Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Food Trucks in Charlotte and the Triangle

Food Trucks [Description: Row of brightly colored food trucks lined up]
The great thing about writing a blog is  how many people you connect to who also write blogs. When it comes to food blogs, there are so many of us out there, and I love it when we end up having the same train of thought.

Recently this happened when I came across Kathleen Purvis' blog I'll Bite. Her post today showcased Serious Eats beautifully photographed slideshow of Food Trucks in the Triangle.

I love food trucks. The ones here in Charlotte have so much personality and variety. The chefs are as interesting as the menus. Most of them are in parking lots on level ground suitable for walkers and  wheelchairs. Everyone is usually friendly and eager to explain the menu options and their ingredients.

There is a Charlotte Observer's interactive list of Charlotte's regular and up and coming trucks, but here is a list of a few food trucks for those with screen readers.

Here are some tips for enjoying our local food trucks:
  1. Check their websites, FB or Twitter accounts to keep up the ever-changing menus and location sites that can change due to private party rentals and bad weather.
  2. Go early. Many food trucks can and will sell out. Make sure you don't miss out!
  3. Support food trucks laws that keep vendors clean, safe and providing the best quality fare.
  4. Share the bounty with others, especially those who may not be able to get to a location.
  5. Look out for rallies where food trucks gather together. This is usually a great place to relax, stay for awhile and listen to local bands or performers.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Internet - The Circle of Food...and Life

Interestingly enough, the Internet brings us more information than we want or even need. But, like it or not, it has changed the way we find information and connect with people.

While some decry its affect to keep people from going out of their homes and link it to loneliness, it has been and will continue to be an excellent tool to connect those who can not leave their living spaces. Friends now stretch across miles and continents, and every evening can be spent interacting with people from different cultures and backgrounds. It doesn't matter if the person is living in a nursing home, a group home or their own home.

When I spent a year in a wheelchair due to back problems (spinal stenosis) and nerve damage (RSD), being able to connect to others through the Internet helped with everything from diagnoses, treatment and camaraderie. It kept information and entertainment coming into the house, so my children and I could feel less isolated and open to depression.

I have tried to explain my connection to people whom I've never met to people I see regularly in life, and some get it, others don't. Those who get it go on to have a double rich friendship due to the fact that we will "see" each other online as well as later on in the week.
My favorite spot right now is Facebook. Yes, I know there are other communities, but it is like the difference between an major city and a rural dot on the map of information. 
In our home, the technology of this world-wide network has enabled us to connect with others dealing with similar disabling conditions, consult with doctors who would not normally be accessible and make friends with folks that know exactly what we are facing in our day to day life. The best part of this is how much we can share! Now, you know where I am going with this!

Dinner table with food
Our 1st Thanksgiving Dinner in Charlotte, NC- 2010 [Description: Long table with red tablecloth covered with brimming serving dishes, fine china and crystal glasses, long red taper candles and containers of eggnog and cranberry Ginger Ale. Serving dishes filled with roasted chicken, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, giblet and sausage stuffing and green beans.
I love to share food pics, interesting recipes and my latest creations! Now, I will never tell you I am a food critic or food connoisseur, but I know what I like when I see it. And, so do a bunch of my friends apparently. We all have Facebook pages and albums. You can learn to make a new dish every night just through YouTube videos. Food blogs abound and email newsletters go a long way as well. One of the latest ones I love is Crockin' Girls. Two new feathers in the digital image cap has been Instagram and Pinterest (a site I cannot stay on long without creating ingredient shopping lists!) which provide space to post pics and pin even more items culinar-ily (not sure this is a word, but hey, it's my blog. I like it!) rich to the eye.

