In my very first post I mentioned how the transition from working girl to housewife/artist/property manager has been a strange, yet surprisingly easy one. Well, it’s still a bit strange. I think perhaps it’s because the farmer’s market is closed for the winter, so I’m not busy creating culinary delights for my townsfolk anymore. I miss my customers and the amazing people I worked alongside with – Julie, Sylvia, Michael, Linda, and Virgil. But mostly I miss the learning. Baking for the market was a bit like attending my very own private culinary school. Days before the market, I would read and re-read complex recipes, pour over countless cookbooks, including Linda Dannenberg’s fabulous book – Paris Boulangerie Patisserie – Recipes from Thirteen Outstanding French Bakeries, and plan-out my menu.
When I was living in the city and working 9-5, I never had the time to sharpen my gastronomic skills nor the proclivity to master such delicacies as Bouchons (chocolate “corks”), Croissants aux Amandes (almond-filled croissants), Tarte Normande (apple and custart tart), Gougeres (giant gruyere cheese puffs), Sables a’ l’Orange et Raisins (orange and raisin cookies), Tartes aux Framboises (raspberry tartletts with pastry cream), Coco au Miel (coconut-honey cakes), pizza dough, ham and Gruyere bread, my grandma Davis’s apple pie – or piecrust for that matter. The five months I spent working for the market has been an invaluable education that has not only opened the door to my culinary imagination, and shown me tangible ways in which I can make a little cash. It has made me realize how very blessed I am to have such opportunities as these.
Another blessing the transition from city life to rural bliss has uncovered is the opportunity to volunteer. For a few months after the market ended, I was volunteering for my friend Linda on her farm. What a joy! I’m looking forward to helping her harvest potatoes, garlic and more when spring approaches. Then, these past few months I’ve been volunteering at St. Timothy soup kitchen. Curiously it was my sweet, unbelieving friend Linda who told me about St. Tim’s. When I asked her if she knew of ways in which the community was helping its low income and homeless population, she said that St. Timothy’s was the first church (out of ~27 in town) to start a soup kitchen. Then shortly thereafter, six other churches stepped-up to the plate and started their own programs. So now the city of Brookings, OR offers one good meal every day of the week for those in need. It’s a good start.
My buddy Linda also told me about The Gospel Outreach Mission, which is where people may buy donated clothing and small pieces of furniture – for cheap. Growing up, I remember my mom and grandma used to shop at St. Vincent de Paul’s in Oakland, procuring a lamp, a couch, end tables. Then when I was a teenager my friends and I used to hit St. Vincent’s, for vintage dresses and men’s wool pants to wear with our Doc Martins. I never realized it was generational, but for the past 20 years I’ve been donating to St. Vincent de Paul’s. Then we moved to this little seaside town.
So now it’s The Mission on HWY 101 that gets all our stuff. When I dropped-off my first donation I asked the man there, Mario, if he knew about St. Timothy’s. “They have THE BEST meals.” He said, straight-faced. “How does one go about volunteering?” I had no idea how to get in the door, and couldn’t imagine they would “hire” me based on my enthusiasm. He told me to ask for Carla. The next week I did just that, my husband came with me and we scoped it out.
What an amazing smile Carla has, it’s so big and welcoming, I knew I was on the right path. My first day volunteering I arrived at 9am sharp. I think Ron, the director of the soup kitchen, could see I was very eager to help, so he didn’t have the heart to turn me away, even though I couldn’t remember Carla’s name and I called Mario, Martin. Still, he gave me the rundown, then he gave me the task of setting up tables and chairs, “Which is normally Rich’s job.” When Rich arrived he quietly fixed what I’d done, then I got to work on the salad, “Which is normally Angell’s job.” When Angell arrived she kindly let me continue making the salad, even though I asked, “Where are the band-aids?” After I bandaged my finger as discretely as possible and put on a plastic glove for good measure, I blurted out, “You know if you want I can bake. I bake for the farmer’s market.” What was I thinking? “Oh really!” Rich said excitedly. Ron looked at me thoughtfully and said, “I would like to use-up the frozen pears and peaches that I have in the storeroom. How about you make something next week?” “Great!” I chirped. Talk about exciting, my hands were itching to be covered in butter and flour once again.
