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November 2008

Sweet Potato Biscuits

Sweet potato biscuits
I debated posting this, because I just couldn't get these sweet potato biscuits quite right. That said, they were tasty enough that they were worth making, even though I still need to tinker with the recipe to reach perfection. Here's the recipe I used:

1 lb. cooked sweet potatoes
1 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup water
2 and 1/4 cup Bisquick

Cool and peel the sweet potatoes. Mix the potatoes, brown sugar, Bisquick mix and water.

Stop here: A few caveats - I attempted to increase this recipe 2 and a half fold, so I may have mixed up my conversions. Because when it came time to follow the next set of directions, which were:

"Flour table, roll biscuit mix o 1/2 inch thickeness, and cut with a 2 and 1/2 inch cutter"

Disaster ensued. The mixture would not roll, it kept sticking the the rolling pin, and all in all, it was an utter failure. SO instead, I just decided to do drop biscuits - that is, I just took a heaping spoonful of the batter, and dropped it onto a buttered baking sheet.

I cooked them for about 10 minutes at 400. So here's the deal. They were really good. But they never did reach biscuit consistency - they were more cake-like than crispy. I experimented by cooking them longer, but this resulted in blackened bottoms and little change.

So, if you like a cake-y sweet potato biscuit, this recipe is for you. If, on the other hand, you have a better recipe that you can share with me, I'd be grateful.


Home For The Holidays

Jayz Beyonce home
Well, this isn't exactly my home. Nor is it exactly in my neighborhood. We were in Scarsdale,Bkjmarry New York, for our Thanksgiving meal and after stuffing ourselves as tradition dictates, we took a walk over by the duck pond. On our way, we passed what is rumored to be the new home of Jay-Z and Beyonce. The beautiful and incredibly cool couple got married earlier this year, after having procured their marriage license in Scarsdale. This, according to knowledgeable sources, is their new home.

As you can see, it's still under construction. And while this intrepid reporter tried to get a good photo, that "Warning - 24 hour surveillance" sign, along with an electric eye that ran across the driveway, encouraged me to keep my distance.

But I sure hope they move in, and if so, I am definitely stopping by with a covered dish to welcome them to the neighborhood.


Thanksgiving Eve

Sweet Potatoes I have no business blogging this morning. I should be in the kitchen. I have a date with destiny. O.K., it's really more like I have a date with sweet potatoes. I am over-run with sweet potatoes. I bought some. Then I got some more from my farm co-op. Then my mother-in-law brought sweet potatoes as a house gift last weekend. On this morning's agenda: make a sweet potato casserole and bake sweet potato muffins. (If the muffins work out, you can check for the recipe in the food category of  the blog later today.)

This afternoon, I'm making a pumpkin pie, because I think if I offer up the family a sweet potato pie there will be rebellion in the ranks.

Those of you who know me know that I enjoy cooking. I've got my iTunes set up in the kitchen, so I'm ready to start chopping and rocking. But even more than cooking, I love having the the whole family home. We are almost at a full complement. The Boy has been home a few days, and My Daughter will take the train up from the city after work. Hopefully she'll get out a little early today. When the four of us sit down for dinner tonight (chili - it's all I can manage with the other cooking), I will be very grateful indeed.


Bagged

Paul's laundrybag One of the things that my book (proposal) tackles is some of the enduring stereotypes around the mother/son relationship.

But this week, I got bagged on some of my assumptions. Literally. Whenever you anticipate having a kid coming home from college, someone always makes a comment about how they'll be bringing all their dirty laundry with them. Hah - I scoff. I don't remember my daughter ever hauling home laundry. (Though come to think of it, she always had to fly home, so it wouldn't have made much sense for her to check in bags of dirty clothes.)

Nor has my son, now a college sophomore, ever arrived with a load of crumpled t-shirts, pants, fleeces, etc. Until this time. Of course - this is the first time he had a car, and the room to carry what he wanted.

This photo of the laundry bag may not look that overwhelming, but it does not capture just how tightly the clothes were stuffed in. It took 6 LOADS to get through it.

Naturally, my son said he did not bring home the laundry for me to do, and that he would do it himself.  And he surely would have, eventually, if I had ignored this mound of clothing. But in the world of enduring stereotypes, I washed and folded it and piled it neatly on his bed. I know, I know. And it's worse than you think - I kind of enjoyed doing it for him.