Thanksgiving plate: Chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, string beans, mac and cheese with whole berry cranberry sauce
My Thanksgiving plate! Yum! [Description: China plate filled with stuffing, green bean, macaroni and cheese, chicken, whole cranberry sauce. Behind plate is crystal glasses filled with Cranberry Ginger Ale and perfectly chilled Moscato wine]
So, if you are a foodie on a fixed income, use the Internet to its fullest capacity. I have visited Japan to see how Takoyaki and Gyoza are made. I have learned step-by-step instructions for vegan sausage. After buying a cast iron pan at a yard sale, I've discovered how to make aebleskiver from the Solvang Restaurant in Denmark. The sites I've linked below are a great way to get started! Here is another good plan:

1. Pick one recipe that you can create that does not create a financial dent in the budget.
2. Make your signature dish and snap a picture of it with a cellphone or webcam. Don't have one?
    Borrow one from someone around you (friend, family or counselor) and ask them to email it to
3. Share it in an album and let the comments begin!
4. When asked (and you will get asked!), share the recipe! Notes are perfect for this in Facebook.

As my life changes now, I find we entertain more and more people, and the joy of having someone at the dinner table is still a great rush. But, I never forget my virtual dinner guests waiting to share and enjoy!

Do you have some sites that you would like to share with me? Post them below in the comments!

More foodie links I love:

Food So Good Mall (formerly
Vegan Lunch Box

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Community Gardening and Me

Video from community gardening tour 2010. To view with closed captioning, please open video in Youtube.

 Had the chance to attend a local event showcasing community gardening. Can You Dig It, a community garden tour promoted by the Mecklenburg County Fruit & Vegetable Coalition  (MCFVC) was the second community garden tour put on by the group since the first one in 2010 (video above is from 2010). It was set up as a self-guided tour, which was wonderful because it allowed you to take your time or pick which locations you want to visit.

Inherent to gardens, accessibility is not easy. Out of the five locations, I can only think of two, Atherton Mill Farmer's Market and the garden at Central United Methodist that were arranged near a large parking lot with handicapped parking spaces and on level ground that would support a wheelchair or someone with mobility/balance issues. Although Central UM did not have a ramp into the garden when I was there, I am sure they would accommodate if needed.

The other gardens were wonderful with beautiful examples of everything from social, communal gardening to intensive gardening where plants are grouped close together to promote insect control and water conservation. There were plenty of free plants to take home and presentations at each garden that truly gave a personal touch. But, I realized that I could not enjoy these gems with any of my friends who need wheelchair access without risking them becoming stuck in the dirt, mud or uneven ground or having a difficult ascent to the actual location of the garden.

While I understand this didn't cross anyone's mind when the gardens were conceived or built, it created a conundrum for me. Out of all the locations where actual gardening took place, only one; Central UM, was conceived and built with accessibility in mind. In fact, one of the speakers, Jackson, met us in his wheelchair to show off his raised bed and how he had a part in building the woodwork around the site.

Far from being only an inspirational character, he showed how accessibility to communal gardening benefited him in simple, practical ways. It was a place where he could show his talents with woodwork, grow his own produce to supplement his food-style, and make sure others had what they needed. Before the tour was over, he and I exchanged phone numbers so he could help me with a raised bed plan for my own garden as well as possibly building a picnic table for my backyard.
[Slideshow does not have captions or descriptions. Will try to get site to update images. ]

I came home still wondering if more people with disabilities would participate if they were involved in the planning of these gardens from the "ground up." Even at the Winterfield Garden that has the great distinction of being the only Parks and Recs garden working with a public school, there wasn't a designated accessible path to get to the garden beyond trekking up an incline. I also didn't see any raised beds. 

I hope to be involved with MCFVC in the future as a volunteer, and as the hope is that there will be gardens across Mecklenburg County, especially on the grounds of public schools, I hope to bring the idea of accessibility to the proverbial table, along with the conversation of how to bring fresh, local fruits and vegetables to more people in our communities.

How about where you live? Are the community gardens, which receive funds, materials and assistance from your local governments, accessible to all? Is it openly promoted to local groups dealing with persons with disabilities so that they are aware of these resources and social activities?  Drop a line and let me know.

