Abrazos Fuerte for 2016

Dear Friends,

Last year, ironically without anticipating all the difficult emotional terrain I would cover, I selected the word “Awaken” (or awake, I cannot recall!!) as my “Word of the Year.”  Boy did I subconsciously Nail It!  The Universe mercifully gave me lots of wake-up calls……and my Divine Power gave me the strength to answer.  Suffice it to say, our family soared through potentially staggering emotional challenges and I am now a strong, proud “Friend of Bill’s” (aka Recovering Alcoholic).

This year, it took fewer than 5 minutes to imagine my guiding phrase/philosophy:  “Abrazos Fuerte” – Translated from Spanish, it means “Strong Hugs.”  Our wise and adoring Primo from Argentina (Spanish for Male First Cousin), Charlie, always ends his written communication with this beautiful phrase – it is his “signature.”

Cousin Charlie (pictured above, enjoying his 71st birthday in Bariloche, Argentina and in 1998, “supervising”  my sister-in-law Christine in the family tradition of empanada making), is a strong and loving figure in our family.  He is the existing “Patriarch” of the Tamburini family of Buenos Aires, Argentina, the homeland of my husband’s father, Mario Tamburini (my son has his name).

Charlie is the lifeline between my husband and his Argentinian heritage – he can tell us stories and share history that brings the family ancestry to life and provides a strong foundation for our children.  When my husband and I announced the news of our engagement to the Argentinian branch of the family, they sent telegrams of congratulations and Charlie offered me abrazos fuerte in the form of one simple line:  “Grandma Isabel is smiling for she would have found you extremely simpatico.”  Simpatico means likeable and easy to get along with.  WHO COULD ARGUE WITH THAT?!!!!

Anyway, life continues to amaze me and the journey would be impossible without MUCHOS ABRAZOS FUERTE.  As a side note, I should add that the Tamburini family are known to be extremely strong huggers – so much so that my sisters, as Aunts, have had to caution my son Mario before hugging, “Not too hard, Mario!”.  I am the proud Mother of 2 very strong huggers – they will do well in life.

The infamous Alfred Eisenstaedt photo published in Time Magazine from “V-J Day in Times Square 1945” really, for me, visually depicts the spirit of what I hope to achieve in everything I do with everyone I encounter in 2016.  In life, one must march onward and celebrate moments with laughter and abrazos fuerte or else what the hell is the point?

Happy New Year, friends!  May 2016 bring each of you your own special moments of warm embraces that melt away life’s jagged edges.

Love always,

Joanie, the Big Cheese on Cheeky Street






Sorry, Kids, But The Lunch Lady Is Just Another Chump

When he was in 3rd grade, and already resisting the daily grind of attending a full day of school, my son said the funniest, saddest thing I have heard a kid say as we were pulling into the drive of his elementary school.  “Here we are, Chump Elementary!”.  Stunned, I stopped the car and looked back at him and said, “Well, your job is to stay 3 steps ahead of all the chumps, okay?  When you grow up, you will discover that a lot of chumps will be your boss.”  Hardly the motivating piece of advice he was possibly looking for, my son just sighed and stepped out of the car.  I could almost feel the heaviness in his heart as, each day, he watched the clock until dismissal time.

“What were your favorite parts of the day,” I would cheerily ask, hoping for a different answer each afternoon when we would reunite.

“Lunch and recess.  Everything else was boring”

The response never wavered or varied.  Always the same.  Even today, 7 years later, I get the same answer.

So I began asking myself, what is it about lunch that it is the highlight of his day?  I know the food is not good.  I took myself back to my elementary days. Funny how one’s sensory memory is so strong:  I can place myself there, at St. Eustachius Catholic School, eating a healthy portion of homemade chicken and dumplings followed by a freshly baked cinnamon roll made by Florence Scherer’s capable and caring hands.  She was the wife of a local farmer and easily fed the 100+ students (k-8) in our school the heartiest, most sumptuous of healthy farm fare every single day.  How I loved school lunch!!  For me, fortunately, a child of the 70’s, it was still about the great food in the lunchroom.


Today’s pubic school lunches are woefully less desirable than Mrs. Scherer’s delicious grub.  I was a lunch lady.  I was a “chump,” a part of the Federally regulated “system” that endeavors to adequately nourish schoolchildren across America.  What a joke.

1 in 5 children live in “food insecure” households.  In many large cities, as many as 90 percent of the public school students qualify for the free lunch program based on poverty guidelines:  they are living in a household of 4 earning less than $31,005.00/year.  The kids that qualify for a “reduced-rate” lunch (still considered food insecure households) are living in households with incomes of under $44,123.

Teachers report having the most difficulty with classroom management on Mondays and Fridays.  Why?  Because, on Mondays, students coming from food insecure households have possibly spent the majority of their time away from school in a state of hunger.  One hungry student in a report I recently read admitted, “I would stare at the teacher and imagine her as a banana, I was so hungry.  It was all I could think of.”  And on Fridays, the learning environment is once again tainted by students’ obsession over food:  hungry children were burdened by thoughts of returning to their food insecure households for long weekends.  The “backpack program,” which discreetly provides qualifying students with bags stocked with nutritious foods like peanut butter to sustain them over the weekends, helps a little. But I have heard reports from school social workers about students who gorge themselves on the bus ride home with their backpack bounty to avoid having to share it with “unworthy” family members at home.

Then there is the remaining 30 percent of students in an average public school environment that fall through the poverty guideline cracks yet still live in food insecure households because their parent(s) don’t make enough money to buy enough food to satisfy their needs.

