The Intermittent Volunteer’s Weblog

Befriending People in Dallas Who Are Homeless

Christmas Truffles Revisited (and not the kind that grow in the woods) December 24, 2010

Filed under: Christmas,Random Post — Karen Shafer @ 12:00 am

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Truffles Revisited

(and not the kind that grow in the woods)

It’s a Christmas tradition for my three grandchildren and me to bake decorated sugar cookies together.  I prepare the dough the night before and have it well chilled when they arrive the next afternoon.  Then, each of them armed with a rolling pin or an improvised version of same, we roll, cut out, and sprinkle the cookies to our hearts’ content.


Generally, their mothers, my daughters, look on and expedite the creative process by shuttling trays of tree-, angel-, Santa-, star-, heart-, reindeer-, teddy bear-, stocking- and blob-shaped cookies from our decorating table into and out of the oven.  Inevitably in the process, portions of dough are eaten or dropped on the floor, and sometimes both. Consequently, their mothers are generally somewhat reluctant to eat what the grand kids and I bake.


When we’ve finished, our workspace and ourselves look as if we’ve been hit by the remnants of a flour, chocolate sprinkles, and colored-sugar explosion.  Louis, Cora and Anna are now eight, eight and six, but we’ve done this since they were much younger, and the younger the children, the exponentially larger the mess.


This year, though, two of these fabulous fellow cookie bakers, Louis and Anna, have moved to Boston with their mom and dad, Mandy and Arnaud, where they are having a wonderful, new kind of Christmas — one that involves a fluffy and pristine blanket of snow, a caring circle of friends, special traditions of service to those in need, and some serious snowball fights!  So this year Cora and her mom, Rose, still Dallasites, came over with the idea of executing what I thought was my brilliant innovation:  making chocolate Christmas truffles for our family and friends (and ourselves, too, of course.)


I was prepared with recipes copied and printed from the Martha Stewart Living web site for chocolate ganache and truffles.  (Pretty much every item I cook during the holidays is a Martha.)  I had bought some good quality bittersweet chocolate and some organic cream and gathered together all of the toppings in which we’d roll our lovely and [in my mind] spherical ganache delicacies:  cocoa powder, cinnamon, hand-crushed almonds and pecans, powdered sugar, and even some green-tinted sugar and multicolored sprinkles (yes, artificial dyes, but it’s Christmas!)


Cora and her mom arrived, and we made the ganache.  Cora is a marvelous kitchen presence, as, like me, she marvels at the changes in ingredients with the application of heat and mixing, which I like to talk about in terms of laywoman’s ‘physics’, trying to incorporate the teensiest academic reference into our process.  So we oohed and aahed as Cora poured the bubbling hot cream over the chocolate bits and began to whisk them together, as we watched them began to swirl around and then blend, transforming themselves magically from a liquid and a solid into a glorious, incorporated silky brown goo.  Mama Rose pitched in with the whisking.


Then we poured out the ganache carefully into pie plates to cool, as advised by Martha, refrigerated it and went off to run an errand.


But not quite a long-enough errand, it seemed to us later.


When we came home, Cora and I excitedly assembled our truffle-making supplies:  white lotus-petaled bowls of my mother’s individually filled with various sugars, cinnamon and cocoa powder.  Cora armed herself with the melon baller and me with the coffee scoop.  We removed the ganache from the ‘fridge — it looked glossy and solid.  Powdering our hands with cocoa powder (per Martha again), Cora carefully broke the surface of the ganache with her scoop and ladled it into her hand in order to form it into a ball and roll it in a topping.  Then, slowly but quite unstoppably, the lovely chocolate mixture oozed through her fingers and drizzled itself in streams into a contented puddle on top of the nest of cocoa powder.


“Awwww, mannnn!” we said in unison.


But we were undeterred.  Experimenting, Cora figured out that with handfuls of cocoa powder, she could make her ‘truffles’ resemble a melty semi-semi-semi-solid.  My process involved ladling scoops of the mixture onto a plate, then sprinkling the liquidy blob with a topping.


When Rose came into the room to see our results, she tried hard to compliment us, but could really only say, “OOooooohhhh…  Wow.”


Still, sort of like the quintessential ‘visions of sugarplums’ one hears about, visions of the elegant truffles Cora and I would make, nestle into small boxes I’d collected, and give out to neighbors and friends as Christmas gifts (and, of course, ship off to Boston) had danced in my head for weeks.  So after Rose and Cora went home, I surveyed the results of our splendid effort and felt it would just be wrong to go down in defeat.  “But I just wanted them to look pretty and round,” I whined to myself.


