Thursday, September 26, 2013

I Thought Things Would Be Pretty Simple. Nope.

For 24 hours or so, I was living under the delusion that today would be a pretty low key and easy soup kitchen day.  I knew I would have to separate the chicken leg quarters into drumsticks and thighs, and Annette and I had spoken yesterday at the applesauce demo about doing some roasted apples as a side dish.  She also said there were a lot of 5 pound bags of frozen potatoes that needed to be used--the freezer is jammed.  I was feeling pretty serene as I walked in this morning.  It was cool out.  I brought a completed sock, a ball of yarn, and a crochet hook to show someone who works in the food bank how to do linked triple crochet stitches--we were chatting about this yesterday.  "I'll actually have plenty of time to do that today," I thought.  And I did have time.  The chicken was in the oven by 9:20 and done cooking an hour later.  We had to use green beans instead of the apples because there was a box of them that needed to be used up, but the crew got to work on those right away and they were in the pots cooking with plenty of time to spare.  The frozen potatoes went into the convection oven when the chicken came out--they only took 15 minutes.  Things were steady, but calm, in spite of the fact that there were garbage disposal repairmen removing the old and installing the new, so we couldn't move our dirty bowls, cutting boards, and knives to the sink as we usually do, thus cutting down on the amount of available work space.

Annette told me when I came in that while she'd pulled the usual amount by weight of chicken from the freezer, it looked like the pieces were larger and there would not be as many pieces.  This turned out to be the case--I ended up with 101 pieces of chicken rather than the 150 or so that I expected. Knowing that we might run short, she'd gotten some hot dog buns and the ketchup bottles ready on the counter and made sure there were plenty of hot dogs in the kitchen freezer.  I put a pot of water on the stove and turned on the burner so it would be boiling if I needed to drop in a few hot dogs.  I assumed I would have to during the last half an hour or so.  Before we opened the crew and I discussed the best way to proceed and we decided that it would be easier for everyone if we just served the chicken until it was gone and then switch to the hot dogs. 

None of us expected the kind of day we had--there was a rush when we opened, which is pretty typical.  There was a line in the hallway of people waiting for an open seat, which happens sometimes.  And people just kept on coming, which is unusual--most of the time there is a lull.  A seat would open up and it would immediately be filled again.  We were out of chicken by 11:30.  I cooked a bunch of hot dogs and they were soon gone.  The buns were used up and we had to go into the back for more.  I cooked more hot dogs.  We stopped serving seconds on green beans so there would be enough for everyone to have firsts.  I cooked more hot dogs.  People kept coming.  I cooked more hot dogs.  By the time we flicked the lights on and off to encourage the last few stragglers to leave the crew to clean up, we had served 183 meals with one container of potatoes and 4 hot dogs left.  Things were pretty steady over the hour and a half--it all seemed rushed and chaotic as we tried to keep up with everything.  But we did it!  The Thursday crew is GRRRRREAT! 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Applesauce Demo at the Food Pantry

This morning I woke up with a sinus headache that was threatening to turn into a migraine and a queasy stomach.  I took a pill, ate, and had some coffee.  I felt well enough to proceed to MCHPP with my container of applesauce, serving spoon, can opener, and small can of wild blueberries in my ChicoBag, and my 4-quart Crock-Pot in my backpack!  Today is applesauce demo day, so I was glad I could function well enough to go.  I found a bottle of fizzy water in the "stuff for volunteers" section, too, so I grabbed that and that helped.  I set up my stuff and collected more apples from the back.  We have a lot of them now. 

I stopped to talk to my friend, Nancy, who is my boss on Mondays in the food bank (she's crew chief--and a most excellent one, too!).  She asked me about the fish chowder recipe that I'd submitted to a contest the Portland Press Herald was running.  She said she hadn't seen the link here, so I told her I'd post it--don't want to let the boss down :-)  I called it Garden Fish Chowder.  I submitted it because they asked for the stories behind the recipes and I thought the chowder/soup kitchen story was a good one to share--I also wanted to get some publicity for MCHPP.  Anyway, thanks for reminding me to post that here, Nancy! 

