Goooood moooorrrnnning Hunter’s Baaay

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Cooking has long been a passion of mine.   From the early days of watching my dad create things from a variety of ingredients in our fridge to my culinary classes in college, cooking has always been something I love to do.

I have spent my fair share of hours, and overtime hours, working in the food industry.  I have watched cooks and Chefs prepare anything from a simple crudite platter to an Amuse Bouche of Mousse Foie Gras with a Cognac foam.  I am not ashamed to admit it, I am a “foodie”….so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me when my love for cooking and my enthusiasm for helping people collided into a serendipitous explosion.

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Dollars for Dinners is a project I began about a month ago.  I took an idea that began as a simple gesture for a friend last year and evolved it into a new way of getting real food into our local food bank.  With the help of many friends and many donations, we are creating Freezer Crockpot meals that allow families to have a home-cooked meal once or twice a week made of REAL food and not just packaged, processed ingredients.

Over the last week, some friends of mine have been sending this story to local media outlets.   I have done live interviews with two radio stations, one of whom has done a food challenge to eat the food supplied by their local food bank for a week, sent my story to a third radio station and am in communication with a television station that may be interested in my project.  The best part of all of this news and social media coverage is that I have a friend who has recently said that she is interested in doing this same thing in her community.

This is the reaction I wanted.  I want more communities to realize that this is a process that simply includes donations from its members and a few volunteer hours to make a huge difference to families in need.  I am not looking for my fifteen minutes of fame…..I am merely looking to everyone to give fifteen minutes of their time to help Food Banks offer healthier and tastier options so families don’t have to survive on the things we only stock in case of the Apocalypse.

 

The Church of the Fish

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Times have certainly changed.   When I began my career in the hospitality industry, food allergies were not even a blip on the culinary radar.  The kitchen was, for a Chef, a playground with no rules.   But all of that has changed.

These days, I make a point of asking each person making a reservation at the lodge if anyone in the family has any food allergies or food restrictions that we should be made aware of before their arrival.  The answers always weigh more heavily on the ‘yes’ than the ‘no’.  And although some of the guidelines we are made to adhere to are more preference than necessity, the kitchen now has to deal with a list of these instructions for each week of our summer season.

Now, while I completely comprehend the severity of an ingested or inhaled allergic reaction to a food, it does not negate the fact that I am more than moderately amused by the inability of our Sous Chef to pronounce one of the more prevalent choices in the current realm of dietary options.  A Pescatarian is a person who does not eat meat but will eat fish.  And each time I have the opportunity to add that choice to our “allergy” list for the week, my smile cannot be missed.   As I walk into the kitchen with that list, I calmly await the moment that she will read the list aloud and say the word “Pescabyterian”.

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According to Karina, somewhere there is a church for vegetarians who occasionally eat fish.  And that latest hotel guest, that new addition to our list of dietary anomalies, is a member of its congregation.  Each time she reads the list aloud, the words Pescatarian and Presbyterian become intertwined and I am reduced to a public school version of myself, unintentionally (not really) laughing at the combination of the two expressions.

Pescabyterian – a member of the religion of vegetarians who consciously choose to eat fish.

It may be juvenile, but this marriage of words helps alleviate some of the stress in our summer.  It gives us the freedom to laugh at the increased amount of tension in an already volatile environment.  And it allows a break for laughter in a scene that is meant more for drama, creating an oasis of calm in a sea of chaos.

One simple word, whether Webster chooses to recognize it or not, has the power to change the trajectory of our day.   Let’s hear it for the Pescabyterians!

Get lost

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“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”  ~ Mahatma Gandhi

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There have been many quotes I have used to begin posts on this blog but none have had as much of an impact on me as this very powerful string of words.

I lead a very fortunate life.  I may not be rich in terms of dollars and cents but I am wealthy.  I have roof over my head, a job that I love and I am surrounded by a wonderful network of friends and family who are nurturing, loving and supportive.  Perhaps that energy is the fuel that brought me to this moment in my life, the moment when I realized I wanted to give more of my time to people who could use a hand and in a way I felt I was best able to help.

There is no set of standards for helping others.  There is no rule book, no guideline and no complex set of algorithms.  It is a simple equation.  Time + Effort = Results.   And for some, the results of our time and effort can make more of a difference than we will ever potentially realize.

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A small group of people, including myself, spent a little over two hours of our time a week ago Sunday and the outcome of our concerted efforts will provide dinners for deserving families in our community.  It was two hours out of our Sunday.  We chatted, we had cocktails and we laughed.  And in that small window of time, we made a huge difference.  We created meals that will allow people to, not just feed their family during a tough time but, feed their family a home-cooked meal made with real food.  And next Sunday, and maybe every Sunday this winter, we will do the same thing again with some familiar and some new faces and, hopefully, take another small amount of weight from the shoulders of the families we are trying to help.

