Saturday, November 29, 2008

Post-Thanksgiving Roundup

I'm doing a very short post now, but will post more within the coming week--taking advantage of vacation time. I promise that in the not-too-distant future my out-of-control work schedule will be somewhat tamed and I will be making more regular appearances. I'm also in the process of getting my own domain--more info on that to come.

This was our fourth year of hosting a vegetarian party, anchored not with Tofurky but with a seitan "pot roast." Much tastier, and surprisingly easy to make; most of the time involved is spent letting it cook, making it a good choice when one is laboring over the many side dishes. Photos can be found here. Despite our best efforts to get the guests to carry away as many of the leftovers as possible we still have a fridge and freezer full of food, and have no excuse for buying any more groceries for about a week.

I had to work the three days before, and spent some of the less-frenzied time surfing pre-Thanksgiving writing. This Slate piece details taste comparisons of vegetarian turkey analogs, though not really an equivalent of my homemade seitan. I'm not that crazy about Tofurky; as the reviewers do, I find it palatable but not great. With the seitan I get a lot more control over the final flavor.

Slate also amused me with this article about why food writers find this such a challenging holiday; it's hard to be truly inventive and write something new when the traditional meal structure is such a powerful force. "It's like redrawing the Kama Sutra when readers really only care about the missionary position," says the author.

Food Books
A bit ago I finally got around to reading Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food. As I had suspected, Pollan rather beautifully lays out the ethical and historical underpinnings of the Recipes of the Damned--even to the point of advising readers to avoid purchasing food at gas stations. Which means I can spend less time elaborating that in my book proposal, and more time making fun of Jell-O.

Monday, November 10, 2008

God's Love We Deliver

It grows tedious to say my schedule has been out of control, but it is still the truth. I am not quite out of the busy period yet but things are starting to stabilize a bit. For now. So I must seize a chance to write a few posts.

Last week I went with a team of co-workers to take part in our annual volunteering day. We had chosen the New York organization God’s Love We Deliver, which despite the name is a secular nonprofit that delivers meals to people with HIV/AIDS, cancer, MS and other life-altering illnesses. Our office was divided into two teams, one of which did deliveries in the morning and worked in the kitchen in the afternoon. My team worked in the kitchen all day. We got an orientation and a food-safety session, donned our hairnets and aprons, scrubbed and gloved ourselves, and got to work.

It was a blast. Under the supervision of chefs we assembled eggplant parmigiana stacks, chopped leeks, chopped broccoli, and cleaned up our work areas and washed cutting boards and knives before breaking for lunch. We had arranged for pizza delivery, and sat in the boardroom enjoying the chance to be off our feet and talking about the morning’s work.

“This was fun,” said B, a woman maybe five years older than I am. “I’ve never chopped vegetables before.”

I laughed. “How did you manage to get out of that duty?” I asked.

“Well, we never cooked with fresh vegetables when I was growing up,” she said. “Everything was either canned or frozen.”

I thought about that off and on the rest of the day and throughout the week. Had I grown up with fresh vegetables? My mother chopped onions, I remembered, but I’m pretty sure I’d never even looked at bunch spinach until I was in college. Maybe B was not so exceptional. That, I thought, is what the packaged food industry has done to us: in a world of fresh bounty, it has fostered forty-somethings who have never chopped broccoli.

We returned to the kitchen for the afternoon shift. Chopping time again. We cut red potatoes into roastable chunks and cut cauliflower into florets. And then came the carrots, giant bag after giant bag of giant carrots. Our delivery-shift colleagues had come to the kitchen and were clustered around another worktable, and while we were still on cauliflower they had started to peel carrots. B watched them and frowned; it looked tedious, and we were all starting to get a little tired—-especially those who didn’t have much practice with a chef’s knife (only about three of us seemed to really know what we were doing in that respect). “I don’t want to peel carrots,” she said. So when the chef came over with the few peelers that were left, B made sure that she didn’t get one. This turned out to be a tactical error, because those who were not peeling went straight to dicing, which was quite a bit more work. Once those of us with peelers had peeled everything, we too began dicing. The plastic bins filled with little orange cubes. Our gloves became stained with gold. B was getting cranky enough to start to laugh at herself. Few words were ever more welcome to our team than the announcement “That’s enough, we’re done for today, let’s wash up.”

God’s Love We Deliver makes a point of delivering fresh food, cooked with care and by hand, to the whole family of someone affected by an illness. Its goals are to never charge a fee and to never turn away a client. And on clients’ birthdays, they bring a decorated birthday cake.

I plan to go back, and I encourage others to join me, or to find a similar organization in your area, or start one if there isn’t one. There is probably a need.