After my talk with Nancy, I started another batch of applesauce in the Crock-Pot.  Sue, the food pantry coordinator, is raffling off a couple of Crock-Pots to clients this afternoon, so I made and served the applesauce from my Crock-Pot.  I filled the crock with peeled, cored, and quartered apples, set it to high and let it cook.  I needed to add a little water partway through.  I also added the small can of wild blueberries that I had drained.  I talked with a lot of people and we shared ideas and information.  That's the best part of doing these--we end up having some good conversations.  By the time the batch of applesauce I'd brought with me was gone, my headache was coming back and I felt a little foggy, but I smooshed up the apples in the Crock-Pot and dished out a little cup of chunky apple-blueberry sauce for myself.  It was really good--especially warm.  I can see myself having warm apple-blueberry sauce with some toasted oatmeal mixed in.  And maybe some coconut! People loved it and couldn't believe how easy it was.  I was glad because we have a lot of apples and a seemingly endless supply of those little cans of blueberries!  You don't even need sugar--just fruit and perhaps a bit of water.  I had some cinnamon on the side for people to sprinkle in as they wished.

I was so glad to get home!  It smells really good in here--before I left I filled my large Crock-Pot with chicken leg quarters, carrots, onions, cabbage, and potatoes.  I also put in some herbs.  The package said it was "poultry bouquet," which I think consisted of rosemary, sage, and oregano.  I had it in at 7ish and it'll cook on low until 5-ish.

When I got home, I ate something and am drinking the coffee I left in my stainless steel mug this morning.  I took another pill.  I am tired and a bit foggy, which is usual in these situations, but I am somewhat functional again.  Now I have to wash out my applesauce-encrusted Crock-Pot!  As always, I had a handout, which I will copy and paste below.

Applesauce is very easy to make and it’s a great way to use up apples that are bruised or blemished. 
--Peel, core, and chop apples. 
--Place in pot, add a small amount of water and bring to a boil, then turn heat down to medium.  --Apples will soften and begin to lose their shape.
--Stir once in a while and add more water if needed. 
--Add some sugar and/or cinnamon if you like.
--You can mash with a fork, potato masher or blend if you like your applesauce really smooth. 
--If you add a bit of lemon juice, you can freeze your applesauce for later use.  The vitamin C in lemon juice helps keep the applesauce from turning brown.

--You can easily add other fruits to your apples before cooking.  Pears and peaches work well.  Peel, chop and add to the pot to cook with the apples.  Cut up strawberries are another nice addition as are blueberries.

--To make your applesauce in a Crock Pot, peel, core, and quarter the apples.  Place in the crock, cover, and cook on high for 3-3 1/2 hours or low for 5-6 hours. If apples seem a little dry as they cook, add a little bit of water. Mash apples or process in blender or food processor.

--You can use your applesauce for eating, mixed into oatmeal or other hot cereal, or use it in baking.

Sauteed Apples
Instead of making applesauce, you can also make some chunky cooked apples that are great in oatmeal or as a side dish.
--Core and chop apples (I leave the skin on) and add to a pan that has a little olive or vegetable oil in it. 
--Cook, stirring constantly until apples just start to soften but have not lost their shape. 
--Sprinkle in a bit of sugar if the apples are tart and some cinnamon if you like/have it.  Ginger and nutmeg would also be nice additions if you have/like those spices. 
--Or you can make the apples less sweet and more savory and use them as a side dish with pork or chicken. To do this, sprinkle in some curry powder or chili powder and cumin.

Roasted Apples
(from The Full Plate blog:

apples, cut into chunks
olive oil
salt + pepper
onions, chopped (optional)
garlic, minced (optional)
cumin (optional)
chili powder (optional)
cinnamon (optional)
smoked paprika (optional)

Heat oven to 375*. Spread apples on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with garlic and spices. (I trust you to know how much of each spice to add, depending upon your family's tastes. Roast for 15-20 minutes, until apples are tender. (Be careful not to overcook or the apples will become mushy. Then again, if you prefer them more like a savory apple sauce, feel free to leave them in the oven for another 10 minutes, or so.)

*It will also work well at 400, if you have one oven and have something else that needs to be roasted at that higher temp. If you roast them at 400, you'll probably only need to do so for about 10-15 minutes.

--You can add apples to squash or potato soups and to potato pancakes.  Add crunchy apple chunks to salads. 

--I like to make a fall veggie medley that is great as breakfast or as a side dish:

--Peel and cut up sweet potato and winter squash (such as acorn or butternut). 
--Place in greased pan and cook at 325 for an hour or so. 
--Add chopped, unpeeled apple, cranberries, a splash of orange juice or water, and a sprinkle of brown sugar. 
--Place back in the oven and cook until all veggies are tender.  You can sprinkle cinnamon on this or leave it out.  I like to sprinkle the cinnamon and some walnuts over mine.

Sweet and Sour Cabbage and Apples
This is a great fall/winter dish that goes well with sausage, chicken, pork, or beef.