Cat-astrophe

What made me think going to the cat show was a good idea? I love my kitties and I thought it might be fun to see some other breeds. Wait - other breeds? My cats are both strays, and while you might classify them as Tabbies, "breed" is a bit of a stretch. Well, we went and saw some very beautiful kitties with very fancy pedigrees.

But Oh. My. God. There are some pretty intense cat people out there. Naturally they were selling all manner of toys and scratch pads and treats. But what I wasn't prepared for was the clothing. I don't mean sweatshirts and sweaters with cats all over them - those were for humans. I mean outfits for the cats. And not just casual wear. Oh no. Designer outfits. My photos really don't do them justice, but I had to share. First, and sorry for the bad quality, was this purple get-up. I think it's just for formal occasions:

Cat in purple

If you think this cat looks irritated by having to wear this get up, wait to you see her next. They called this outfit, "The Scarlett O'Hara." Ready?



Scarlett o'hara

I'm so sorry. I know that that wasn't pretty on many, many levels. But if you have stayed with me this far, you are in for a treat. Some of the cats, appalled by being forced to wear these outfits, have resorted to spirituality - they are praying for deliverance. Do you think I'm kidding? Check this out - it is the best of all.

Cat in yamica and shawl


Charities Fear Cuts Will Wound the Needy

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SUSTENANCE Volunteers pack frozen potatoes at the Food Bank for Westchester, in Millwood, which supplies pantries, shelters, soup kitchens and other programs that try to relieve hunger.

By KATE STONE LOMBARDI

TALK to people who are running nonprofit agencies in Westchester about how they are faring in this slumping economy, and the same phrase keeps coming up: “the perfect storm.”

Most of these groups — those that feed the hungry, serve children in need, provide medical care to the uninsured, protect victims of domestic violence, and more — rely on a combination of financing sources, all of which are threatened.
First, there is government money, and nonprofits’ administrators are keeping a wary eye on state and county budgets.

Next is corporate and foundation support, and with Wall Street’s troubles, many agencies say they have already received word from businesses not to expect the kind of financing they once enjoyed.

Last are individual donors, many of whom have indicated that in these leaner times, they cannot donate as generously as in the past.

Completing this gloomy picture is the growth of need at the same time financial resources are dwindling, nonprofit officials say. More people require help feeding their families. More people have lost their medical insurance. Financial stress creates more violence at home and more mental health problems in general.

“You’ve got to shrink your organization at the same time there are more people out there needing care,” said Lindsay C. Farrell, executive director of Open Door Family Medical Centers, which is based in Ossining and provides affordable medical care to the uninsured at sites around the county. “October was the busiest month we’ve ever had, and the doctors and staff are attributing it to anxiety due to the awful economy and job layoffs, which manifests itself in physical symptoms.”

Ms. Farrell said that many state grants that support Open Door’s programs have been reduced by 8 percent and that she expected further cuts. Earlier this month she got word that state funds were being reduced for a breast cancer screening program, leaving her scrambling to figure out how to handle scheduled appointments.

“Were we going to continue to do breast exams, and if someone has a suspicious lump, refer that person to a surgeon to determine whether they need a biopsy?” Ms. Farrell said. “What do we do if the patient has no money? Should we cancel the patient or tell them to bring $1,000 for a needle biopsy, which they’re probably not going to have?”

After intense lobbying by a coalition of advocates, the money for the screening program was reinstated. But potentially on the chopping block now is grant money that supports cervical cancer screenings, prenatal care and WIC, a federal nutrition program for women, infants and children. Ms. Farrell said she was particularly concerned about financing for uncompensated health care, which supports the agency’s sliding fee scale.

Amy Kohn, the executive director of the Mental Health Association of Westchester, is worried about the safety of children in foster care. The agency has a contract for roughly $900,000, now threatened by a cut of nearly half, to independently review records of children living in residential care and group homes. The agency’s charge is to make sure that all recommended services are in place and to alert the county when there is a problem.

“We read in one record that a mother is reuniting with a boyfriend and he’s coming to live in the home, and it’s being portrayed as a good thing because there’s more income and stability,” Dr. Kohn said. “Only our reviewer has read this record for a year or two and knows this guy is also a sex offender and has charges against him, and he should not be in a home with these children.”

Such catches are not uncommon, she said.

