which you live. Or the popular opinion.

Speaking of science ... Sorry, but there are few "experts." Most are wrong. Remember Covid. Remember government leaders. It is okay to leave behind your family. Noah did not take aboard humans . . . Just animals. Think about that!

Much of what we learn in school is how to function in a group--not how to function on our own. When you can function on your own, you can never be alienated. Instead, you will become a magnet to attract others. 

Never underestimate the power of one. One has changed the world. One idea. One action. One vote. One step. One by one. Jesus. Ghandi. Assange.

Be an example. Examples stand alone. That is why they are presented at the beginning of the page of exercises to be solved. As of right now, this very minute, I challenge you to pledge to be a problem solver. Pledge, to be a solution in your life. Pledge to improve your generation and your country. From relationships, to jobs, to marriage, to parenting. Do not be a problem in all that you endeavor. No one enjoys complication! Keep it simple.

Trust in the Universe. It is our last frontier. Learn from it. The greatest strides in civilization have come from looking up, not down. The Universe is limitless and undiscovered. There are no horizons in space. No ups. No downs. No sideways. No Left. No Right. Don’t be afraid to make your own horizons. Make your own directions. Make sure your mind is as open and as vast as space itself. Is Earth flat? You  tell me!

And, yes, we are not alone in the Universe. Get used to it.

Honor Nature, for we are losing it minute by minute. We live on a wonderful, incredible, transformational  planet! What have you done to make it better? To preserve its beauty? To guarantee its success? Your body is your mini-me planet. Health is a life-long process. Honor it with physical nourishment. Spiritual nourishment. Academic nourishment.

Don't be a slob. Your environment is a reflection of your brain. And personal hygiene and dress is a reflection of common sense. Even a cat cleans itself.

Hey! It is okay to be afraid. Fear is often the harbinger of growth. Don’t run away! It is better to be scared and to go forward then not to be scared and end up going nowhere. As Einstein said, “Adversity is opportunity in disguise.”

There is no such thing as “absolute truth.” The purpose of being human, the purpose of being educated, the purpose of being civilized, and the responsibility of living in a civilized and free culture is to question and to learn. Learn from everything. Take what is best from all ideologies, cultures, individuals, religions. To do so means your are always CONSTRUCTING your life, not just LIVING a life. Not to do so means others are living your life for you. And that has led to every major war in our time.

Right now, your entire world has been contained within your home or your school. Even your town. You have won sport awards. You have run the fastest. You have broken records. You have achieved the most A's and B's. How wonderful. But now that all changes ... and you transcend from the safe womb of buildings to the scary life of the real world. Build. Build. Build.

I'm sorry, but no one really cares who you are. I know that sounds cruel, but that is just how life works. If you have awards, don't forget them, Instead, help others to also achieve. 

So, maybe you aren't the most successful ... But now is your chance. During events such as this, we talk about future, future, future. Well, no future is endless. Right now, you all have incredible decades ahead of you to decide who you are. Never give up!

Success really is measured in “having,” “getting,” and “acquiring.” And, yes, money really can make you happy. That is why we work. But it is also measured in what you give to others. And the grace and manner with which you receive when given to. For those to whom much is given, much is expected in return--even if it is only a jar of soup gifted to a neighbor.

Start an emergency savings account today. Put change in a jar. Bank dollar bills in a can in the freezer. Put it out of reach but within easy access. Pay your own way ... Be independent. And God will add it all up for you. In fact, invest in God's money, gold and silver. Hang onto it.

Remember Emerson who said we always know when we are about to do something that is wrong. Listen to that inner voice. Cultivate and meditate in its silence. Intuition can and will save your life. It can prove you innocent.

There is no such thing as a good secret. The easiest way to destroy a relationship, family, business, government, even yourself, is through secrets. There are two sides to every story. In politics, there are six.

Guess what? It really does make a difference who is the President of the United States. Don't just cast a vote, cast an informed vote. And do the same for every level of government. Don't skip your local elections. They are often the most important.

Life isn’t easy. It’s not supposed to be. You don’t have a right to expect it to be. Treasure its challenges as difficult as they may be. Difficulties are often hidden clues that point the way to your destiny and identity. Suffering will cleanse your pride and strengthen your humility. Much of life is a fight. If you aren’t fighting and arguing,  maybe you are not living.

Speaking of life . . . Life is creation! So never stop creating. Draw. Paint. Plant. Sculpt. Bake. Read. Think. Write. Sing. Compose. Share. But, for heaven’s sake, make something from nothing! Don’t be someone who makes nothing from everything.