Kids come to school hungry and tired, not ready to learn.  Now schools are left to deal with not only the education of students but they must also the address the number one reason why students are not motivated to learn.  Lack of sufficient food.  Yet, as a Lunch Lady, I personally witnessed a huge amount of wastefulness – I would ask myself, “if these kids are poor and hungry, why is so much food going to waste?”.  Because it tastes TERRIBLE!!!

I have been doing a lot of reading about food cooperatives and school lunch programs in cities like Boston that are applying knowledge and techniques from farm-to-table eating that are resulting in better food, prepared in ways that kids like, and resulting in less waste and therefore sustainability.  This is the ideal – for all the school-aged children across America.

Are you totally depressed yet?  I am just writing about this because I am so sick of the problem.  And I think the solution, having been on the “inside” of the public school nutrition program, is for public schools to move away from federally funded nutrition programs and work with communities to address the nutritional needs of students.  This won’t happen overnight.  It is going to require the guidance and intelligence garnered from all the active social justice, sustainability, food-growing and child-centered wellness initiatives working together.

To learn more about the government’s “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act” and the current guidelines/implementation for schools to be reimbursed based on income eligibility guidelines (the system that isn’t working), visit the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service at:  www.fns.usda.gov/nslp/history_4.

To learn about the exciting partnerships, ventures, think tanks and social justice movements around our nation dedicated to addressing the problem of childhood hunger/food insecurity in America, go to sites like these:




There is still so much to learn but I am convinced that the solution to the problem begins with addressing building communities focused on reducing waste and building food sustainability for all.

I became a Lunch Lady because of my ridiculous fantasy that the lunchroom could once again be a happy, friendly place where all children were treated well and left satisfied.  On the day I witnessed a darling 6th grade boy maliciously refused a full lunch by the Head Lunch Lady because his account balance was below negative $6.00, I knew my efforts would be better spent on finding a solution to the absurd problem of food insecurity.

After all, it takes a WORLD CLASS BI*!@ to refuse a kid even a lousy lunch on his birthday!!!!




20 Minute Lemon Broccoli Pasta Skillet

Peeps, if you are like me, you have already been to several Cookie Exchange parties and feeling more than stuffed with Holiday treats. This time of year, I try to keep weeknight meals as light, simple and healthy as possible.  For instance, I found this awesome recipe from The Food Charlatan that my family loves:



  • 3 quarts water
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 and 1/2 to 2 pounds fresh broccoli
  • 1 pound rotini pasta
  • 3-4 cups fresh spinach
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large lemon, zested and juiced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
  • 1/4 or 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 cup fresh Parmesan, plus more to garnish
  • olive oil, to garnish
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. In a large skillet or pot, bring the salt and water to a boil.
  2. While you wait, prep your broccoli by trimming the stems and cutting the florets into similar sized pieces.
  3. Add the rotini and boil on high for 4 minutes.  Add the broccoli, cover, and set a timer for 3 minutes (Leave the burner on high enough to keep a rolling boil).
  4. When the timer goes off, turn off the heat and drain the pasta using a lid or colander.  Return to the pan and stir in the spinach.
  5. Sprinkle with lemon zest.  Let it sit for a few minutes so the spinach wilts.
  6. Meanwhile, in a small skillet melt the 4 tablespoons butter over medium heat.
  7. Add the minced garlic and crushed red pepper and saute for about 1 minute, until fragrant.
  8. Turn off the heat and add 2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice.  Add the lemon butter to the pasta and stir.
  9. Stir in 1 cup fresh parmesan cheese.  Add a drizzle of olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  10. Garnish with more cheese, fresh lemon wedges, and eat hot!



A Go-To Favorite Chicken Soup Recipe



Alas, my favorite time of year has arrived:  bone-chilling winter is upon us, time for me to get yummy soups going on my stove.  This is a particularly favorite recipe that I keep coming back to, so I wanted to share it with you – It takes only about 20 minutes to prepare and then you are feasting (hopefully by a cozy fire) on heart-and-soul-warming goodness.  Enjoy!

Southwestern Chicken & Rice Soup Low-Fat and My Way


  • 48 ounces fat free chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup onions, chopped
  • 1/3 cup celery, chopped
  • 1/2 cup green bell peppers, chopped
  • 1/2 cup long-grain rice, uncooked
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 12 ounces boneless skinless chicken breasts, chopped (*I purchase a baked chicken and de-skin and shred)
  • 1 cup tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 cup whole kernel corn, frozen
  • 1 (4 1/2 ounce) can green chilies, chopped, undrained
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Bring broth to a boil in a large saucepan.  Stir in rice and cumin.
  2. Return to a boil.
  3. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes until rice is tender.
  4. Stir in chicken and next 3 ingredients into rice mixture.
  5. Bring to a boil.
  6. Remove mixture from heat, add salt.
  7. Serve with fresh cornbread and green salad.
  8. Enjoy!








I am SO SICK of gun violence


I am all heated up over here on Cheeky Street this week about gun violence.  Mother Jones recently published some great material providing important background and facts about the current political environment (e.g., powerful Gun Lobby) essentially prohibiting the Centers for Disease Control from addressing gun violence in America as a public health issue.  Thus, research about the impact of gun violence on Americans since 2005 is not cohesive and, more alarming, public policies to address the facts are stifled by members of Congress who are financed by wealthy gun advocates.  So, stories like the ones in this article continue.  And America is paying mightily:

Courtesy of Mother Jones Magazine