Christina Rohatynskyj, executive director of the Food Bank for Westchester, which supplies pantries, shelters, soup kitchens and other programs that alleviate hunger, said the agency, which has a $3.5 million operating budget, had deliberately shied away from relying too much on government and corporate financing because of potential fluctuation. Still, she is worried.


“We have heard from several corporations that they will not be providing in 2009 what they had last year,” she said. “They had been very generous in the past. Fortunately, the majority of our funding comes from individuals, but there’s a trickle-down effect.”

The government money the Food Bank does get is likely to be cut, she said. One state grant of nearly $1 million finances Kids Cafe, which helps provide hot nutritious meals for children after school, along with nutrition education and simple cooking skills, at six sites around the county. Meanwhile, she said that based on the number of calls the Food Bank is receiving, demand is increasing.

My Sisters’ Place, which serves victims of domestic violence, recently lost state financing for a program that provides women with legal services in Family Court. Karen Cheeks-Lomax, the executive director, is hoping to restore that money and avoid further cuts. But the outlook for her agency is worrisome.

“We’re looking at our forecast, and we’re seeing a downturn in terms of the foundation and the corporate support that we enjoyed last year,” she said.

Before the agency’s annual luncheon last month, donors said they would not be able to provide as much as they did last year, Ms. Cheeks-Lomax said. “Some gave 50 percent less and some even less than that from what they gave last year,” she said. “It’s really going to be important for us to pound the pavement.”

Directors of nonprofit agencies said they were drawing up contingency budgets in anticipation of less income. At the Westchester Children’s Association, an advocacy group based in White Plains, Cora Greenberg, the executive director, said she was preparing two budgets for next year: “The budget that we need to continue to do what we’re doing, and the budget that we need if we have to cut back 10 to 20 percent.”

Administrators said they were performing line-by-line analyses of their budgets and cutting back on everything from travel to supplies. Many are deferring capital expenditures. Most said they already run lean operations and could reduce little in terms of overhead. Executives at nonprofits said they were loath to cut programs and were hoping to avoid layoffs.

“When a not-for-profit starts laying people off, there are real ripple effects in the local economy,” Ms. Farrell said. “People get evicted. They spend less money on local businesses.”

Planning is made difficult by state budget uncertainties. Last week, legislative leaders and Gov. David A. Paterson were having trouble reaching a deal on closing the budget deficit, which will not be tackled until 2009. “My fear is when cuts do come, they will be of huge magnitude and they’ll be immediate, and that’s going to be really hard,” said Kathy Halas, executive director of the Child Care Council of Westchester.

James A. Krauskopf, director of the Center of Nonprofit Strategy and Management at Baruch College’s School of Public Affairs, is hosting a seminar for nonprofit agencies on Tuesday titled, “Capacity Building in Times of Financial Stress.” He said organizations needed to plan for what is likely to be a cumulative impact over time.

“Organizations are looking at what they can reduce without affecting their most important services,” Mr. Krauskopf said. “Executive directors are trying to deal with both their boards and their staffs to get everyone to try to develop a common approach, so that the organization comes through this as strongly as possible, but it’s a tough time.”

Agencies are also looking at revenues. Officials say they are considering more affordable events, instead of gala fund-raisers, hoping to make up for smaller donations by expanding donor lists and keeping pressure on government officials not to cut services for the poorest and most vulnerable.

In his Nov. 14 budget proposal, County Executive Andrew J. Spano kept contracts with nonprofit agencies at 2008 levels. But much government aid to nonprofits is allocated by the state and only administered by the county.

“New York State cannot cut their way out of this crisis, and I’m not going to be able to cut my way out of this crisis,” said Dr. Kohn, of the Mental Health Association. “It’s got to be about increasing revenue. We’re going to look for new ways of expanding what we do well, and we’re going to have to be smarter about capturing the dollars. Every time there’s a cut, there are real individuals getting hurt.”



Best Vegetable Soup Ever

Vegetable soup
Ok, I'm bragging. And worse, it may be more a brag than a blog, in that I made this recipe up as I went along, and might have trouble recreating it. But here, more or less, is what I did. I had a bunch of root vegetables from our farm co-op, several of which mystified me. First, I had two squash that looked like this:

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Rutabaga2

I also had two rutabaga, which looked a little scary:












The Weatherman was kind enough to peel and chop these intimidating items. Meanwhile I chopped two small onions and six large carrots. Then I sauted all of it together in some butter and olive oil, until the vegetables began to soften a little. Then I added a big can of chicken broth (if you are a vegetarian, obviously you could use vegetable broth), and brought the whole thing to a boil. Then I added some salt, pepper and thyme, covered the pot and turned it down to a simmer.

