Wednesday, June 12, 2013


This was in the paper today, and for folks who have never visited the Eastern State Penitentiary, you should. It is beyond cool.

Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, but stands today in ruin, a haunting world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers.

Known for its grand architecture and strict discipline, this was the world’s first true “penitentiary,” a prison designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of convicts.

Its vaulted, sky-lit cells once held many of America’s most notorious criminals, including bank robber “Slick Willie” Sutton and Al Capone.

Philadelphia prison to serve visitors a tasting of inmate meals 

Special event will feature meals from the 1830s, 1940s and today, including dishes like broiled salted beer and Nutraloaf.


Plates of prison food at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. On
left, Nutraloaf, presently served in Pennsylvania prisons as a “behavior
modified meal” and salt beef, with “Indian Mush,” an inmate dinner from the 1800s.

In a city that has become renowned for its hip and innovative restaurant scene, a local tourist attraction is offering decidedly different fare: prison food.
This weekend, Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia will serve visitors sample inmate meals from the 1830s, 1940s and today: broiled salted beef with "Indian mush"; hamburger with brown gravy and beets; and Nutraloaf - an unappetizing concoction currently served as a punishment.
Event organizers say the not-so-haute cuisine is a way to stimulate both the taste buds and the mind. The meals reflect the changing nature of food service at penal institutions and, in some ways, attitudes toward inmates, said Sean Kelley, the prison's director of public programming.
"We hope to have a discussion all weekend long about what these policies mean to accomplish and whether they're effective," Kelley said.
Director of public programming, Sean kelly displays a plate of Nutraloaf, presently served in Pennsylvania prisons as a “behavior modified meal,” at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.


Director of public programming, Sean kelly displays a plate of Nutraloaf, 

presently served in Pennsylvania prisons as a “behavior modified meal,” 

at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.

The quirky tasting menu will be available Saturday and Sunday at Eastern State, a defunct prison that once housed gangster Al Capone. The centuries-old facility was abandoned in 1971 but later reopened to tourists looking for an eerie glimpse of life behind its 30-foot-tall walls.
Food samples will be prepared offsite by Freestyle BBQ, a catering company based in Langhorne that happens to be owned by Pennsylvania corrections officer John Freeman.
Freeman, who works at an undisclosed state institution, started his food business on the side last year. When he heard that Eastern State needed a temporary cook, Freeman couldn't believe the serendipity - and neither could Kelley.
"Who knows prison food better than me?" Freeman said.
A plate of salt beef, with “Indian Mush,” an inmate dinner from the 1800s, at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.


A plate of salt beef, with “Indian Mush,” an inmate dinner from the 1800s, at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.

While on prison duty, he eats the cafeteria food, which he describes as flavorful but low-grade. But flavorful is not how he describes the bland recipes he'll be making for Eastern State.
"It's going to be hard ... to cater something and basically not jazz it up," Freeman said.
He described the broiled salted beef as being like corned beef, and the Indian mush as basically polenta - cornmeal and water. Kelley, who tried making the recipe himself, noted the mush was actually "very good" because it's topped with a bit of molasses.
That meal would have been delivered to inmates on carts in an era of solitary confinement. Prison officials at the time were optimistic that well-nourished inmates would be "penitent," reflect on their offenses and become better people, Kelley said.
Nutraloaf, presently served in Pennsylvania prisons as a “behavior modified meal,” at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.


Nutraloaf, presently served in Pennsylvania prisons as a “behavior modified meal,” at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.

The hamburger-and-gravy meal comes from an actual Eastern State menu for the week of April 17, 1949, which will be on display. Inmates ate communal meals that were prepared on site by their fellow prisoners who used cookbooks, Kelley said.
Current prisoners also are trained to cook in the state prison system, said spokeswoman Susan Bensinger. A current sample menu from Graterford prison includes waffles, pork barbecue and poultry and gravy, with vegetarian options for each meal. But that's for well-behaved inmates.
Prisoners being punished get the food loaf often called Nutraloaf. The recipe varies by state, but in Pennsylvania it consists of rice, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, oatmeal, chick peas and margarine. It's nutritionally sound but prisoners across the U.S. have filed lawsuits over it, calling it cruel and unusual punishment. Many states continue to serve it.
Kelley, who also made a batch and brought in to share, said he was surprised at the number of co-workers who wouldn't taste it.
"I'm curious to see if visitors really will be experimental enough to try it," Kelley said.

