Thursday, August 27, 2009

Three Ways to Eat a Guinea Pig

Guinea pig, or cuy (named, apparently, for the sound the animal makes), is one of the most popular food animals in the Andes, and it's traditionally served whole. In Peru the two main preparations are chactado (fried) or al horno (oven-roasted). The name chactado comes from the use of a chaquena, or cooking stone, in the process.

Yes guinea pigs are rodents, yes we think of them mostly as pets, and yes they're cute. But rabbits are also all of the above and many people, myself included, eat them. I certainly wasn't going to visit Peru and not try guinea pig at least once. As it turned out, I had it three times, three different ways.

The traditional whole cuy was actually the second way I tasted the meat. It was in Ollantaytambo, in the Sacred Valley. I was looking for a place to eat lunch and I saw a restaurant that listed cuy, both chactado and al horno, on a chalkboard out front. I asked the woman who was standing in the doorway at the time whether they served cuy for lunch. Yes, she told me, but it would take about a half hour. That was fine with me. I had no pressing business in Ollantaytambo that day. I ordered chupe de quinua (quinoa soup) as a starter.

I had neglected to ask whether my cuy would be al horno or chactado, but judging by the texture of the skin I'm assuming it was chactado, which I guess would be the quicker preparation.

Tastes like chicken, right? In a sense, yes. If rabbit is sort of like white meat chicken, cuy is sort of like dark meat chicken. But it has a somewhat richer flavor all its own. I'd say that cuy is tastier than rabbit.

Cuy is actually pretty expensive in restaurants, even humble ones, by Peruvian standards, and I'm not sure why. A cuy dish may cost from 50-70 soles (roughly $17-23), while an ample chicken dish will cost more like 15 soles ($5).

My first experience of cuy had been in a decidedly more genteel form.

It was at an upscale restaurant and tapas bar in Cusco called Cicciolina, which serves an eclectic mix of dishes, including Italian and Novo Andino (i.e., new twists on traditional Andean foods). One of their appetizers is a causa topped with shredded cuy (25 soles). A causa is a square cake of mashed yellow potatoes that is usually topped with something, usually something other than cuy. I should have asked what the little green things on the side were. They were a sort of starchy fritter made with a deep green vegetable--not sure whether they were bean or potato based.

I had yet another Novo Andino cuy appetizer for my final dinner in Peru, at Huaca Pucllana, in Lima. It was a chicharron de cuy, crispy guinea pig skins (with meat), served atop fried sweet plantains and topped with pickled onions.

Clearly there's more than one way to skin a guinea pig.

Watch a video (in Spanish) about cuy chactado preparation:

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

New York Magazine Wanted Free Photos. Give Me a Break!

I was contacted today by a guy from New York Magazine online. He told me they were going to be featuring a London Indian restaurant I'd written about and wondered if they could use my food photos (with "credit, of course"). I wrote back saying that I'd be happy to let them use the photos with credit along with whatever token fee is standard, but that I couldn't give permission without at least an honorarium. I received a prompt reply that they don't pay for such things.

Who the fuck do they think they are? New York fucking Magazine! Like they can't pay a token fee for a photo? Is that what the internet has wrought? Now even the online versions of successful commercial magazines think all they need to offer is "credit." I'm pissed, to say the least.


Once you acclimatize to the altitude (11,000 feet), Cusco is a pleasant, but very touristy, small city. With the wealth of archeological sites in the area, it's one of the most popular destinations in the Americas. There's some pretty colonial architecture (including a fabulous cathedral), pleasant plazas, an excellent museum of Pre-Colombian art, some other museums of passing interest, and good restaurants in all price categories (more and better than I had expected, actually). But don't expect a vibrant nightlife. One goes to Cusco for the local culture, but not "capital-C Culture."

Overall, though I haven't traveled widely in Latin America, I've enjoyed other cities, like Oaxaca and Havana, more, but one thing Cusco really does have going for it is the warmth and hospitality of its people. And though, as with any tourist center in the developing world, you're bound to be approached by people trying to sell you things or provide services for tips, Peruvians know how to take "no" for an answer, so it's not trying on the nerves like, say, northern India. The one thing I'm really thankful for is that, outside of a few touristy cafes, musicians playing endless variations on "El Condor Pasa" were not ubiquitous.