4 cups shredded cabbage
1 or 2 large apples, peeled (if you want--I leave the skin on), cored, and chopped
1/4 cup sugar--brown or white
1/4 cup vinegar--cider or white
sprinkle of caraway seeds if you have/like them

Place everything in a saucepan. Cover and cook for 10 minutes on medium.  Stir and reduce heat to medium-low. Put the cover back on and cook for 15-20 minutes more, until the cabbage is crisp-tender and the apple is soft.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Farm Potatoes

We had farm potatoes with lunch today--yum!  I look forward to these potatoes as much as I do the strawberries and the tomatoes.  They are so wonderful that I don't like to mess with them too much--I just cube them, boil them with the skins on, and add a little butter and black pepper.  These were mostly Adirondack reds with a few Kuerka golds.  Sooooo good!

I never realized how amazing freshly harvested potatoes could be until we went and helped harvest some several years ago.  A farmer who attended the same Quaker church we did in southern Oregon has a farm in northern California and one day asked for people to help harvest an experimental field of organic potatoes.  A few of us went.  As we stood there in what looked like a field of dirt, I figured there wouldn't be all that many potatoes to harvest.  I was so wrong!  I think we got about a ton of potatoes.  We each took some home and the rest went to the local food bank.  There were red potatoes and some others--can't remember now what kind the others were.  By the time we got home, I was starving and I wanted to eat, so I just washed a bunch of red potatoes, cubed them, boiled them, and added butter and black pepper.  They were the best potatoes I have ever eaten!  I have no idea what else we had--I'm sure there was something else, but the plain, simple potatoes were definitely the stars of that show!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Something Different for a Thursday

Today instead of fish chowder, I made taco casserole in the soup kitchen.  It's the first Thursday in a couple of months I didn't make chowder.  The guy who washes the pots had some taco casserole and said, "That was good.  But I still like your fish chowder."  Can't please everyone!  I am told that there is currently enough fish for two more fish chowder meals, so I would not be surprised to revisit it next Thursday!

I'd forgotten how much heavy lifting that taco casserole requires.  First I filled a couple of large pots with water and got them heating up on the stove.  Then I (and another person) spent about 45 minutes cutting steak into cubes.  Then I lugged a pot of water around so I could pour some in the pans so the steak wouldn't be too dry (I used some of the resulting broth, but most of it went down the drain).  Then the 5 steam table pans of meat went into the convection oven.  Veggies and some oregano went into a couple of large pans to sweat and cook.  By then the veggies were not the only things sweating!  When they were done they came off the stove and the pasta pots were moved to the front burners.  Five pounds of pasta went into one pot and 4 in the other.  They had to be brought to the back sink to be drained.  The pasta went into the steam table pans--a deep one, a medium one, and a regular-sized one (this last one was a vegetarian pan).  The veggies (today we had onion, garlic, bell pepper, zucchini, and carrots) were added, then the meat and some monterey jack cheese. The cheese was still frozen, so I took the 5 pound bag and slammed it onto the work table to get it separated. I had to repeat this a few times, taking the shreds out as they became available! Sour cream and seasoned (with taco and fajita seasoning) tomato sauce/puree/crushed tomatoes went into the pans.  I mixed everything together--and have a fresh blister on my pinkie as a result--that stuff is hard to stir!  I put the pans into the convection oven for 15 minutes or so just to make sure everything was hot and the cheese was melted.  Then I moved them from the oven to the steam table.  Whew!  We served about 140 today.  I kept taking out 5 more plates because after the initial rush, the dining room wasn't full, but traffic was steady and there were a lot of "+5s" on the whiteboard where we keep track of the number of servings. We have plates with a blue stripe around the rim for first servings and plain white plates for second helpings.  We count plates in order to keep count of how many meals we're serving. These numbers get marked on a sheet of paper on the fridge at the end of the day.  And we count how many elders we serve as well.

We were going to grill tonight, but Bill didn't feel like it and I don't either.  That's the second time we've postponed it this week, but we can try for either tomorrow or Saturday before he leaves for work.  He said he felt like having cereal for supper and that sounded good to me, so that's what we will have.  We have some fruit we can have with it and toast if we feel like it.  Simple.  And tonight, simple is really, really good! 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Season In Between

A couple of weeks ago, in the farm newsletter, the farmers mentioned that they liked this time of year because they were eating meals that had a mix of hot weather crops and cool weather crops.  I've noticed that we are in between seasons--last week we had a day in the mid 80s and it was warm and stuffy overnight.  Yesterday it was in the low 60s and got to the 30s overnight--and they had frost on the farm this morning.  Happily, except for the miserable summer-like interlude last week, the days have been getting shorter and cooler and the nights have been comfortable--and last night, even chilly (we still have all of our windows open).  The chilly night prompted me to get the stuff to make hot cocoa mix, so today on our way to the farm, we stopped at the store and got the stuff we needed for that:
Hot Cocoa Mix
4 cups instant dry milk
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
Mix everything together--I whiz it in my food processor with the steel blade and it gets more powdery, but that isn't necessary.  To use, place 3 tablespoons of mix in a mug and fill mug with boiling water.  Add a splash of milk or half and half if you like or top with whipped cream (yum).  To make it a mocha, add some instant coffee to the mug with the cocoa mix.