Volunteer! Praise and support those who do! Join in! 

From this moment forward, life becomes less and less about you. And remember this: marriage is less about love than it is about the other person. Anyone can fall in love. And most do. But only half can love their other half more than they do themselves. And if you have children, life is all about them, not you. Grow up!

Marriage is for life. Choose wisely. 
When all else fails, family is all we got! Keep those doors open. But, if you can’t, if you have to close them, don’t turn the key. Don’t lock them out. Just close the door and keep the key in your pocket.

Children are like credit cards. Easy to get, difficult to pay off. Both begin with temptation. If you can’t afford either, don’t apply!

Pray. Choose a god. Choose a deity. Choose a rock. Choose something. But spend several minutes before beginning each day with a prayer. Say thank-you. Your prayer should be a life-long quest. And, remember, unanswered prayers are often the ones that actually have been answered. Learn discernment.

The most important events in our life are often the ones over which we have no control. Be receptive to chance and luck. It will change your life. Our time and the Universe’s time are not in sync. What seems bad or evil on our time often has better consequences and revelations on the Universe’s time down the road. Be patient. Read the skies.

Never give up. Never ever stop believing that there is good in the world. Your journey in life is to be that goodness!

Most of all, be happy! The test of its fruition lies in its foundation of responsibility, respect, honesty, patience, knowledge, truth, spirit, beauty. These things actually grow and multiply.  They will help others to grow, too.

Their opposites: lying, cheating, greed, ignorance, jealousy, envy, pride . . . are all short-lived and ultimately lead to their failure and destruction. Vote accordingly!

Now here is your last assignment: Keep this list and YOU start adding to it!

--copyright 2024 Gary T. Czerwinski

Saturday, May 11, 2024

(Banter) Who Are Our Grandmothers?

I am not getting old. I am old.

So, I question articles and videos about recipes that brainwash readers and viewers into making recipes because they are, quite simply "grandma-approve-and-tried."

I doubt they are telling the truth. Time is on my side.

And, I wonder which (grand) mother they are talking about. And what does "old-fashioned" mean, exactly. Who, or what,  exactly, defines that "time-line"? What are the qualifications?

Would you want a tooth pulled "the old-fashioned" way, without the aid of medicine or anesthesia? I wouldn't. I had a friend whose great aunt bled to death after having a tooth extracted. Imagine that!

Grandmothers who cook(ed) are in short supply! Alas, today, many have grown up on fast food. For many, holidays mean buying desserts and sides from fancy supermarkets--sometimes the entire meal! Or, with the proliferation of restaurants, and fast food, they just go out. Let someone else do the cooking!

Were you asked to bring a dish? Chances are you purchased it and did not actually make it from scratch. Correct?

And, exactly what generations are we talking about here: X? Y? Z? Depression Era? WWII? Post WWII? Vietnam? Prozac?

Gone is the Norman-Rockwell image of Grandma in a beautiful, favored apron, a big fat smile, surrounded by adoring grandkids and slaving away in the kitchen over family-favored meals--along with her own mother!

Gone is an incredibly-set table complete with favored fabric cloth lovingly stored and resurrected specifically for these occasions. 

Gone is using the "good" dishes.

Gone, in fact, are dishes! Most now use paper plates. Plastic "silver"ware and cups. Styrofoam. Disposable and easy.

Is that the image of your grandmother? I don't know. Should we care?

I grew up with familial, daily sit-down dinners. And chores. My sister washed the dishes. I dried them. I took out the garbage. I mowed the lawn.

The arrival of a dishwasher was a miracle! If we allowed any to "drip dry," in the sink, my mother filled a pot with hot water and doused them. Then we had to wipe them dry as she watched. She didn't like "spots . . ."

Special Sundays were spent at my grandparents. Fantastic, unforgettable memories, especially as I get older ... Uncles. Aunts. Cousins . . . Amazing, time-consuming family recipes only prepared for unique occasions! And always accompanied by the latest political conversation where everyone was expected to contribute ... or as a child, to listen quietly ... Everyone was a part of the country. 

Today, many children, especially minority children, are, in fact, raised by their grandmothers. No moms. No dads . . . So, who is the grandma? 

My maternal grandmother was larger than life. During WWII she was "Rosy the Riveter" and literally bolted wings on bombers! I adored her. Loved her. She was an incontrovertible worker who never complained. She loved all of us unconditionally. She loved Church. Religious lore and custom.

And she could cook. 