I plan to post a bunch about what I ate in Peru, a brief encounter or two, and a bunch of photos. For now, though, just to whet your appetite, here's a photo of a mystery dish. Details to come.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

I'm Not Sure I Like This

As of today, if you do a Google search on "Hotel Rumi Punku" (with or without quotes) my post about the hotel is the first result. That doesn't seem right. I'm right above the hotel's official website.

I'm sure it's largely due to the fact that Google owns the platform that hosts this blog, perhaps along with the recency of the post and the fact that the hotel's name is in the post title.

Of course, it's not going to hurt the hotel since I had written a rave review, but still it doesn't seem fair. Not only should the hotel's website rate higher than mine, so should Tripadvisor, which contains the feedback of many, not one. Further down the page you'll find Lonely Planet and Fodor's, both of which should be granted at least somewhat more authority than my humble scribblings.

Update: Based on a comment below, I tried the search at work and came up as result #21, top of 3rd screen. At home, where I'm most likely to access and update this blog, I was result #1. Which brings up another question: to what degree does one's surfing history affect one's results, and is factoring this into the algorithm wise and appropriate? Should search rankings be user-targeted or user-neutral? Is one approach more appropriate for some types of information than others? I think these questions intersect with questions of the ethics of taxonomy and information access in an ever-changing information environment.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Stitching Don Together

Don Skiles is an old friend, 26 years' worth. About a year before I met Don he had written a brief review of my first chapbook, Bagatelles, for the American Book Review. Not only was I pleased to have received a positive review, I felt that Don really understood what I was aiming at with my writing.

About a month after the review came out I was talking on the phone to Paul Fericano, a Bay Area writer I had published a couple of years earlier in my magazine, Zone. "I saw that nice review my friend Don Skiles did of your book," Paul said.

"He's your friend?" I said. "I have to meet him."

When I went to San Francisco the following summer I hooked up with Don at a cafe in the newly gentrifying Mission district. We hit it off and have been fast friends ever since. We see each other a couple of days every year or two, but we talk on the phone a lot. We never run out of things to talk about, and our enthusiasms, be they literary, culinary or musical often overlap. Every time I'm in San Francisco I have one or two memorable meals with Don and his wife Marian.

Don is a fiction writer, and several months ago I invited him to send me some unfinished work for a collaborative piece to submit to qaartsiluni, an online literary magazine. I had become fond of a method I first attempted for the collaborations I did with Holly Anderson for the same journal. Each writer would give an unfinished piece to the other, and the other writer would take it from there, total license, no veto power for the first writer. For me the greatest challenge is to get to a new piece that could not have been written by either of us alone, but one where I had respected the original writer's voice and intent while still making it something I could call my own.

When qarrtsiluni announced their "Economy" issue I decided to ask Don to participate with me. This time I decided to do a one-way collaboration. I asked Don to give me one or more unfinished or abandoned pieces that could fit into a very open-ended definition of "economy," as the editors encouraged creative license.

I believe Don gave me four pieces. I lived with them for a while, trying to decide what to do. No one piece was yielding a solution. Then, while I was taking a walk, the answer came to me: I'd use two of the pieces as raw material. As I started thinking about the pieces Don had sent me I saw a link between two of them. From there I shuffled things around, cut here, expanded there, tinkered with phrasing and rhythm and added some new material that I based on what I knew about Don's own background. Both of us were happy with the result, as were the editors.

One feature I like about qarrtsiluni is that they feature audio of writers reading their pieces. Since the narrator of our collaboration was much more Don than me, I deferred to Don for the reading.

Read and listen to "A 92-Degree Day."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hats Off to Rumi Punku

This is the first time I've been moved to write an entire blog post about a hotel, but the staff of the Hotel Rumi Punku, in Cusco, Peru deserve it.  As I told the manager when I was checking out, I've probably stayed in hundreds of hotels all around the world, and the staff at the Rumi Punku was definitely the friendliest, most helpful and most professional of any.

The good vibes started with the warm welcome I and several other guests got when we were picked up at the airport.  When we got to the hotel we settled into the pleasant lounge area, were served coca leaf tea to help us adjust to the altitude, and did our paperwork.  We were then given an overview of the city and the hotel's services.

The location of the Rumi Punku couldn't be better.  It's on a relatively quiet but centrally located street close enough to the Plaza de Armas while still giving one enough of a respite from the tourist heart of the city.  The street, Choquechaca, has several good restaurants, and is close to Plaza San Blas, with more dining choices.  Just down the block is a cute little no-cover music club/bar.