We had planned to grill tonight, but we got the farm newsletter and found out we'd be getting some tomatoes in our share, so I suggested that we have nachos instead.  We got some corn tortillas when we were at the store and when we got home, I cut them into triangles, laid them out in single layers on cookie sheets and crisped at 400 degrees.

I also made farm salsa by chopping up several of our tomatoes, one of the red onions we got from the farm, the poblano chili pepper we got in our share today, and some cilantro from the U-pick field.  I added some chopped pickled jalapeno, some dried oregano and garlic, a tablespoon of sugar, and 2 tablespoons of vinegar.  I mixed it all together.  It's so pretty.
You can really tell that there was a frost last night.  The U-pick field is starting to look a little ragged.  I cut some flowers, though, including a bunch of dill flowers.  I just love them.  When I put them in a jar and placed them on top of our heater, the light was shining right on them--they practically glowed.
So here we are in the season in-between.  It will be cold again tonight--back into the 30s--and then it will warm up again.  By the time I start dishing up the taco casserole in the soup kitchen on Thursday, it will be in the mid 70s outside and probably in the mid 80s in the kitchen.  Daylight gives way to the darkness a little but earlier every night and comes back a little bit later every morning.  We probably have 5 or 6 trips to the farm left this season.  Leaves on the trees are starting to turn.  I have put away my iced tea jars and my iced coffee bottles.  The hot cocoa mix is ready.  There's a lot to be said for paying attention to the places in between!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Monday Madness!

I cooked today in the soup kitchen instead of being in the food bank Monday and the soup kitchen Thursday.  It was crazy!  People just kept on coming.  I knew it would be busier than Thursdays because the food pantry is open on Monday (and Wednesday and Friday) but not Tuesday and Thursday.  People come in and eat lunch while they wait for their turn to go through the food pantry.  We served 188 meals today and there were 60 elders!  We have orange tickets for the elders, so we can keep track of the numbers.  I think they get some reimbursement for elder meals.  On Thursdays I usually have 30-something--I don't think I've ever had 60!

I made American chop suey.  This is something I'd never even heard of until I moved from Illinois to New Hampshire in high school.  It was not a happy move and I was not prepared to be pleased about much of anything anyway, but even so, I am not sure the American chop suey concept would have been appealing to me even then.  As I was first served it--back in the mid-1970s--it was elbow macaroni with browned ground beef and unadorned tomato sauce from a can.  As someone who grew up with my Nana's marinara sauce, made in her kitchen from tomatoes she grew in her garden, I was puzzled as to why anyone would even eat this American chop suey stuff.  It seemed really bland. 

I made it my way today.  We had onions, bell peppers, zucchini and garlic that I cooked with ground beef and sausage.  I mixed this with the elbows and added oregano and basil, along with tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, and vegetable juice (it was what we had available).  On Thursdays I usually cook 9-10 pounds of macaroni when I use it.  Today I cooked 13 pounds.  We had around 30 pounds of meat and all the veggies.

People said they liked it.  It was more like something I would make at home, although I would use ground chicken, turkey or a poultry sausage. 

Now I have a week off before heading back into my usual routine next Monday when I return to the food bank.  I think it's good for me to have some time off.  I have a few blisters on my fingers today, but the larger issue for me has been that I have had increasing hand pain.  Since I have rearranged things a little over the past few weeks, though, this has improved a lot.  I reluctantly asked Annette to give me a week off from the kitchen each month in order to give my hands a rest.  I have also stopped cutting hard veggies in the food bank.  I leave the cabbages and cauliflowers for other people to do.  Hopefully, those adjustments will be good enough to solve the problem!