Resources for the Greater Charlotte area:
Interactive Map of Charlotte's Farmer's Markets
List of County Community Gardens
Mecklenburg County Fruits & Vegetables Coalition (MCFVC)
Sow Much Good
Field To Fork Program

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Accessible Parking, the ADA and You

Grid and layout of accessible parking spaces and access aisles
 Went to a meeting with Disability Rights and Resources today to listen to a conference call about Accessible Parking and the ADA.

First of all, I am happy it is called Accessible Parking now. Never liked Handicapped Parking. Many people who are not in wheelchairs also need to be closer to their destination when they travel. My children and I all have invisible disabilities that interfere with our endurance, especially in hot weather. Often, I see people look at me when I emerge from my car without getting a wheelchair. I often want to tell them, I may look good going in, but most times, I look very tired and stressed by the time I come out. But, I digress.

While the ADA is a wide-sweeping civil rights document, often it is almost too broad and can be interpreted differently by each city, town or locale. In fact, the speaker mentioned that an establishment does not have a specific blueprint on how it lays out its parking spots.

Today's call covered how accessible parking relates to the Title II and III sections of the ADA. I am the first to admit that most of these calls leave me a little dry. While the ADA is a wide-sweeping civil rights document, often it is almost too broad and can be interpreted differently by each city, town or locale. In fact, the speaker mentioned that an establishment does not have a specific blueprint on how it lays out its parking spots.

Where's the front door? [Description: Accessible parking space next to woods]
 That would explain why some restaurants or convenience stores have the accessible spots so far away from the front door.

Other things I learned:

1. All religious entities are exempt. Even if they own a day-care center on or off the property they own. They do not have to comply to the ADA when it comes to parking. That was news to me and made me feel grateful for the churches I've attended where there was ample and easily identifiable accessible parking.

2. Under the Title 1 section of the ADA, the business must have at least 15 employees to come under the ADA. guidelines. And, for every four spots, one has to be accessible. But, the more important point for me is that many small businesses would be exempt from the ADA, but would probably benefit from hiring workers with disabilities. This made me think that as we network small businesses, there needs to be a discussion on how to make sure they are welcoming to employees with disabilities.

3. Valet parking (with the new 2010 standards) has to have accessible spaces. Yaaay! I mean, I don't get out all the time, but in my mind, I always want to be able to do anything anyone else wants to do and not become restricted based on my or my children's need for accessibility.

There were more items and I will post them when the entire presentation is uploaded (in about 2 weeks), but for now, I just want to touch upon some of the problems brought up by attendees.

  One had to do with accessible parking being on a street where no parking was allowed after 11pm, while establishments in the neighborhood stayed open until 2am. This sounded like a bar/restaurant and so it immediately peaked my interest. Unfortunately, there was no perfect answer for the person asking. Since no one could park on the street after 11pm, it was not discriminatory, but someone using a wheelchair did not have safe access if they parked on another street. The ADA couldn't help anyone in that situation.

This is where I know if the establishment knew the problem, perhaps a safe accessible place could be created. I would approach the business and let them know they are losing some customers. In this case, ignorance costs.

Another problem was a parking space that was accessible to wheelchairs and scooters, but the meter for the space was not.

Solar powered parking meter- Good for the environment, but are they accessible?
WTHeck! Who came up with that bright one!?! And, the guy got a ticket while trying to figure it out! Of course, I hope he was going to fight it. Before a judge that ticket could barely stand up. But, who designs these things? Why aren't they field-tested for everyone? Who makes a space accessible and forgets that someone using a wheelchair may have to deposit the fare?

At the end of the meeting, there wasn't much conversation, but I felt energized. Even as a user of accessible parking, I looked at the entire thing with new eyes. I am now looking out to see how to educate the community about the accessible parking. I am hoping to help others understand the nuances of these spaces.