The soup simmered for just over an hour, and then five minute before I served it, I threw in a whole bunch of fresh spinach.

I served it with corn muffins for lunch and it was really delicious. I do have to admit that The Boy came home from college last night, and while he loved the soup, he has also eaten three muffins, some salami, cheese and crackers, cookies, and God knows what else since lunch. And we haven't had dinner yet.


"This is your Captain freaking..."

Ac_787Instead of fixating on the news from Wall Street, today let's look at another really frightening scenario.

Picture this: you are on a flight from Toronto to London, somewhere over the middle of the Atlantic ocean, when you see several flight attendants forcibly remove the co-pilot from the cockpit. The co-pilot is raving and delusional, and two passengers who are medical doctors are called upon to sedate him.

If that isn't troubling enough, now the flight attendants ask if anyone on the plane has a pilot's license. And nobody does.

The story - which is totally true, it happened on an Air Canada Flight this year - had a happy ending. One of the flight attendants had a commercial pilot's license (though her license for reading cockpit instruments had expired) and helped the pilot safely make an emergency landing in Ireland. The co-pilot was evidently hospitalized in a mental ward there.

You all know I don't like to fly, which seems to lead to an unhealthy habit of gravitating to these weird stories.


Sign of the Times

Images  This morning I volunteered at our local food pantry. It's only open two days a week, and today was a special pre-Thanksgiving hand-out. In addition to a grocery bag filled with canned goods, some frozen sausage  and some fresh vegetables, we were able to hand out $20 gift cards from Shoprite, which the store had donated.

It was my first morning working there, and we were told that the pantry generally gets 60 families. Still, economic times being what they are, those that run the pantry decided to prepare for between 80-90. By 10:00 a.m., 120 families had come. The crowd, which ranged from pregnant women with toddlers in tow to elderly ladies who needed help carrying their groceries - had begun gathering outside the door before 8 a.m.

Two of us volunteers made a quick run to the grocery store so that we would have enough for everyone. But it was a very troubling sign of the times.


Any Day Now....

Tired-writer-794398 You know the tired, old stereotype of a writer who is forever working on his novel, but never actually produces anything? That's how I'm starting to feel about my book proposal.

I have been working on it for nearly a year. There have been periods of great activity, and long stretches of waiting - mostly waiting for my agents to get back to me on revisions. The pace of this process is very different from the pace of journalism, where things get turned around immediately.

The proposal has gone through at least six drafts, but even that is misleading, because within each draft, little sections need to be completely redone. I'm told by friends who have actually published books that this is absolutely business as usual. And over the months, the shape of the proposal has evolved a lot from the original idea - it has become a much richer and more comprehensive book. I trust my agents, because they are the ones who know how to sell a book.

But Holy Cow, I feel like I'm in my 18th month of pregnancy. Ok - I am now up to the draft of the Table of Contents, along with chapter summaries. As my daughter used to say back when she was a toddler and learning to master a new task like buttoning a button or tying a shoe, "I'm almost doin' it!"


How's That Workin' Out For You?

Circuit_city Sorry I didn't post yesterday - the in-laws were visiting and I had a house full of people.

Yesterday, David Carr reported in the NYT that in March of 2007, Circuit City came up with a plan to cut costs so they could compete with on-line and off-line retailers: fire the most talented, experienced employees. (They, of course, are the highest paid.)

As he points out in the article, it was exactly that portion of the sales staff that made for the difference between an impersonal, on-line order and professional, personalized, experienced guidance on making an electronics purchase. As most of you know, this "waste management initiative" didn't exactly work out. Company morale took a dive, sales plummeted and Circuit City filed for bankruptcy last week.

The part that I really liked about his column (and this involves no self-interest of course) is the analogy he makes to the newspaper business. Papers continue to lay off their most experienced, seasoned reporters to save money. Fire your best employees and eventually you going to see quality decline. He writes that newspapers are working furiously to maintain their audience by building new ad models and redesigning presentation. But he notes: "They won't stay relevant to readers with generic content ginned up by newbies with no background in the communities they serve."

Well, Amen and Hallelujah. And thanks, David.


To Shop Or Not To Shop

Sale! I don't want to shop, I really don't. This is no time to spend money, with our financial future so insecure. But doesn't the economy need me? These circulars are breaking my heart. They practically want to give you stuff.