Rooms are clean and simple, with comfortable beds, cable TV, free WiFi, 24-hour hot water and good heat (necessary for those cold mountain nights).  My room cost me $70 US a night, including breakfast, and they were able to charge my credit card in dollars, avoiding foreign exchange fees.  They can store your luggage if you take a hiatus elsewhere in the region, as I did, and don't want to lug all your stuff.

When I wanted to confirm a dinner reservation in Lima, they made the call for me and wouldn't accept any money for the call.  When a tour company screwed up on my pickup for a tour of nearby attractions, the manager called a cab and accompanied me to meet up with the tour at the first stop.  Granted the tour company was the one the hotel does business with, but I suspect some hoteliers would have called the cab and left me to my own devices with instructions.

Everybody at the hotel spoke impeccable English and their sunny disposition was infectious, though, truth be told, the latter could probably be said about most Cusqueños.  While I'm wary of making generalizations about national character, there's no denying that Peruvians, from my experience, are among the gentlest, most honest and most hospitable people I've met in my travels.

If you're considering a visit to Cusco, I heartily recommend a stay at the Hotel Rumi Punku (339 Choquechaca). 

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Support Your Local Small Business

Whenever the Republicans argue for tax cuts for their rich friends they make the claim that lower taxes are a stimulus for small businesses. Their claims in this area are clearly exaggerated, and if they really wanted to help small businesses rather than their rich cronies and contributors they wouldn't simultaneously be so gung-ho to support policies that give away the store to big business while making it that much harder for small businesses to compete with Wal-Mart, etc. But I'm not here to argue politics or policy. This is a feelgood piece.

One of the things I love about being a long-time resident of Park Slope is the relationships I've established with some great local businesses. Shopping with these proprietors is much more than a sterile business transaction, it's a chance for social interaction. It's also an opportunity to deal directly with the people who run the businesses rather than minimum-wage employees of a large chain who couldn't give a shit. A long-term relationship with a business means a shared history. They know your preferences and past problems and you have become confident in their expertise. Even if you pay a little more for the products and services, you can't put a price on the value of the trust relationship.

I was inspired to write this when I recently ordered a pair of reading glasses, my first, from Visions, the eyeglass shop I've been dealing with for years. I went in one afternoon and tried on several frames, and was torn between two. Robert, one of the two brothers who run the shop, suggested I take both pairs of frames home and test drive them for a day. Would Pearle, LensCrafters or Cohen's do the same, and without asking for a deposit, no less? It turned out I went with the pair I was originally less inclined toward, because I was able to become familiar with both at my leisure. I've been dealing with Robert and Stewart for at least fifteen years. Even though I don't buy glasses that often, I get to see them every once in a while for adjustments, loose screws, etc., and they never consider these free maintenance services a burden, but rather treat me just as if I were buying another $500 pair of glasses.

I joke that I know I've reached a certain age because the drug store is a place where everyone knows my name. Palma Chemist is my local pharmacy, and I see the guys who work the front, Frank & Peter, at least a couple of times a month. I recently discovered that one of my brand-name prescriptions would be considerably cheaper if I ordered a 3-month supply by mail from Express Scripts, one of those big prescription benefits management companies that are threatening the survival of local pharmacies. In this case I couldn't take the high road because a one-month supply at Palma had cost me $45 and a 3-month supply from Express Scripts would be $50. So the next time I saw my doctor I asked him to write me a 3-month prescription for this particular drug, explaining the price difference. "Do you want me to do the same for your generics?" he asked. No, I told him, I wanted to keep those with my local pharmacy. "Why?" he asked. "Because they're nice people, and I want them to stay in business, and it's not that much money," I said. "That's the first time I've heard anybody say that," he replied.

Judy and her staff have done all my laundry for years, because I'm a lazy sonofabitch and because her prices for wash-dry-fold are so reasonable. One of the pleasures of doing business with Judy is the pleasure of doing business with Judy, she's that nice. She treats all of her customers like friends, and we're very old friends by now. I sometimes bring her repair work to do, like replacing a button on a jacket, and I have the hardest time getting her to accept money for these little services (I usually lose). Sometimes when a bill is $10.50 she'll say, "Just give me ten." Recently I had a bill for $9.50. "This time you keep the change," I said. Judy ends every transaction with "Thank you so much." It's her trademark. For a short while she tried running a little dim sum and tea shop on Seventh Avenue. On the sign, under the name Judy's, it said, in quotes, "Thank you so much!"