Like the access space between cars. Do not park there! It is not a space. It is illegal and even the police need to understand that the car should be issued a ticket for illegal parking.

Now, let me know what accessible parking looks like where you live. Do you have problems using the spaces to dine out or work? Do you run into a lot of violators? Are there enough spaces or are they too far way from the front doors of the business or building?

Let me know how you protect our accessible parking.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Sip of Coffee - All in Her Mind

I had to write about this! Check out the video:

Video of a woman using her brain to control a robotic arm. Her first act? Sip a cup of coffee. To view with closed captioning, please open video in Youtube.

How wonderful is this? This is a woman who has not been able to use her arms and legs for over 15 years, and here she is having a latte! Well, I'd like to think it was a latte! Whatever is in that cup, she is able to control what she puts in her mouth!

Technology is there. It has the ability to connect our internal neural network to external, mechanical, robotic devices. We have the ability to meet a basic desire of feeding oneself when one wants to eat. What!?! Is this Star Trek and Star Wars all rolled into one?

Well, not yet. The one thing that keeps t his from making a difference in the everyday life of a person with mobility disabilities is...wait for

When advancements in technology happen, people with disabilities still have to receive it through subsidies and charity. Right now, I am saving for a Pebble-Mini that I could take with me to restaurants in order to enjoy the experience of choosing menu items without assistance or large print lists. I am saving because something that probably should be no more expensive than a digital camera costs more like two of them.

Pebble Mini, a simple magnifier from Enhanced Vision [Description: The Pebble Mini, a portable digital magnifer held next to a can showing magnification of nutritional information]
 The cost of accessibility technology coupled with the small market of buyers makes it impractical for companies to see a reason to invest. Even as I look at the satisfaction on this lady's face, I realize many more years of research is needed to make this practical and economical.

And, yet, this moment is stupendous! Here this woman sits, sipping from a cup held to her mouth from a machine that she controls. This to me short of making her own limbs work again is the ultimate in foodie access.

What are you thoughts? Have you had easy access to technology or devices that would enable you to enjoy eating out, cooking at home or access to food products? Tell me about you experiences. If I get enough responses, I may do another post on the items you suggest.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Food Lack in the Community

Yesterday, I had a thought. I don't want people to think that dealing with disability and my love of food has always been all "Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy, Where are we going to eat next? It is impossible to talk about disability and food without touching upon the more serious subject of food insecurity.
Plain and simply put, many people on fixed incomes do not have access to the amount of food they need. My family faced this hurdle many times.
Receiving a monthly check is already a challenge, but trying to create a food supply that lasts throughout the month while dealing with disabling conditions can really become overwhelming. And, food insecurity is not something people are likely to discuss on social networks. I mean, who really is going to come out and post "I'm hungry tonight."

But, the research is there to support these facts:
  1. Thirty-seven percent of all low-income households with very low food security had at least one working-age adult who was unable to work because of a disability. 
  2. Households with no member in the labor force and at least one working-age adult who was out of the labor force because of a disability had the highest rate of very low food security (23 percent).
USDA Chart Food Insecurity
Food Insecurity and the Disabled  [Description: Pie Chart presented by USDA of Food Security and Disability, copyrighted December 2005]
As a single mom with disabling conditions raising children who also had life challenges, I learned very quickly about the pantries in the neighborhood as well as the Food Stamp program. Down the road from me was a 72-year old silver-haired woman, who lived alone, struggled with emotional disabilities, trying to make her benefits stretch. We would often ride to the pantry together, and then come home and share. If there was something she didn't care for, she would offer it to me for my children, and I would do the same. This was a great way to communally share and help each other through the month. If I found out about an event where fresh produce was being offered, I would make sure she was there and then store her overflow in our freezer (a roadside yard sale find for $40.00!)

We also shared recipes that fit in with what we received from the pantry. I can still make a mean pulled BBQ chicken from that seemingly innocuous can of chicken. And, she taught me to make many things from scratch, saving on processed foods. I can remember her hand-written recipes for lemon cake and butter-cream icing. Many a birthday was spent outside on the lawn eating her strawberry pies made with graham crackers received from a pantry.