Lord & Taylor just sent me another coupon for 20 percent off merchandise that is already marked down between 40 percent and 60 percent. I know it's nuts, but I feel bad for all these retailers. That and the holidays are coming up and I do need to buy gifts. On top of that,  I didn't buy myself any new clothes this fall, and everything is such a steal right now.

Of course I could go take a peek at what they have. Remember when George W. Bush said that the best way to show our patriotism was to go out and spend money? I thought it was ridiculous at the time and back then it was. But don't you think that if I bought a pretty sweater marked down 70 percent, I'd be doing my part?


Vetting Sunk My Political Career

Diary_open_520 Well, there goes my hope of snagging a job with the Obama administration. The NYT reports today that the application screening process for jobs in the White House is more rigorous than ever. The 7 page questionnare includes 63 requests for personal and professional records, including material covering spouses and grown children. (Do you hear that kids? What have I told you about putting embarrassing stuff on Face Book?)

Personally, I don't have a Facebook profile, and my blog is fairly tame. But it's all over for me but the crying because of Question 14: "If you keep or have ever kept a diary that contains anything that could suggest a conflict of interest or be a potential source of embarrassment to you, your family, or the President-Elect if it were made public, please describe."

O.M.G. Have I kept a diary?! Only since I've been 8 years old. That's when I started chronicling daily the drama of my life, starting from my older sister picking on me, my little brother driving me nuts, on through middle school betrayals and crushes, into high school, college and beyond, all the while detailing my emerging love life. Embarrassing? Look, I don't even know Barrack Obama, and I assure you he'd be embarrassed, just to crack open one page of the dozens of journals that I have stored in a place that shall not be revealed here. You'd be embarrassed for me too, if you took a peek.

So, there goes my political career. Bummer. I've been done in by my compulsion to write everything down. Better stick to journalism.


My Friend Marek Gets It

Marek_fuchs Back in the day, when the newspaper business was thriving and so was my career, I used to share a page one column in the NYT Westchester section with my friend Marek Fuchs. We alternated weekly, and had a kind of nice yin/yang going, because he had a male (and ok, younger) perspective going and I had the female (and just slightly older) view. We were allowed to use the first person voice and humor, our editors were supportive, and I feel confident that Marek would agree that we just didn't appreciate how good we had it back then.

Anyway, after many management machinations, belt tightenings, etc.-  a description of which you will be spared (I try not to use bad language in the blog) - Marek and I were out as NYT columnists. I kept writing news stories for the section and began work on a book proposal. Marek not only wrote a book (coming out in a few months) but landed several interesting gigs, not the least of which is his video column on The Street.com.

He does a daily webcast as the Press Maven called "They Just Don't Get It." In it, he takes the business stories of the day, and explains why the coverage might be distorted and misleading. The format is charming. His wife, "Mrs. Maven," asks him simple questions while Marek sits in his kitchen and explains  how the business press got it wrong. (Yesterday, his daughter, home from school on Veteran's Day, subbed in for her Mom.)

Anyway, it's charming and informative and you should check it out.


Perfect Storm for Non-profits

FoodBank This week I am working on a story for the NYT on how non-profits are surviving this economy. More than one agency executive director has described their financial situation as "the perfect storm." Why? Because most of these agencies - and I'm talking about food banks, domestic violence shelters, medical clinics that serve the uninsured and the like - rely on a combination of three funding sources. Their income comes from some balance of government, corporate/foundation and individual donors.

Well, you don't have to be a weatherman (let alone The Weatherman) to know which way the wind is blowing on those sources. Government: cuts. Corporate giving: down. Individual donors: strapped themselves and unable to give as much.

And the icing on the cake? At a time when all these resources are drying up, need is greater than ever. More people need help feeding their families, getting their medical care, stress begets more domestic violence, etc. And I'm not even touching on school funding or hospital funding or the other biggies here.

Well, time to go and write this thing. While there is still a print newspaper to write for....


Mazel Tov - You're Old

Bar_mitzvah On Saturday, The Weatherman and I went to the bar mitzvah of our neighbors' son. It's been years since we have attended one. During the period our children were in Middle School, it was kind of a weekend ritual. Between their friends and ours, there was often an event. It got to the point where we would get the invitation and quickly do the math: Beth El, that's a Reform Synagogue, the service will be an hour and a half. Congregation Sons of Israel - fasten your seat belt, it's Conservative and you're in for at least three hours.

