Practicing the craft for love and money

Over the years, I have been involved with food for love, money and charity.  I’ve collected and sorted food for a food bank, catered friend’s parties for New Year’s Eve, done desserts for a few hundred for “Christmas in July,” raised money for an animal shelter, cooked to pay for college  and for my first post-graduate months. For the last 12 years, I have worked as a volunteer cook with a local AIDS organization. Once a month, we present a nice, sit-down dinner for clients and their families at a local church. Last night was the final dinner for the season .

Last night was nuts. And I am not referring to anything we served.

I arrive at the kitchen , turn on the  gas ovens, and begin preparing pork roasts with seasonings, onions, and garlic. Open the oven doors thirty minutes later, and there’s no heat. Attempts to light the pilot lights fail. Range burners are working, but the flames are pitifully small. A check of the gas meter indicates all is well. Call the gas company. Gas man says the problems is in the  in the recently repaired fire suppression system. It is triggering the oven to shut off when it senses too much gas. Not his problem, but it is ours.

Quick thinking sends two pork roasts and potatoes to a nearby friend’s home for cooking. One volunteer takes the other two roasts to her home.  The mixed berries for dessert, and balsamic vinegar sauce for asparagus can still be cooked down on what’s left of the gas flames. With those done, a large cookie sheet is heated on the stove top, and asparagus is grilled with olive oil, butter, salt and pepper. Salad is washed, prepped and stashed in a large plastic bag in the fridge (our classic “trash bag salad”)  to be dressed just before serving.

While waiting, cream cheese is softened by hands (literally!). Some is mixed with red pepper jelly and some is mixed with a lovely concoction called Jezebel: a savory mix of apricot preserves, horseradish and mustard,  brought by a volunteer. Both are then spread on crackers and along with raw vegetables, serve as our appetizers. Meat and potatoes are returned at 6:30 p.m., giving us 30 minutes to slice and arrange pork and mash potatoes with salt, pepper, hot milk and melted butter.

Dinner makes it to the line on time at 7 p.m. And when it’s done, there is not a scrap left over. And dessert – warm berry compote over pound cake with whipped cream – also disappears.

In 12 years of these dinners, and all the years of other food-related work, I’ve had very few emergencies. Last night was a good one. When my Next Life becomes my new life, I will use the “Oh, No!” moments like these as a part of the blueprint.


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