Monday, June 10, 2013



This is not my normal subject matter, but it's certainly food related and I've been rather disgusted and dismayed as I searched for ideas and options on feeding the elderly. Decreased appetite often comes with older folks for several reasons. Decrease in physical activity so they never have a real full appetite, tastes change, and medical reasons are the most common.

My father is currently going through a rough bout medically right now, and so I've been looking at what is out there on this subject. In his case, he is perfectly fine mentally, actually, excellent. The past month, due to his condition, he is less active then he was but he was still completely independent. He has worked outdoors all his life and is in good physical shape, loves to garden and work on his farm. And he likes to eat.

The challenge came with certain medications he is on. They leave a metallic or bitter taste and in some cases, has totally changed his taste profile. Case in point, he hates tuna noodle casserole. My mom makes an awesome tuna noodle casserole. I made it the one night and when he asked what it was, I wouldn't tell him and just told him he'd like it, eat up. I make mine a bit different than mom's and it's good. He tucked in and ate 3 helpings! When I told mom, she couldn't believe her ears! But, that is just one example of a taste change. I know for my own self when on antibiotics, I don't eat the same and the normal foods don't taste as good. It takes some experimentation and seasoning, but it can be done. And, no folks, bland crap that I wouldn't feed my dog does not inspire one to eat. A Pox on those of you out there in the care management scene that somehow think so. Almost every article I have read on this subject felt demeaning and makes me dread the day I may need to go to a care facility. Not all places deserve this, of course, some are really truly good. But I'll cook to my dying breath.

My disappointment comes in the care industry and caregivers who are treating these folks like they are little children too dumb to tie their shoes. It's condescending and does nothing to help their appetite. Many times, they are not saying this to be difficult, they are saying it because it is real for them and an issue. I realize dementia patients present a different issue, and I concur with most of those decisions. But for a mentally competent person, removing their dignity in the most simplest of life's decisions is demeaning and discouraging for adults who have accomplished much in their lives and are still dynamic people. It takes more effort and profiling of new dishes sometimes, and also nutrient managing to ensure their dietary needs are being met. BUT it CAN BE DONE!

These issues with aging and health issues are depressing for anyone, but especially for dynamic adults who were used to being type A achievers. As they say, aging isn't for wimps. It's tough for any person to come to grips with the fact that you just can't do what you used to. And if you did a lot, it really feels insulting.

I think many younger folks in the field make this mistake unwittingly. It is not that they do not care, they do. But they simply have not lived enough life and dealt with enough people to have learned some of those life experiences that shapes us into who we become.

So make an effort to give them decision making, still have some control in their lives over something they like.  Help give them something to look forward to and to be involved in. It's really not that difficult.

My father loves going with me to the garden, the produce stands and farmer's markets and help pick out the week's menu. He then has dishes he is looking forward to. While you all cannot do that, you can still do it in some form.

One of my dad's favorite meals is meatballs in red sauce with mashed taters and asparagus and strawberry shortcake for dessert. (He's not a big pasta guy.) With all the fresh summer produce coming on, please look at your elderly relative or patient as a whole person and not a baby to be fed. You wouldn't like it or thrive with that attitude and neither do they.

Speaking of  strawberry shortcake and the strawberries coming on in our gardens now, here is a wonderful true shortcake from Mike's grandmother. While I like making biscuits and strawberries in syrup, I like this more and this shortcake is good on it's own as well. As it is an iced cake, that is what gives the sweetness to the berries, although fresh local usually don't need any sugar. Mike likes to drown his in milk as many do here, but I like milk on the side!

BTW, a shout out to the amazing nursing staffs at Geisinger Medical Center at Danville, PA, especially on SCU and HFAM, and the ortho folks as well. You all rock, and sometimes that encouragement or smile you share can turn the whole day around for someone. Thank you all.

Grammy Motto's Poor Man's Cake (shortcake)

Beat together until creamy-
1 1/2 C sugar
2 eggs
Beat in
1/2 C  Crisco or butter
1 1/2 C milk
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
3 C flour- enough to make real stiff
1 tsp vanilla

Pour into a greased floured pan and bake, a 9x13 takes about 35 minutes at 350 degrees


2 tbs soft butter
10x sugar
1 tsp vanilla
and enough milk to make creamy