I don't mean to sound disrespectful. We were often honored to be included in these family occasions, and it was sweet to see the 13-year-old boys and girls nervously get through their Torah portions and watch their proud parents and grandparents looking on. There was always a big party afterwards, where we knew at least half the people.

But that part of our life has long passed, so stepping back into the bar mitzvah world this weekend was a bit startling. You see, the children - who at the time we thought were getting so grown up - are just little kids. And their parents - well, not only are they young, but their concerns are just a world away. They worry about fifth graders going to school with eighth graders. They worry about whether they should allow their 11-year-old to go downtown unsupervised after school lets out. They ring their hands about what age the kids should get a cell phone. Of course we knew no one at this bar mitzvah except our hosts.

These things used to be important to me too (except the cell phone part - hardly anyone had one when my children were in middle school). Usually, I'm pretty socially competent, but I couldn't think of a thing to add to these conversations that didn't make me sound like a Grandma. When I told them that my kids were in their twenties, these young parents just looked blank.

Anyway, I guess I'm just at a stage between family rituals. Next on the agenda: weddings.


10 Years On, Spanish-English Newspaper Is Bridging Worlds

09eagle.span
ALL THE NEWS El Aguila del Hudson Valley, a bilingual newspaper, was founded by a Honduran immigrant.

 


By KATE STONE LOMBARDI
Published: November 7, 2008
White Plains

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EL AGUILA DEL HUDSON VALLEY has something of a split personality. Every story in the newspaper runs twice, side by side — one version in Spanish and the other, slightly shaded, in English. It’s not only bilingual, but also biproduced. The paper’s advertising and marketing offices are in White Plains; the layout and design in Honduras. It is published in Poughkeepsie, but edited in Honduras.

Recently El Aguila celebrated its 10th anniversary, and Miguel Blanco, the associate publisher, said its success was a result of its role as a bridge between different worlds. The paper, which is free, speaks to both newly arrived Latino immigrants as well as to those who have been in this country for many years, he said.

“Most of my friends are people who are acculturated; they grew up here,” Mr. Blanco, 38, said. “That experience is completely different from the guy who just got here six months ago or even a year ago. I wanted something that was going to span the already fragmented Hispanic community.”

The articles in English also serve as a window for non-Spanish speakers into Latino concerns, Mr. Blanco said. And he noted that not every Hispanic person speaks Spanish.

While a bilingual Spanish-English newspaper may seem like a natural in an area like Westchester, where Hispanics are the fastest-growing group of immigrants, it was still a hard sell at the beginning. Norma Maximo, Mr. Blanco’s mother, started the newspaper on her kitchen table in Fishkill.

“When I decided to do the newspaper, there was nothing in the area,” said Ms. Maximo, 64, who immigrated from her native Honduras in 1965 and became a citizen in 1972. She had never worked for a newspaper; her background was in banking and she worked at the United States Treasury Department before starting the paper. “I always knew Westchester was the place, because the population there was more educated and that was where we would grow,” she said.

She moved the business to White Plains in 1999 and recruited her son, who was working as an account executive in Houston, to help run the paper. El Aguila covers politics, the economy, education, the environment, health and other general news topics. Mr. Blanco said that he did not want to separate readers from the same information that other Americans were using to make their decisions.

But there is a focus on news from Central and South America, and to a lesser extent the Caribbean. Culture and sports pages play to more Latino interests. Cultural stories recently included coverage of a Brazilian who won a children’s literature prize and an article on the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz, a Dominican-American writer. The sports pages include extensive soccer coverage.

“Before El Aguila came to Westchester, we had several failed attempts to establish a newspaper that addressed the needs of immigrants and Latinos in the Hudson Valley,” said Graciela Heymann, executive director of the Westchester Hispanic Coalition. “El Aguila followed and highlighted the topics that were important to Latinos, like the impact of federal legislation on their lives and local community efforts to address the needs of Latino immigrants.”

An online version (www.elaguilanews.com) was launched in 2006. (The Web version appears only in Spanish, but the front page can be translated through Google.) The print version has two editions — a lower Hudson Valley edition, with a circulation of roughly 30,000, and a mid-Hudson edition, with a circulation of 10,000. Local news and advertising are tailored to each area.

What you won’t find in El Aguila are stories about crime or sensational coverage of the Latino community.