Words play on our emotions. Put an "s" in front of "word" and you have a weapon: sword. Today, world governments and deviant corporations are making food into a weapon. They want us to eat bugs. Own nothing. Be happy. That is neither appetizing nor bodes well for our future as a civilization or our bountiful planet.

Borders are invaded with total strangers ... No families. Hundreds of thousands of children disappear.

Beware. Resist. Don't go there.

We need the safety and security of family--not a dumbed-down version. And we need the nutrition of healthy food. America has fed the world. It still can. It will once again.

No nation or country should replace family. We are neither a fatherland nor a motherland. We are, quite simply, an incredible land. Why do people what us unearthed? Who is buying up our land and allowing it to lay dormant? Unfruitful? Unyielding? It is sinful. 

I fear we are losing the comfort and knowledge of the feminine. Just witness how easily we are politically and legally turning females into males and males into females. Not good. And each are often caricatures. Clowns.

We are losing the miracle of farmers. Jesus was a carpenter, not a farmer, yet he miraculously fed hundreds. Every Sunday, he feeds billions. Don't forget that.

To me, "grandmother" and "old-fashioned" are recipes with the forgotten ingredients of WORK combined with LOVE and SELF- SACRIFICE. It's what communion and religion is all about. Family. Country. Food. Comfort. Safety.

I fear we have forgotten the virtue and importance of effort. How to garden. Get our hands dirty in the beauty of Emerson and Thoreau who defined our young nation.

The media is deceptive--especially the food media. Today, astoundingly, I watch cooking channels "open and dump" unread chemical-laden ingredients into a bowl or dish and call it dinner! Food as a Jackson Pollack painting; splat! No thanks.

I am encouraged to see canning making a comeback. It's not difficult. Yes, you can do it ... You need to do it. Those were grandma's and life-saving techniques, old-fashioned recipes, that saved generations. Do you want to be saved?

Is western culture throwing away the image of Grandma? And mother? Are governments, in fact, trying to destroy it? Do corporations only use it as a gimmick to sell unhealthy products to make a profit; governments, to win votes?

This Mother's Day if you are a grandmother (or a mother) go ahead and do something out of the ordinary. Set a nice table. Prepare at least one family-favorite recipe from scratch. Share the recipe with family along with stories. Insist on a half-way decently-dressed washed-and-clean family. Insist on manners and standards.

I subscribe to several You Tube channels where male gay couples have legally adopted children to nurture a family on their own. Not an easy process. They model family on grandmothers and mothers, brothers and sisters, whom they always include. So, no, I am not exclusive.

On this Mother's Day, say a prayer before dinner . . . for the future of our country and that of your family and children and grandmothers to follow . . . Dear God, keep us safe and happy. Well-fed. Keep our paths easy. 

YOU, be proud of your recipe. Share the source and joy of who you are . . . your journey. Your grandmother!

Monday, April 29, 2024

Creamy Italian Sausage, White Bean, Tomato, Spinach Soup

It's been a finicky spring. A few days warm and sunny followed by cold, rainy and damp. In other words, it is still soup weather. To use up a few Italian sausage links, I threw together this soup. It was really good! Next time, I will throw in some pasta . . .

The key here are the tomatoes. You want a good brand you can actually eat out of can and drink a bit of the juice. My preferred brand is "CIRIO" imported from Italy. They are mild and sweet, not acidic. I buy the whole ones and break them down myself. These are a mid-priced brand and I'm very happy with them. 

For the sausage, squeeze out smaller "coin-sized" pieces from the casings and add to the onion mixture. No need to fry and break apart. An onion will do just as well as a shallot, or use a combo of both--even a leek.

Use as much or as little spinach you want. Just be sure it is fresh. You could also use something a bit more affordable and sturdy, such as kale.

If you want to take this to more of a "stew" rather than a "soup," just increase sausages, beans, greens and decrease liquid ingredients. You could also add carrots and celery, if desired. I've done both, depending what I have in the fridge. Just cut thinly and add to onion mixture when sautéing. 

You don't have to add the cream, but it does mellow all the flavors!

