Blender Memories

Every morning now, when I make myself the healthy fresh fruit smoothie that I — and my body — have grown to love and rely on, I’m reminded of another time and place when I watched a blender whirl a lifesaving potion for a person I never knew.

That was in New York, during the AIDS epidemic that emerged in the 1980s, when I and other of my fellow food professionals in the City volunteered our free time to make healthy, hearty meals for homebound people with AIDS.

The nonprofit, non-sectarian organization we helped then was called God’s Love We Deliver and is still, thirty-five years since its founding, providing free meals made with care and delivered with love to New Yorkers in their homes who are too severely ill (with any illness now, not just AIDS) to shop or cook for themselves.

At that time, we cooked hundreds of meals in an old church’s basement kitchen on the Upper West Side. We made good food, comfort food, “mamma food,” we called it, such as meatloaf, mashed potatoes, gravy and green beans; thick, gooey, cheesy lasagna; a Jewish dish (I’ve forgotten the name of) made with bowtie pasta, barley, and saucy ground meat.

We made rich, chewy brownies; fat, nut-flecked chocolate-chip cookies; cream cheese-icing’d carrot cake — and so much more — all from scratch from our families’ heirloom recipes.

Each meal, as I recall — including homemade soup, main course, salad, and dessert — offered the recipient at least three thousand calories, because it would likely be the only meal he would eat that day. These meals helped to keep the men (yes, mostly young, gay men) alive.

Some of these men, slowly dying at home alone with HIV/AIDS, were too ill to chew. So one of the tasks that sometimes fell to me was to turn that day’s hot, just-cooked meal into nourishment they could more readily consume.

I have a clear memory of one day, one by one, placing each of those clients’ hefty servings of meatloaf, along with the buttery mashed potatoes, brown gravy and dark green beans, into an industrial-strength blender, covering it, pressing the button, and watching the colorful food turn into a thick, dull-gray mush. The sight of it turned my stomach.

But then I reached for a clean teaspoon and, with my eyes closed, I tasted the blended concoction. It tasted like my mother’s Sunday dinners in the ‘50s. It tasted like Home. Like Love.

This memory has returned to me every morning lately as I’ve made my breakfast, a blended, tropical-fruit smoothie, and then read in the New York Times online about New York’s latest scourge, COVID-19. After all its been through in recent decades – the AIDS crisis, the 9/11 attack — New York has now become the U.S.’s coronavirus hot zone.

This from one NYTimes article I read this week:

“Across the city, which has become the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, hospitals are beginning to confront the kind of harrowing surge in cases that has overwhelmed health care systems in China, Italy and other countries. On Wednesday evening [March 25th], New York City reported 20,011 confirmed cases and 280 deaths.”

And this from another NYTimes article this week:

“Once in the area, New York’s density played some role in its rapid spread […], epidemiologists said. Many New Yorkers live in high rises. Sidewalks are crowded. Subways can be jammed. The city has 27,000 residents per square mile, far surpassing the second densest city, San Francisco, with 18,000 per mile.”

Part of me is beside myself with worry, crying inside, “How will New York ever recover from this?” While another part of me, the New Yorker in me, stands up like a toughie and answers flatly, “Like we always do.”

I lived in New York, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, which I’ve often felt was a microcosm of the world – filled with people from everywhere, people of every size, shape, color, age, ethnicity, language and religion — for twenty years, from 1976 until 1996, when I joined the Peace Corps at the age of fifty-one. I know that New Yorkers are made of sturdy stuff. They have to be.

New York is an education, like an advanced degree in sociology. It also teaches strength, resilience, and determination. It teaches street-smarts. It can teach compassion, too.

Take, for example, the woman who founded God’s Love We Deliver in 1985, Ganga Stone. As I recall the story, she began by making sandwiches for a man with AIDS who lived in her building. Then she made more sandwiches for his circle of friends who also had AIDS; and she delivered them herself, all over town, on her bicycle. Then she got some of her friends to help, and her charitable effort grew exponentially.

Today God’s Love We Deliver continues to feed thousands of homebound people living with severe illnesses in the New York metropolitan area every day.

For those who prefer recipes over memories or reminders of the harrowing coronavirus pandemic now raging through the world, here is my smoothie recipe for you to make at home, because we all must strive to maintain our physical (as well as mental, spiritual and emotional) health to the best of our ability. We must all try to become tough, resilient, determined-to-get-through-this New Yorkers.

In the bowl of a blender, add:

1 cup of water

1 packet of C-Boost (Mexico’s equivalent of Emergen-C)

1 scoop of vitamin/mineral powder (I use Multimix, from the Similares Farmacia here in San Miguel de Allende)

1 scoop of protein powder (from the health food store)

1/3 cup (or more) of frozen blueberries

1 slice of fresh, ripe pineapple

1 chunk of fresh, ripe papaya

1 one small, ripe mango (skinned and pitted, of course)

1-2 cups fruit juice (I use a combination of orange, mango, and cranberry juice)

Blend all until the mixture is a uniform, purple-y blue. Say grace. Drink slowly. And thankfully.