One of the great things about the pantries I've been to is there is usually a shelf of items that are considered extras. I would find all sorts of items new to our food-style, but great to experiment with in a new recipe. I would always get excited about that shelf. There you could find roasted red peppers, garlic couscous, mole sauce and other items not usually part of the typical pantry fare.

I always lingered at that shelf, making mental notes to check online for recipes where I could showcase my newly found food treasures. These were special occasion items and no birthday or holiday came or went without something special and unexpected.

Now that I live in Charlotte where we have a vibrant Slow Food movement, many successful community gardens and farmer's markets, it is easy to get fresh, local produce. Many try to accept EBT in order to make fresh food accessible for all. I will write about some of these in a later post, where I can really give it full coverage.

For some people, this subject may be very uncomfortable. But, I don't have economic amnesia. Even though I am in a better place today, and now give more to the pantries than I receive, I cannot forget that for many, this subject is still very real and very current.

How can you make a difference?
  • Support EVERY food drive you can. Share recipes that help others use items that are low-cost and shelf stable.
  • Support your local food banks, farmer's markets and community gardens.
  • Ask markets to accept EBT Food Stamps even if you don't use them.
  • Work with local faith-based organizations and other non-profits to make sure the word gets out about available food outlets.
  •  Share with others. You never know who may be in need.
 Drop a line in the comments section, if you have a link you would like to share or a suggestion for others.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Difficulty in Accessibility Ratings

Before I began to put fingers to keyboard for this blog, I perused the Internet looking for others who were doing something similar. Good news was I found many people out there writing about their experiences of dealing with different disabilities and their journey through life. As a newbie to the restaurant review world, I especially wanted to note anyone doing reviews on local restaurants and venues.

Until I realized one thing. These reviews could only be experienced through their particular lens/take on disability. Where one person didn't mind that there wasn't a rail going up the stairs, they still gave it a wonderful grade because it did have a ramp for wheelchair users.

One of those ramps I avoid. Usually dizzy by the time I get to the top of it. [Description: Metal pole ramp on a two level concrete incline]
Well, for me and many others who do not use wheelchairs, railings are a good thing. And not having to go up a ramp is a good thing for me since the less twist and turns I take, the better for my vertigo. So, if I were there, my rating would not have been so good.

Which brings up the point of my post today. Accessibility rating systems cannot be totally relied upon and are very condition specific. It will not be the same experience for someone who has invisible disabilities (like vertigo, although sometimes my leaning over can become very visible) as opposed to someone who uses a wheelchair. Anyone posting about a restaurant, event or location has to be aware that they are not addressing everyone.

Does that mean we shouldn't use them? Or people should stop offering them? Of course not!
Different people with disabilities have different needs when they go out to eat. [Description: image of a group of people and children, one person in a wheelchair, smiling and looking at the camera]

I will review restaurants from time to time, and give the best perspective I can. In fact, I intend to dine with many people with different disabilities in order that more than my opinion shows up in the review. I also want to compare notes with my readers to see if they had a good, bad or better experience.

Just realize that you have to take their word and even my word with a grain of salt. In the long run, use accessibility ratings as a guide, but go out and experience the location for yourself. In fact, that is my hope; that you experience the world and what it has to offer.

So, let me ask you something. Do you look for restaurants that have published accessibility ratings? Do you use online rating guides? How good were they when it came to your actual experience?