  • 1-2 cups roughly chopped "greens," I used fresh spinach
  • 2 Italian sausage links, (I used "mild")
  • 1 large shallot bulb or 1/2 small/medium onion, (or a mixture) finely sliced and then chopped.
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 carrot and stalk of celery (optional)
  • About 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon lightly crushed/bruised fennel seeds (don't omit)
  • 1-2 cans drained cannilini beans (14.5 oz)
  • 1 can whole tomatoes, roughly broken up (14.5 oz)
  • 1 can water or flavored stock of your choice
  • 1 teaspoon you favorite Italian spices
  • Pinch or two white sugar and salt
  • Sprinkle of hot pepper flakes (I use dried Aleppo Peppers)
  • Handful pasta of your choice. I like little shells (optional)
  • 1/2 to one cup heavy cream (optional)
  • Parmesan Cheese (about 1-2 tablespoons, grated) plus extra for presentation

In a medium saucepan, drizzle a bit of olive oil and begin to sauté onion just until it  begins to soften. Add half of your garlic, the fennel seed, Italian spices. Mix. Begin adding sausage "coins" just to brown a bit. Add beans, tomatoes, pepper flakes. Add water or stock until you are happy with the consistency. Stir. Taste. If needed, add sugar and salt. Add your greens. And rest of the garlic. Allow to simmer on low for about 30 minutes. Taste for seasonings. Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan and heavy cream. Stir through.

Ladle into bowls. Pass around more Parm for those who want it. 


Monday, April 22, 2024

"Stewed" Potatoes--A Southern Staple

For many, a forgotten recipe. Make it a part of your family's memory tonight!

Have you missed me? I did. LOL ...

The beginning of 2024 was anything but auspicious. Following New Year's I caught "the bug" that was floating around. Or it caught me. It lasted into February. Then I hurt my back, yet again. By March, I thought I was on the mend, but my forever-enlarged prostate started acting up. Eventually, I had to drag to myself to emergency room because I could not urinate. A week later, I had emergency surgery to open up the prostate and to have a biopsy. After a month of living with a catheter in an apartment with steps, and by myself, I am free with no sign of cancer! More importantly, I can urinate on my own just like the big boys . . . 

I'm still a bit queasy and not quite up to my old self. Nothing like illness to cause you to lose weight ... I'm down 12 pounds! YEA! 

My appetite is plain and bland. Simple. So I thought I would post this recipe for "stewed potatoes" a Southern classic I have been preparing a lot lately with one of my favorite meals, boiled chicken legs.

As easy as the ingredients and instructions are, it may take you a few tries to master this recipe's simplicity. Your aim is a seasoned white gravy that is neither too watery nor too pasty. It can be tricky.

This was a staple for many Southerners during lean times. It fed families with children during the Depression in the mountains when meat was scarce and/or nonexistent. Most families grew and stored their own potatoes.

Some thicken this with flour. Some with corn starch (my preference). Some simply smash a few potatoes to do the job. Some use milk; some, heavy cream; others, canned evaporated milk. Just don't use low-fat milk. Some, at the end, drizzle in a bit of bacon fat for the flavor. You do you. BTW, cornstarch is simply flour. It adds no taste to recipes.

Personally, I always add some dried onion flakes and a few slices of sliced garlic to the potatoes as I boil them ( I do the same when making mashed potatoes). The real trick is to get them just to the fork/knife tender stage, then to stop the cooking. You do not want mushy, so be careful or you will end up with soupy and/or mashed potatoes.

A sprinkle of green onions and a dab or two of sour cream is great! Cornbread and a salad makes it a meal!

For one or two people, a couple medium russets will do. You want starchy potatoes--but I've read recipes where people use canned new potatoes. Most recipes call for 6-8 medium potatoes. Always peel them. Always give a good rinse after cutting into chunks.

You may want to increase recipe a bit more than you would eat at one sitting. Re-heated, they are good with eggs and bacon--kind of like grits. Or warm them up, add a bit more milk and grate in cheese and you have a simple potato soup. 

  • 3-4 Russet potatoes, peeled and washed
  • 1 good tablespoon corn starch
  • 1/4 cup milk, cream or evaporated milk
  • Optional: 1 teaspoon dehydrated onion flakes
  • Optional: A few thin slices fresh garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Butter

Scrub potatoes before peeling. Slice lengthwise then into one-inch chunks. Place in medium saucepan. Rinse. Fill with cold water just until potatoes are covered. Add onion flakes and garlic, if using. Season with salt. Over high heat, bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium and boil about 15 minutes just until fork tender. You do not want "mushy."

Remove from heat. Now here's the tricky part--pour off some of the water. It should be about one-half inch below top of potatoes. (Some people don't pour off any, but that's too soupy for me.)

Place on low heat.

Mix your corn-starch slurry (or flour) in a small cup or shaker. Be sure there are no lumps. slowly add to potatoes in pan. Carefully stir without breaking up potatoes. You will need to add more salt and as much pepper as you like. As it thickens, add a few tablespoons of butter. If not think enough, smash a few potatoes against the side of the pan to release their starch. If too thick, add a bit more liquid.

I serve in small vintage dining-car bowls . . .