“We’re not looking for breaking news on who robbed who,” Mr. Blanco said. “Our stories are to help those who are newly arrived navigate the system and for more established citizens to get to know more about the community.”

Westchester’s Latino population is far from homogenous, which can make producing a newspaper that appeals to a broad readership difficult. According to the 2007 American Community Survey of the Census, Westchester’s Hispanic population was 180,819, or about 19 percent of the county total. Readers differ in education, literacy, achievement and culture.

“The Mexican community is totally different from the Puerto Rican community, which is totally different from the Dominican community or the Cuban community,” said Maria Muñoz-Kantha, president of Hispanic Women Leaders of Westchester County. “Hispanic communities come in all different sizes, colors and shapes.”

Dr. Muñoz-Kantha was speaking in White Plains at the Latino Business Symposium Expo, an event that Mr. Blanco organized to celebrate the newspaper’s anniversary. He said that instead of planning the usual recognition of such a milestone — a dinner with awards given to supporters — he wanted to put together a symposium that would draw attention to the Latino consumer market. Forums addressed health, education and business.

Mr. Blanco said that the mainstream press had done a poor job covering the success of immigrants, focusing instead on negative coverage. In Westchester particularly, he said, many immigrants are fully acculturated, professionally successful and relatively untapped as consumers.

“I describe my reader as an upwardly mobile individual, not someone who is just here passing time, but someone who is trying to advance his situation,” Mr. Blanco said. “I know myself I’m always looking for opportunities to become a better newspaper executive, a better father and a better man.”


Cosmetic Surgery SALE!

Cosmetic_surgery You know how I get about cosmetic surgery. So as the economy continued its free fall, I wondered if people were going to think twice about paying thousands of dollars to smooth out their foreheads, fill in their lines and plump up their lips.

But of course the industry is way ahead of beauty consumers. Yesterday's NYT notes that plastic surgeons are offering discounts in these tough economic times - 30 percent off Botox on Fridays, $1000 off some operations if you get face and bodywork done at the same time, buy two syringes of Restylane (roughly $600) and get the third free.

None of this stuff, of course, is covered by medical insurance. But I was hoping that otherSale! doctors who are doing medically necessary procedures could pick up on this trend. Dentists too. For instance, when I got my fractured tooth extracted last month ($ thousands, and no dental insurance) I was told that in the near future I would likely need a root canal on an adjacent tooth. Now couldn't the oral surgeon have offered me half off the second tooth?

And since I need both a mammogram and a pap smear, couldn't I get a 2 for 1 deal?

Alas, the only treatment discounts these days are skin deep. If you actually need medical care, good luck.


Election Day Family Style

Vote The first call came early yesterday morning. My Daughter had awakened at 6:30 a.m., and decided to vote early, before work. She called after casting her ballot. It was her second presidential election. Four years ago, she voted as a student in Ohio, where she waited more than seven hours in line. Yesterday, as a resident of New York City, her vote took about 15 minutes. She was very excited.

The second call came from The Boy, who had just voted for the first time ever. He cast his ballot in Maine, where he is a student. He explained the rather complicated ballot form, which had some kind of broken arrow, and where the Democratic candidates appeared at the bottom of the all the names. He was extremely excited.

Now fast forward to the evening, where The Weatherman and I were watching the election returns with several couples at a friend's house. Periodically our cell phones would ring with our kids calling. After Pennsylvania was called for Obama, everyone's phones starting ringing - it was a family affair for everyone there, as kids and brothers and sisters all kept vigil together, even though we were apart. MSNBC was calling states before CNN, so there were a lot of back and forth comparisons.

The Boy was watching at college with more than 100 people. You could hear the shouting in the background. My Daughter wanted to know from her father The Weatherman - who could also be called The Number Man - when it was safe to crack the champagne. She was also watching with friends.

We were in touch all night, until well after midnight. I can't tell you how happy it made me to have my children so excited about the Democratic process. It's corny, but it's true.


Election Night Apple Pie

Applepie It's as American as ... you know. Here's the apple pie I'm bringing to a pot-luck election returns dinner. The recipe is adapted from good old Joy of Cooking.

Prepare two basic pie doughs, or cheat like I do, and buy some Pillsbury Already Pie Crust.
Butter pie dish and line with one pie dough. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Peel, core and slice 2 1/2 pounds (about 5 or 6 large) apples.