Links for accessibility articles or sites. Post some for your local area.
Blue Badge Style
New York Times Wine and Dine Article
The Rolling Gourmet Restaurant Accessibility Rating Guide Reviews
Gayot's Guide to the Good Life: Wheelchair Accessible Restaurants-Charlotte
Active Diner: Wheelchair Accessible Restaurants-Charlotte

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Great Saturday BBQ - Not in My Dreams

Yesterday, I went over to a FB friend's house for a get-together. Now, anyone who knows me will tell you; Judi is not outgoing, but she loves to be around outgoing people. So, intrepid little me, shy seeker of life and experiences, went for a nice ride out onto Carolina country roads totally read for some good old-fashioned BBQ. Plus, she said they had wine and I cannot pass up a good glass of chilled Moscato.

Moscato Asti - great chilled! [Description: Glass of sparkling Moscato]
I took my youngest son with me, and my Honey (the wonderful man in my life right now) drove us down the highway until we began to meander down single lane roads passing gorgeous ranch homes surrounded by hydrangeas, roses and freshly cut lawns. It was the perfect setting for a cookout.

It is a great thing to finally meet your FB friends in person! We laughed and hugged while she introduced me to her friends and family. As this is kin to my Honey, it was a short hello as the bonds of their family quickly became new bonds for me.

As more people arrived, one person in particular caught my eye. Her husband removed a wheelchair from the trunk of their car, and she rolled up onto the patio with ease and comfort. As new introductions started again, I learned her name: Nikki Crawford.

As I sit here now writing about the event, one thing keeps reverberating in my mind. I never learned why Nikki was in a wheelchair. I never learned about any difficulties or obstacles she faced in her life due to dealing with a disabling condition. What I heard about was "Nikki Crawford Cookies." Here sitting next to me was a baking chef! She and her husband had just moved into a new house, and the running joke was whether 13 days was enough time to let them get settled in before someone could call in an order! Although she hadn't brought any cookies to the event, it was an ongoing topic of discussion all evening. By the time we were leaving, my mouth was watering, and I wanted a sample of everything! To make things even better, my FB friend said she would pay for my first order of NC Cookies just because they were that good! So, I am looking forward to a care package of cookie goodness to arrive in a week or two.

Neiman Marcus Cookies - waiting for the Nikki Crawford version! [Description: Stack of chocolate chip cookies on a white plate placed on a red, white and black gingham tablecloth]
This is what I want for everyone, and I am crazy enough to fight for it. There wasn't any derision or politically correct shyness. There were no hushed tones of "Let me explain about Nikki." All that mattered about Nikki was her friendship to the people at the table, and those darned cookies!! It is what I want for so many people in this world, including my children; the chance to talk about one's skills, how they contribute to the world and what makes them happy.

What was more important at that table full of foodies, who discussed red velvet cake like it was a science project, was having a good time. Another baker at the table brought that rich, red hued, triple layered dessert, and everyone raved about his baking skills. We talked about wine. I sampled everything: a crisp, but not too dry Chardonnay, a fruity Riesling with its notes of peach, and a wonderfully chilled sparkling Moscato that complemented the sweetness of the dessert perfectly from its heady sugar rush at the beginning to its bubbly finish. There were tales of home-cooked meals and who cooked pancakes and waffles from scratch (me!). With typical, southern, African-American soul-food cooking flair, a discussion then centered on the proper way to cook greens and the perfectly grilled white and yellow corn we had that night.

By the time we were ready to leave, I was stuffed, had been hugged half to death, and was giddy with the thought of future dessert delicacies.

My thoughts? The reason self-advocates and parent advocates fight so hard is for just an evening like last night. The ability to roll or walk up to a group of people and be accepted as a viable member of a community, without prejudice or ridicule, should be the right of every person in this country. The ability to explore one's skills and make a living (if they so chose) from them should not rest on whether one walks.

There are many who do not go out of their homes for fear of rejection and ridicule. There are young adults, who are not asked what they would like to be when they grow up, but are corralled into supported job sites with barely a chance to support themselves.

Our fight continues because there are others unlike Nikki Crawford, who do not get the chance to express themselves and feel proud of their accomplishments. They don't get a night out to laugh and be accepted And, that is a loss with which no one should be comfortable. No one should have to only dream about a night and a life like that.