Friday, February 24, 2023

Tostadas, Tostadas & Tostadas

 I like tostadas as a way of serving some types of salad and salsa, but some popular brands that are in the stores are loaded with fat.

One good one that can be hard to find is Tostadas Buena Vista, which comes in three varieties, Corn, multigrain and a whole wheat with flax. They contain only 2% fat. In our area you can get them at Frutas y Vegetales La Reyna, on the corner of Westchester Avenue and Beach Avenue.

Another brand which is also very good is La Gavillera, which has 4% fat, and that is still acceptable to me. In our area it is available at Chang-Li Supermarket on Benedict Avenue, across the street from St. Helena's church. 

Many of the supermarket brands, like Guerrero have very high fat content, and you want to avoid them if you are serious about whole foods, plant-based nutrition. In terms of recipes, I previously wrote about my favorite meals to serve on a tostada, cactus salad & black bean salsa, but this year I will be developing more.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

In Memoriam Peter E., A Bronx Tale

I came to know my neighbor two floors up a few years ago, after he had been hospitalized. At the time he had been sent to rehab, as he had drunk himself nearly to death after his brother Danny died, his older brother who he had cared for for several years. His brother had been bipolar, and taking care of him, after he had been homeless for a while, was no easy thing. The brother had been an electrician, but eventually his mental problems derailed his life. Few people could have handled caring for him. Peter even had the stove in his kitchen disconnected for fear that the brother would set the apartment on fire. He had to bail him out a few times, and the brother gave away his union pension to the homeless people in the neighborhood and then expected Peter to pay for everything. Once I heard these stories, I told Peter he deserved a Nobel Peace prize for taking care of his brother for all that time.

After the rehab, he had been in a nursing home for a bit, and then he came home. Being he was not very good at taking care of himself, I offered him to share my meals with him sometimes. He gladly accepted, even if my whole foods, plant-based meals were a bit alien to his Irish meat and potato palate. And then, lo and behold, after six months or so, he got word from his doctor that his liver was recovering and they took him off the transplant list. He volunteered: "It must be your food, Rogier." I am sure it helped a bit.

With the talk about the food, I also gradually came to learn that he was born in this building, and still lived in the apartment that his parents had rented in 1946. He was the youngest, born in 1952. Gradually the picture became clear that his brother had been slightly older, and as kids his brother beat him up a lot, to the point that the parents eventually separated them. I learned that Gleason Avenue was named after a cousin, Daniel Gleason, who had first been a traffic cop at Fordham University, but then, from talking with the priests, he decided to go into the priesthood. I heard Peter's stories of attending St. Helena's school, and of his father previously attending another school in the area. I got to learn a lot about the history of the neighborhood.

With the benefit of hindsight, I now suspect that when he got the good news that his liver was recovering, he also started to drink again, only a few beers, he explained, no more hard liquor. As another Irish friend explained, with 40+ years in AA: watch out when an Irishman tells you he's drinking "only" beer, or wine, that is the beginning of the end. Well, he was right in this case. 

I had been aware of Peter's brother, who was homeless for a while, but eventually, Peter took him in. And I heard some of the stories, and wondered many a time how anybody could get through the issues that Peter faced caring for his brother. In a way then, I could understand why he was totally distraught after his brother died - taking care of him was a full-time job and suddenly the apartment was empty. Once he recovered and was back home, he started to try and find a job again and I helped him with his resume. He was bothered by the gap in his work history, for the years when he cared for his brother. I pointed out to him then that taking care of his brother had been his job and he deserved a Nobel Peace prize for his work, so he should be proud of himself. To no avail, apparently, the bottle won out. On Christmas day of 2022 we had to call 911 and get an ambulance, but the first team gave us a hassle, and later in the day, we called 911 again and this time they took him to St. Barnabas. He spent a few days in the ER, waiting for a bed and was finally admitted to the ICU, where he was in a coma for a few days, and never really came to again.  He passed away on January 13th, which happens to be my birthday also.

Peter leaves behind a classic car collection he had not been able to work on in the last few years, and also a huge collection of Lionel trains. He is survived by a sister who lives in Maryland. It is always amazing to see what little is left at the end of the trip, but for me, I will miss the historian of the building, and he will forever have a spot in my heart for the way he took care of his brother, which few people could have ever managed to do. Peter did, undoubtedly that was one of his finest moments. It was where he showed up in life. Rest in peace, old friend.

Below is a collage of pictures that was displayed at his funeral mass on June 17th, 2023.