Combine in a bowl with:
3/4 cup sugar
3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

Pour filling into pie crust. Squeeze about a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice over the apple mixture, then dot it with butter - about 2 tablespoons - cut into small pieces.

Take the second pie crust and cut it into strips. then weave the strips over and under each other like a basket on top of the pie. Once you are done, crimp the crust around the edges, trimming any pieces that are too long. I press the sides with the tines of a fork to give it a little decoration.

Bake for 30 minutes, then slip a baking sheet under the pie and turn the temperature down to 350 degrees. Bake for an additional 30-40 minutes. Note - I had to cover the pie loosely with aluminum foil after half an hour, because it was browning too quickly.

It goes without saying that this should be served warm, with vanilla ice cream on top.


Redskins Predict Obama Victory

Sack Anyone who knows The Weatherman knows that this family would never, ever root against the Washington Redskins.

So it was a sad turn of events when the Pittsburgh Steelers crushed the Redskins last night in Monday night football. Except for one consoling factor. With one exception - in 2004 - the Washington Redskins home football game has correctly predicted the winner of every U.S. presidential election since 1936. Ever since Franklin D. Roosevelt defeated Gov. Alf Landon the following has held true: if the Redskins lose their last home game prior to the election, the incumbent party has lost the election. (The Bush/Gore race is the only exception, and we will let history deal with that outcome.)

And by the way - last night's game wasn't even close. The Steelers won 23-6. So tonight may be an early night for Obama. And hey, the Redskins are playing again next week anyway.


The Handmaid's Tale

Handmaidstale  This book came out in 1986, and I just got around to reading it. It was hair-raising, depressing and kept me up nights. Even after I turned the light out.

Margaret Atwood sets up a bleak world. The president of the United States has been assassinated, Congress wiped out by machine gun. In place of the former government is a theocracy, and in the name of God women are completely subjugated. Our anonymous narrator lives in the Republic of Gilead and her sole function is to bear children. Most men and women in the country have become sterile - pollution, nuclear power plant melt downs and bad water are the culprits - so fertile women are essentially imprisoned by the powerful. Should the woman produce a child, it is promptly taken from her to be raised by others.

Our protagonist - known as Offred (she has no name of her own; her "Commander" is named Fred, and her name reflects his ownership) remembers freedom. She once had a husband, a child, a job and a bank account. It is early in the new republic. She vacillates between dreams of escape, placid resignation and contemplation of suicide. Spies are everywhere, but there is also an underground movement. Public hangings are daily events. Women are not allowed to read and write.

It's the language and the detail that make Gilead seem like a real and possible place, and our heroine a once-ordinary woman who finds herself in a terrifying new world. The end blew me away, even though we never know for sure poor Offred's fate.

This wasn't a book group selection, which is disappointing, because I would love to discuss this novel with others. Evidently they made it into a movie starring Natasha Richardson, which is bound to be a disappointment after the book. I'll probably Netflix it anyway.


Daughter In The City

I had a strange moment on Saturday when I was hugging my daughter goodbye. My daughter lives in Manhattan - not far away from our suburban home - and The Weatherman and I had gone into the city to see her new apartment and spend some time with her.

She has moved from Little Italy, where she was sharing an apartment with 3 other girls (and one of the girl's boyfriend) to a new place in the East Village. Now she has only one roommate. The apartment is small - her bedroom is tiny - but clean and cute, and the neighborhood is great. They are near Union Square, St. Mark's Church, the Strand Bookstore and much more. Her commute by subway to work is about 25 minutes, which isn't too bad.

Copie de DSC02916 We had a lovely afternoon with her, walking around, going out for brunch and exploring the neighborhood. When it came time to say goodbye, I was flooded with worry and motherly advice. Could she get back safely to her apartment? (She had walked us to our parking garage.) Was she being careful on the street? What was she going to do for dinner?

What made all this ridiculous is that she has been living in Manhattan on her own for almost a year and a half, and has been managing beautifully. But there was something about watching her sweet face - which to me somehow shimmers back and forth between the beautiful 23-year-old woman that she is and the adorable three-year-old she once was - and her long blond hair and her little jacket that made me ache with a sense of her vulnerability.

Anyway, The Weatherman took a small detour so we wouldn't have to drive up Second Avenue, where I might see her walking back home, my little girl, my grown-up daughter, walking alone in a crowd. Boy, am I proud of her. And boy, do I want to wrap her up and bring her home.