If I can subsequently find myself while losing myself in the service of others, point my compass in that direction any time.  I go to bed with a tired body, but with a full heart. And if my journey has taught me anything, it is that life is not defined by what you have.  Life is defined by what you give.

Getting the green light

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The lodge where I am employed is closed for the season, our quaint little village resembles more of a ghost town with a few tumbleweeds rolling down the main street and the silence at night can be deafening.

But in these times of serenity, behind the doors of seemingly empty kitchens, a group of women and men are readying themselves to wield sharp knives and give even Gordon Ramsay a run for his money in the chopping department!

Our small group of devoted volunteers meet for a couple of hours over a couple of weekends to create crockpot freezer meals to help a few families who may be struggling, for whatever reason.  Last year, it was a young family who had lost their home in a fire just after delivering twins.  This year we are doing our best to spread the meals to a few families and not just one.

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There have been a few hurdles along the track to finding these families but the ribbon at the finish line is getting to be within striking distance.   Although the meals are being prepared in an inspected and certified kitchen, many of the choppers have not taken a food safety course, so there was a question as to whether the food bank was going to be allowed to accept our donations.

The joy of living in a small town is that you can literally ask your neighbors if they know of any families who could benefit from our knife skills and they will immediately give you a list of names.  And I have recently discovered that, as long as the meals are labelled with all ingredients (which they are), the food bank will give us that long awaited green light and accept the meals – so the only thing left to do is shop and chop!

 

 

 

 

Are there therapy groups for an addiction to Pinterest?

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I thought I was over it.  It had been months since I had really even thought about it.  But like a recurring rash, my obsession with Pinterest flared up again with no warning, not even the smallest hint, that it was coming back.  It’s like taking a bite of a deliciously crisp pickle.  Once the salty goodness of that fermented cucumber awakens your taste buds, you can’t just put it down.

So I found myself, eyes glazed, clicking incessantly through the plethora of recipes and pictures of food porn.  I love to cook.  I’m pretty sure I have already established that on this blog but I have just begun a weight loss challenge with some friends and I was looking for new ideas that may be slightly more appealing than salad-in-a-jar.  And then I saw it….and the angels sang…..and a rainbow appeared over my computer.  Okay, those last two things didn’t happen, but the feeling I had would have mirrored the same happiness had those things actually occurred.

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A grain bowl – the newest rage on Pinterest.  This was my lunch yesterday, and most likely will be my lunch today.  It is a Mediterranean grain bowl with quinoa, cucumber, avocado, black olives, feta and a roasted red pepper sauce.  And as pleasing as it was to the eye, it was more pleasing to the palate.  It was absolutely delicious….and filling.

Looking at it from another perspective, perhaps my Pinterest addiction has benefits that far outweigh the burdens of my slight obsession.  At least, that is my story and I’m sticking to it!

 

The day the spaghetti broke

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I do not consider myself to be a “food snob” but there are certain things that are either right or wrong when it comes to the kitchen and food preparation.  Sure, bastardized versions of many dishes have been made popular over the years to appease the increasing number of dietary restrictions, but there is one thing that I find offensive if it is messed with and that is spaghetti.

One of my dear friends shared a story with me (mainly because he knew I would lose sleep over it) about “the incident” that may haunt me for the rest of my days.

We are both twirlers.  We take great pride in reaching into that steaming bowl of pasta with a fork and twirling that spaghetti, either on a spoon or in the bowl, until a pleasing mound of pasta is gathered in a beautiful spiral pattern.  There is something very fulfilling about the twirling process and the effort to twirl makes the reward of the first bite that much better.

It was a day like any other.  He had been out working in his shop and could almost smell the pungent aromas of tomatoes and spices wafting through the air.  As he neared the house, the scent of the sauce was accompanied by the fragrance of a fresh baguette, lathered in garlic butter, toasting in the oven.

She was there to greet him with a glass of wine and, as he got cleaned up from his day, she then busied herself getting the table ready for dinner.  He was eager to sit down to a heaping bowl of what he thought was going to be a fantastic meal.  Once he had seated himself at the table, she presented a bowl that looked very similar to this:

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What promised to be a meal fit for a King turned into a meal fit for a toddler.  I can only imagine the amount of time that elapsed while he gaped at the bowl in front of him, trying to be appreciative of her efforts but not commenting aloud about the egregious choice she had made.  She had sacrificed everything that is good about spaghetti and had broken the noodles into bite-size pieces.

He felt the harness tightening, encasing him in the invisible high chair in which he now felt trapped.  He repressed the urge to turn into that toddler and throw the bowl to the floor while he struggled to come to terms with the embarrassment those noodles must have felt.  He suffered in silence along with them as he spooned the unrecognizable pasta into his mouth.

Years later, I now suffer, not so much in silence, with him.  A law of nature was twisted that day – the day the spaghetti broke.

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