I re-refrigerated the chocolate blobbies, and, when I looked at them later, the magic of physics had indeed begun to reassert itself.  There was a subtle but noticeable change in their surface, from glossy to dull.  At last, they seemed to be ‘setting up’, so I gently reshaped them into balls, re-rolled them in their toppings, and laid them gingerly back on their plate in a picturesque pattern:  a cinnamon, a white sugar, a cocoa powder, a ground pecan.


And so, if you’re on our Christmas list, beware:  you may in fact be receiving Truffles Revisited.



P.S.  I just ate one…  OK, three.  Believe it or not, they’re actually quite good if one doesn’t think too much about the process.


P.P.S.  In a wonderful irony, Santa just delivered a gift at my house (don’t know how he did it and kept up his rounds — NORAD has him tracked in Australia around this time) with a gift of Lake Champlain Handmade Organic Truffles from my Boston family!  The Lemon Ginger I just ate was yummmm.


Empty Streets December 14, 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Empty Streets

Last night I realized that this is the first year in many that I haven’t given away my winter coat, hat and gloves to someone living on the street.  However, lest this admission be seen as my attempt to cast myself as St. Karen for past impulsive generosity — the same sort of thing I’ve often seen other advocates do — I’ll quickly add that this year’s new self-care feels good.  I ordered a good wool coat from a catalog in early fall and am wearing it right now — indoors, sitting in a cafe.  And I fully intend to keep it with me until spring.

However, if I were inclined to drive around in downtown Dallas, as I’ve done for the past seven winters, and look for people who are out on the street and in need of warm clothing in order to give them something to wear or a blanket, I’d be hard put to find them.  The streets of our fair city are pristine these days late at night — free from those in need or want and, for that matter, of everyone else.

Last week I attended a lecture near downtown that ended around 10 P.M., so I drove through the central business district afterward — past The Stewpot, past The Bridge, past Austin Street Shelter.  It was cold, but not bitter, so there was no one waiting on the sidewalk outside The Bridge for ‘overflow’ to go into effect due to cold weather policy, and I saw only two people, walking quickly, on the streets.  At Austin Street last winter in my ’rounds’, I always found between five and twenty people sleeping either on the sidewalk or in the parking lots adjacent to the shelter.  But this year all of those areas are fenced in, and there was nary a backpack, sleeping bag or plastic-grocery-sack suitcase to be found.

I’d like to think this is a result of the unstinting efforts of homeless service providers and advocates to solve the problem of homelessness in Dallas — that we are a glistening city, a beacon on a hill, because there are no longer any homeless people in the downtown area.  But, as the newly-strengthened panhandling ordinances passed by the Dallas City Council show us, we are still, in Dallas, extremely concerned about the appearance of things, and I think the empty streets are much more likely to be a result of policing.  Our unhoused brothers and sisters are still with us.  They just don’t dare show themselves on the streets of downtown at night.

I’ve written about this in the past, so I won’t repeat my thoughts here.

But, like many others, I’m concerned that the creation of new ‘solicitation-free zones’ in the expanded ordinance has at its heart a deeper purpose than the desire to protect the middle class and the tourist who are visiting downtown from aggressive and ‘vewy scawey’ panhandling homeless people, and I worry about its application in practice.

Here’s a quote from the Dallas Morning News article above:

“Bradley Kizzia, an attorney for Groden, said he is concerned the ordinance is written so broadly that the city could use it to crack down anytime on people like his client.

Groden was arrested in June for selling conspiracy theory merchandise in Dealey Plaza without authorization. He has sued the city, arguing his free speech rights were infringed.

“Nowhere in the [amended ordinance] does it even mention begging or panhandling. Rather, the ordinance is specifically aimed at ‘solicitation,’ which is broadly defined. I’m suspicious of the city’s intent and how the Dallas Police Department will be asked to apply the ordinance,” Kizzia wrote in a recent e-mail.

Kizzia said the ordinance appears to be tied to the Super Bowl and could be used to round up any number of people the city doesn’t want on the streets.

“The language of the ordinance’s prohibition on ‘solicitation’ is not aimed only at aggressive, coercive, or threatening conduct. Watch it be used against the likes of street musicians in the West End (who leave open their instrument cases for tips) and street preachers who accept donations,” he wrote.

First Assistant City Attorney Chris Bowers said the ordinance is targeted to panhandlers who work the streets for handouts.”

How will such a broadly written ordinance be interpreted by city officials, and how will it play out to those trying to survive on the streets?  It remains to be seen.

I can’t help feeling, as I reflect on the last seven years during which homelessness in Dallas has been an issue to which I’ve paid attention:  we just don’t get it in Dallas, and we never will.



Introspection December 4, 2010

Filed under: inspiration — Karen Shafer @ 9:08 pm

Saturday, December 4, 2010

He looked at his own Soul with a Telescope.  What seemed all irregular, he saw and shewed to be beautiful Constellations;  and he added to the Consciousness hidden worlds within worlds.

~~ Coleridge, Notebooks