I've bought all my TVs and air conditioners since 1987, when I moved to Park Slope from the East Village, at J&R (not to be confused with the big J&R in Manhattan). Ralph is a nice, honest guy, and if he doesn't carry something he can usually order it. His prices may be a little higher than the other J&R or Best Buy, but he usually offers free delivery and installation, the guys he sends out to do the work are always professional and cordial, and I can always call for updates on schedules if I'm waiting for a delivery or service call, which means I can step out if I need to. I love the sign on the shop, which dates back to 1967 and proudly advertises "Color TV." Ralph tells me the sign (with a change of initials) appears in the game Grand Theft Auto. Before Ralph took over the shop in 1992 I used to do business with his father.

I think I have known Ali of Mr. Falafel since the late '70s, when I first lived in the neighborhood. I've seen his sons grow up, really grow up, and join the business. I always enjoy running into Ali on the street, often when he's sitting in front of his other place, Pita Pan, a name he inherited from the prior owner, who I believe is the man we can blame for the dreadful Lemongrass Grill chain of Thai Restaurants. I don't often patronize Pita Pan, even though it's closer to my apartment, because there Ali uses the dreaded flour tortilla wrap instead of pita, name notwithstanding. For a number of years Mr. Falafel used to have a waiter, a really sweet guy, who only worked summers. I learned once that he was an attorney in Alexandria (Egypt, not Virginia), but that he made more as a waiter at Mr. Falafel when the Egyptian courts were closed than he did at his main gig.

I do a great deal of my food shopping at D'Vine Taste, the gourmet shop around the corner, run by a wonderful Lebanese Christian family who can tell you about the good old days, when Beirut was like Paris. The business started about 21 years ago, when Nalie bought Durel's, one of a number of German delis that were common in Park Slope in the old days. At first she kept the business pretty much what it had been, then started introducing gourmet and middle eastern foods. Over time she expanded into an adjacent storefront and brought in family members Roger and Mona. While they carry a number of middle eastern specialties, it's not really a middle eastern food shop, but more like a cozy, mini-version of places like Dean and DeLuca or Zabar's, with a wide range of gourmet products, cheeses, and deli meats. They carry a nice selection of prosciutto, serrano ham, fabulous mortadella (studded with pistachios and prosciutto), and the great Central European-style salamis made by Piller's of Ontario. And they always remember which salamis I liked best, even if I can't. They also sell homemade prepared foods, cooked by the marvelous Mona, some Middle Eastern, some European, some hybrid. And Roger, who, I learned years ago, really knows his beer, is now a master baker, having studied at the Culinary Institute of America. His croissants are among the best you'll find in New York. And they carry the best bagels in New York too, from the Bagel Hole, further south in The Slope, which they offer at cost since they want their customers to have the best accoutrements.

There's a lot to be said for these long-term relationships. It's a symbiosis between the social and the mercantile that was taken for granted for hundreds of years, and which we're quickly losing. I'm fortunate to be living in a neighborhood that supports small businesses like these (and fortunate to have bought a place in the neighborhood before I was priced out). Others in the neighborhood could highlight other businesses they love. And while some of the newer residents may not have the same history with these businesses that I have, it's amazing how quickly a good small businessperson becomes an old friend.

Businesses mentioned:

167 Lincoln Place (between 7th & 8th Avenue)

Palma Chemist
159 7th Avenue (corner Garfield Place)

United Laundry (Judy's)
139 7th Avenue (Between Carroll and Garfield)

J&R Television and Air Conditioning
108 7th Avenue (between President and Union)

Mr. Falafel
226 7th Avenue (between 3rd & 4th Streets)

D'Vine Taste
150 7th Avenue (Between Garfield and Carroll)

Monday, August 17, 2009

I Choked on "The Funny Company"

Read the gory details at Mr. Beller's Neighborhood.

Friday, August 14, 2009

If You Want to Go to Purgatory You'll Have to Walk

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Let Pete Eat Cake (Pisac Market, Sacred Valley, Peru)

This is my first dispatch from Peru, and it's a piece of cake. I've been here since Sunday, in Cusco and Ollantataytambo, in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, as well as some stops along the way, including the market in Pisac. The Pisac market is biggest on Sundays, but I went on Tuesday, and there's also one on Thursdays. When I got there, the first thing I noticed was a table where some women were selling cakes and juices. The smell from one of these cakes was wafting, beckoning me. "Eat me! Eat me!" it said, and I obeyed.