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Ice Cream Truck

I saw a post on Facebook this morning from our local humane society saying that they were preparing for a large influx of cats that had been rescued from a hoarder.  This made me think of our cat, who died almost a year ago.  We got him from the same humane society when we first settled in Brunswick.  He was 11 then and had lived with one person his whole life.  Sadly, she became ill and could no longer care for him, so he ended up at the shelter.  For a cat that didn't care for children or other cats, it could not have been pleasant and he had been there for a few months when we went to see him.  I bent down to scratch between his ears and he hissed and whacked at me.  Since he'd been declawed, he did no damage, but I was not keen on adopting the old man.  Bill suggested we give him a chance, so I relented.  He was fine as soon as we were in the truck and on the way home.  He busted his way out of the flimsy cardboard carrier and meowed the whole way home.  He was still standoffish, and always looked like he was annoyed by something, but would hang out regularly with Heather.  A couple of months after adopting Huggie, we were leaving that apartment, but we decided he should stay with us, and he lived quite happily in the truck as we camped for a couple of months.  He could move between the cab and the back and Heather spent time with him each day.  After we moved into our current place, he became more friendly and would demand lap time from all of us.  This is also where we learned that he was terrified of the ice cream truck.  He could hear it coming before I could, usually and he would run around, crouching and wide-eyed before finding something to hide behind.  There was just something about the music being played that he did not like.  Poor little guy.

Fortunately for him, the ice cream truck didn't make a regular appearance.  It would come by once in a while, but not that often.  When I was a kid living in suburban Illinois, the ice cream truck would drive down the street every day in the summer.  I didn't get ice cream from the truck very much, but when I did, it was always those strawberry shortcake things on a stick.  Bill says he got Push-ups.

Did you have an ice cream truck in your neighborhood when you were a kid?  If you bought ice cream from the ice cream man, did you get something different every time or the same thing?  What was your favorite?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

What Was Your Favorite School Lunch?

Back to school for many kids today!  I remember how excited I always was to get back when I was a kid.  I loved school. 

I always brought my lunches from home.  When I was in elementary school, I got a new lunchbox every year. Back then they were still made of metal.  When I got older, of course, it was the brown paper bag.  I'm not really sure when my mother stopped making my lunch, but in the lunchbox days, it would always be ready for me in the fridge.  I would have various kinds of sandwiches, wrapped in waxed paper, but my favorite was always egg salad.  I loved egg salad sandwich days.  My mother used to make it (as far as I know) by just chopping up the eggs and adding some mayo.  These days when I make it for myself, I add mustard as well.  There isn't anything else added though.

One day I settled down to lunch and unwrapped my sandwich.  I took a bite.  Yuck!  Something was definitely wrong.  I looked at the sandwich in my hand.  What were all those light and dark chunks of stuff in my egg salad?  What was going on?  I am ashamed to say that I threw that sandwich away.  Today I would have eaten it whether I liked it or not, simply so it would not be wasted.  But I was not thinking about food waste at the time;  I was simply thinking that my lunch was ruined.

I got home to find my mother's friend and neighbor at the kitchen table, visiting and drinking coffee.  "What did you do to the egg salad?" I asked.  "What was all that stuff in it?"  "Did you like it?" my mother asked.  My answer was swift, "No. It was gross."  My mother looked smugly at her friend and said, "See, I told you she wouldn't like it."  As I remember the story, the friend was there when my mother was making the egg salad and she was surprised that it was just egg and mayo.  She told my mother it needed to be jazzed up a bit with the addition of other things--onions, perhaps, and olives (I cannot stand olives!).  I don't remember now exactly what was in that wasted lunch, but I do remember how dismayed I was to find my beloved egg salad sandwich altered in such a terrible way.  From then on, no alterations were made. 

What was school lunch like for you?  Did you get school lunch or bring your own?  What was your favorite?

Feel free to comment here or on the Facebook page :-)  Enjoy your lunch today, wherever you're eating it!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Grilled Chicken Salad with Basil and Veggies

Today for lunch, I used some of the rest of the grilled chicken we had leftover from last week's barbecue.  I made a chicken salad using two of the breasts.  I still have a half in the fridge, which we will eat tomorrow somehow. I used the food processor because Bill likes his chicken to be in very small pieces or shredded.  I added some veggies for crunch, color, flavor, and a nutritional boost and I cut some basil from my window plant and added that, too.  This made enough for 2 lunches for 2 people, so vary the amounts depending on how much you want.

Grilled Chicken Salad
In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, place basil leaves, garlic, chunks of bell pepper, celery, onion (or whatever veggies you like--carrot would be good, too, but I was serving carrots on the side, so I didn't add any of those this time), and a couple of grilled chicken breasts (or just use leftover baked chicken), cut in chunks.  Whiz until everything is diced and mixed up.  Transfer to a bowl, add some black pepper and mayo and mix well. 
Serve on your favorite bread, toasted if you want, or use in any way you'd use chicken salad.  This would be amazing stuffed in a lovely garden-fresh tomato!