The fruit for this morning’s breakfast smoothie
This morning’s smoothie

 

28 thoughts on “Blender Memories”

  1. Thank you, Bonnie. I loved reading this. Better than all the news articles that will be posted throughout the country today. Bless your heart.

  2. Wonderful piece Bonnie…. Stay safe, stay healthy! We are fine, sheltering in place nearly three weeks already, probably another few to go…xoxoxo

  3. Bonnie, this is lovely. Thank you for the reminder that we know how to take care of each other — and that we must. xo

  4. Wonderful column, Bonnie. Thank you. And I suspect the Jewish dish with the bowties and buckwheat groats (not barley) is Kasha Varnishkahs. It’s my go-to comfort food. No beef in mine but enough caramelized onions to make a girl really happy. Stay well. All the best. Ozzie

  5. Thanks Bonnie — you make me want to have a smoothie but even more to get out and help people! We have so many people living here in the streets of the affluent Bay Area. My quarantine is over in two days and I am hoping to find a way to be useful! Muchos abrazos.

  6. Dear Bon,
    Thank you for this heartfelt reflection on another tragic time in New York. I appreciate your bearing witness to those days which are now so often in my thoughts again. What I learned then preserves my equilibrium now.
    We are not alone but part of a community,
    Show kindness to friends and neighbors because they are us,
    and perhaps, for me, the most difficult lesson: Never be governed by fear.
    I’m happy that you are continuing to offer comfort through your words. We are all so luck to have you in our lives.
    Love,
    Paul

  7. Being another Taurus NYorker, I relate and enjoyed the
    toughness you shared about us! The Jewish dish I’m happy to be reminded of is: Kasha Varnishkas, made with chicken fat and kasha (buckwheat) I think…

    1. Yay, Jamie! Yes, another reader, Ozzie Nogg (see below), enlightened me earlier today. You’re so right, it’s Kasha Varnishkas, which I couldn’t pronounce even then (in the ’80s) and couldn’t remember when I posted this new WOW. I hope you’re doing as well as can be.

  8. I lived in NYC for 30 years. I know God’s Love We Deliver well. I was a case manager at Beth Israel for men with HIV. When I see Dr. Fauci now I am taken back to those years. What a comfort he was to us who were struggling to understand this awful epidemic as friends & clients died everyday. I weep for those now on the battle lines. I thank Dr. F for being an adult in the room.

  9. Bonnie, this really touched me because I also volunteered at GLWD about a decade ago. The fabulous current director, Karen Pearl, is my son’s stepmother. Their new building in Soho is amazing and they’ve now served over 20 million meals in their 30 years in NYC. They are extremely involved in the current crisis. I sent Karen your memory just now; she was so delighted. She’s at home, slowly recovering from the virus herself. We were so happy that your writing brought a smile to her face at a terrible time.
    Sending love to you from Los Angeles, Claudia Rose

    1. Oh, Claudia, I’m so glad you shared this with us all. And I’m overjoyed to know that my post made your friend Karen feel better as she recovers from the virus. Please take care of yourself (and Ted) as we grope through the weeks and months ahead sheltering in our respective places. Love to you.

  10. My darling friend, dearheart BB! Thank you for sharing this message of hope. Your memories fill me with pride and joy to call you my friend. I remember your tireless efforts to dedicate your time and talents to GLWD, a practice we still participate in. You’d be amazed at how much they’ve grown, how far they’ve come. We had to cancel our last work day there because the risk was too high for someone like me.

    Sadly, in a few short days the number of confirmed cases here in NY has more than doubled from the figure you quoted to over 46,000. The hospitals are in an impossible situation, there is no relief in sight. I have too many friends who are suffering, and I know it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

    We are doing our best to stay put, with only occasional shopping trips for groceries (wearing masks and gloves) and a drive to a very quiet local park where we can walk several miles undisturbed for fresh air, sunshine and exercise. Now that my show my show is closed down, I am out of work like thousands of others and have more time on my hands than I care to admit. I spend most of my days in the kitchen preparing meals, eating them, reading and watching movies. We’re all trying to avoid the grim news as much as possible.

    We start every day with a smoothie, not unlike the one you had. This morning was mango, pineapple, banana, Chia seeds and ginger, coconut milk, ice cubes, all blended up into a frothy delicious treat topped with toasted coconut. One of my favorites. There is of course, or what would MIchael do with that recipe included.

    I’m fairly certain that the “Jewish dish“ that you recall made with barley and bowtie pasta is called “Chullant”, I can’t confirm the spelling but phonetically thats how it sounds.

    Stay well, my dear friend, these are indeed tough times even for tough people like us but we are weathering the storm as best we can and keep our eyes focused on the light at the end of this very dark tunnel. I love you.

    1. My dearest Michael — Reading your comment has given me goosebumps. I hope all of my WOW readers all over the world will read it to better understand the reality on the ground there in NYC. To think that the number of confirmed cases has more than doubled in just a couple of days is staggering. I follow the news (too much of it, I’m afraid) on CNN. The pleas for help from the doctors and nurses on the front lines are heart-wrenching. Of course, my heart goes out especially to my loved ones in New York: Please continue to take care of yourselves, stay safe, stay well. I love you too. — BB xx

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