It was a torta de naranja, orange cake. I think it's basically an orange-flavored pound cake. It was absolutely delicious: still warm, simple, fresh tasting, and utterly moist. It cost me 2 soles (there are 3 to a dollar). I don't know whether a local would be charged less, but I was quite happy to pay 65 cents for that wonderful piece of cake.

You'll hear more about Peru, but I don't really feel like writing while I'm on vacation, so please be patient.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Louisiana Masala

You'll forgive me for the allusion to that cloying Mira Nair film one state away (I find her flicks more jalebi than masala, though everyone else seems to love her). Anyway, the shoe fits.

It started in Louisiana. My coworker Elaine was vacationing down there when she discovered candied peppers and pepper jellies from The Ole Homestead. When she got back to New York she decided she wanted to order some jellies, but since they had a minimum of six jars per shipment she asked friends and coworkers whether they were interested in any. I'm always game to try something new, and when I looked at the catalog I decided I'd go with the tomato-pepper jelly. When the shipment arrived Elaine refused to accept any money from me. Thank you, Elaine.

So what would tomato-pepper jelly go with? I had no idea how sweet it would be, so I thought it might work on meat. I picked up a steak soft taco from a Chinese tortilla joint and put some of the jelly on it. Too sweet. It still could work with meat, I think, but probably as a glaze, maybe for roast chicken parts, where it would marry with the fat from the chicken skin.

It was a little fruity and a little spicy and fairly sweet, and I tried to think of what it would really go well with. Cornbread, I decided. But before I was able to get any cornbread I tried it on a hunk of baguette. It worked well, but I still had cornbread in mind. Sometimes flavor combinations have a way of coming together in your head.

The cornbread I did ultimately try it with was makki ki roti, the Punjabi griddle-cooked cornbread that is traditionally served with sarson ka saag (spiced mustard greens). The last time I bought some of this dense yellow flatbread, which I like to describe as a cross between a tortilla, an arepa and baked polenta, I had discovered that it makes a great breakfast with jam. I was recently back at Patel Brothers, the amazing Indian supermarket in Queens, and I picked up some more of this cornbread. It's very easy to heat up on a hot, dry pan, since it's already made with corn oil. So one morning I slathered some of the Ole Homestead tomato-pepper jelly on my hot makki ki roti.

I was right. It worked.

A couple of weeks later I was trying to decide what to have for dinner. I had some boil-in-bag tomato rice, a South Indian specialty, made by MTR (Mavalli Tiffin Rooms, a Bangalore institution), also purchased at Patel's. What would go well with it? I wondered. Then I had another Louisiana masala brainstorm: I'll bet it will work wonderfully with andouille. So I bought some Trois Petits Cochons andouille, fried one up, sliced it and served it over the tomato rice. It was brilliant, if I do say so myself, the building blocks, perhaps, of a Tamil jambalaya, a Tam-balaya.

If Cajun-Indian fusion becomes the next hot trend in restaurants, remember, you read it here first.

Monday, August 10, 2009

My Toaster

The Machines issue of Mung Being is just out. It includes my piece "A Finnish Toaster."

Thursday, August 06, 2009

I'm Just Wild About Waldy

Before Waldy Malouf opened Beacon he cut his teeth and gained acclaim at some of New York's most iconic eateries, including The Four Seasons, La Côte Basque, the Hudson River Club (where he first made his name as a restaurateur) and The Rainbow Room, which he revitalized (albeit not without missteps) in 1997 t0 3-star accolades from the New York Times's Ruth Reichl.  Along the way he also started writing cookbooks.

At Beacon, which Malouf opened in 1999, the M.O. is high-heat, open-fire and wood-fired cooking.  One of the kitchen's specialties, wood-fired, thin-crust pizzas with wild mushrooms, inspired a modest spinoff, Waldy's Wood Fired Pizza and Penne, on Sixth Avenue near 27th, a decidedly unsexy location.  I decided to give Waldy's pizza a try the week before I was scheduled to make my first visit to Beacon (for a Restaurant Week lunch).  And I decided to go with the original pie, the one served at Beacon, called, of all things, "The Beacon," with wild mushrooms, onions, and Waldy's "secret" 4-cheese combination.  The pizzeria is a small, simple affair. You order your pie by the oven and if you're not taking out you can bring it to a communal counter or one of a few tables. Personal-size pizzas are very reasonably priced, most at about $8, with larger pies also available. Compared to most "artisanal" pizzerias, it's a steal.  Malouf isn't trying to recreate a specific regional pizza style.  His pies have cracker-thin crusts, and the cheese combo gives them a more savory flavor than that of the generally fresh mozzarella pies you'll find at most of the newer, upscale pizzerias.  Anchovies are also free for the asking on any of their pies.  A charming feature of the place is the array of fresh herbs in planters with scissors to cut your own, as well as a number of infused olive oils.

I was completely charmed by my Restaurant Week lunch at Beacon.  I've complained in the past about restaurateurs that don't play fair during restaurant week, offering choices from the bowels of their menu (or sometimes special off-menu cheapskate dishes) and in tiny portions. Not so at Beacon. Not only were a number of Waldy's signature dishes offered, they came in full-size servings.  I was thrilled with all three of my choices.  I started with the wood roasted oysters (a full half dozen) with shallots and verjus. The tart, aromatic, buttery, bivalvey broth was a perfect complement to the oysters.

Ten-herb chicken is one of Malouf's signature dishes, and it benefits greatly from the high heat (though a recipe for home ovens can be found here).  The ample portion of perfectly roasted chicken which, despite its many flavors, is pleasingly simple, was accompanied by a delightful wild mushroom panzanella (bread salad).

I'm just not a chocolate lover, and I wanted something more substantial than sorbet, so my dessert choice was the toasted coconut cheesecake, topped with tropical fruit salad.  I rarely indulge in cheesecake, but this was an excellent rendition of a classic cream cheese cake with the addition of coconut to the outside and the bottom crust.

I also tasted my lunch partner's choices.  The chilled yellow tomato soup was excellent, with a slightly Indian-tasting spice accent.  The wood roasted-salmon was good too, but not nearly as distinctive as my chicken.  The chocolate-chocolate chip souffle was impressive and enormous, but I found it cloyingly sweet.

While a few items carried supplements, they were perfectly understandable given the $24.07 prix fixe.  For instance, the oysters, which cost $17 a la carte were $4 extra, and the sirloin steak would have been an extra $8, yet the chocolate souffle, which is $12 on the menu, was included.  I calculated that our $52.14 lunch for two (before tax and tip) would have cost $95 if ordered a la carte from the lunch menu.  Service was just right: friendly and low-key, attentive without being overbearing.

I think the way a restaurateur handles Restaurant Week is a good test of his moral fiber. Waldy Malouf passed with flying colors.

25 W. 56th St. 

Waldy's Wood Fired Pizza and Penne
800 Ave. of the Americas (between 27th & 28th)

Restaurant week has been extended through Labor Day at most participating restaurants, so you have another month to try Beacon at these great prices ($24.07 lunch, $35 dinner).

Monday, August 03, 2009

Save the Children or $2 on a Chicken Sandwich—It's Your Choice

One thing I hate every summer, as I walk the streets of midtown Manhattan, is having to run the gantlet of earnest-seeming college-age youths with clipboards ready to ambush me with harangues for some charity or other. They work in teams, two on a block, so they can get you coming and going. And there are two of them on every block for blocks and blocks. A lot of people think they're doing volunteer work, but they're usually commission salespeople, just like those annoying bozos who call you on the phone and pronounce your name wrong after a five-second delay. Sure they're generally working for good causes that they probably believe in (albeit some of them administratively top-heavy), but they're working on commission. "Do you want to help stop global warming?" "Do you want to feed hungry children?"

My policy is to avoid like the plague anybody with a clipboard. A clipboard to Pete is like a stake to a vampire. Once those kids do get you they can be so insistent and annoying; their inner used-car salesman is unleashed. I prefer to support charities through the mail and online, on my schedule, and according to my giving preferences. I've given to charities that fight hunger, like food banks and Second Harvest, but I'm always wary of organizations like Save the Children and C.A.R.E., just as I am of the World Bank and the IMF. I have no idea what kind of imperialist propaganda agendas these organizations have these days, but they certainly had them in the past. And so many of those children's aid organizations are religion-based (no, I won't use that dreadful euphemism "faith-based"). No way any organization in any way connected with any religion is going to get one red cent out of me.

After I ignored the Save the Children kids for four blocks running I saw two women giving out coupons for $2 off at Ranch Number 1. I didn't take one, since I don't eat at Ranch Number 1, but after all those pushy kids I appreciated their laid-back approach to coupon distribution, and though it isn't a great job, it's much more honest work than what those charity shills are doing.