When I left the soup kitchen that day I came straight home and perused my cookbooks for a good fruit crisp recipe, but only came up with pie recipes. Two days later, I found an old crumpled up card in my recipe box for a fruit crisp that sounded good because it used freshly grated lemon and orange rind, only it served 8. I needed a recipe for 100! I’ll just multiply everything by twelve I thought, that makes sense. Ha!
The morning I was to make my crisp for the soup kitchen, I felt like I did on finals day at UC Berkeley, scared but hopeful. “Today I’m going to make the biggest dessert I’ve ever attempted, so step back, and say a prayer!” I told my husband. When I arrived at St. Tim’s, Ron had faithfully purchased everything I asked for, except I brought the old-fashioned oats. I wanted to make a small donation just in case it was a flop. Plus, I grated the lemon and orange rind at home to save time since I wasn’t sure how long this dish was going to take from start to finish.
After I’d opened and drained ten gigantic cans of sliced peaches and thawed about ten cups of chopped pear, I realized this project was bigger than I’d imagined. Still, I kept my cool and continued working, even when Rich, John and Ira began needling me about the gargantuan mound of chopped butter I was enthusiastically trying to incorporate into the topping ingredients. “Julia would be proud!” Rich said, patting me on the back, “You should have a sign on your back – Will Work For Butter. HA HA HA!” I had to laugh. It was a ridiculous amount of animal fat. “I only use butter when baking.” I informed them. “It’s easier to digest, it’s better for you than margarine, plus butter makes everything taste good!” I said, half-joking. Thing is, six pounds of cold butter is hard to handle, so Ron came over and helped me with the final mixing, and then I spooned the fruit into the three metal pans I was given. After sprinkling each dish with the topping, I noticed two of the pans were shallow indeed. I’m sure you can guess what happened.
As the topping began to melt in the ovens, the pans began to overflow, and burning butter = smoke, lots and lots of smoke. Before you could say, Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, all the kitchen staff were outside coughing and gasping for breath, and I was left virtually alone to ladle off the excess butter, which floated on top of each pan like a golden pool. When Angell arrived I told her what had happened and she miraculously fitted higher sides to the pans using tinfoil. Ingenious woman! Once the excess butter was removed and the higher sides were in place, I went to put the pans back into the ovens to continue baking. When I opened the oven door, I got hit in the face with so much smoke it scorched my eyeballs in their sockets. I almost dropped the pan but somehow slid it in safely. That’s when the ovens plotted their revenge against me.
Due to high heat, the ill-fitted racks began to shrink and fall down. Each time I pulled out the pans to spoon or blot off the excess butter I had to very gingerly place the pans back on the racks, otherwise they would fall. Talk about nerve wracking. On top of this, I had to endure a Monday morning quarterback from another soup kitchen, whose remarks were rather trying. “You have no idea what you’re doing, do you? How long have you been volunteering here? You should have known better than multiplying the quantity of butter.” It went on and on. All I kept thinking was, “What would Jesus do, what would Jesus do,” so I took it on the cheek and kept working. He went away eventually, when he did Ron said, “Lady, you’ve got rhinoceros skin.” “I can take it,” I said feigning a smile. “My pride is completely squashed, and I just want you to know that it was really nice knowing you all, since after today you’re no longer going to want me here.” He just laughed and patted me on the shoulder. Luckily, by the time our patrons started to arrive, the smoke had cleared and people began commenting, “Wow, that smells good.” Carla said it smelled like caramel, which makes sense as the ovens had just burned off enough butter and sugar to make a pound of caramels.
It’s amazing how something so catastrophic can turn out ok. God was merciful; my crisp was a hit. My husband, who came to see me on his day off (he got a BIG hug from me), sat with Ron for a bit and all he heard from our patrons was, “Great dessert.” “The best dessert they’ve ever served.” “It’s called a crisp, a crisp! Amazing.” Praise indeed. A woman who works in the free clinic even asked me to e-mail her the recipe, so she could make it for her family.
Can you believe that even after this drama, Ron still wants me to volunteer? Of course I get the occasional poke from my fellow kitchen staff, “Got Butter Katherine?” “This needs more butter, don’t you think Katherine?” “Don’t forget the unsalted butter!” But it’s always followed-up with praise for my “amazing crisp.”
I feel so blessed to be volunteering at St. Timothy’s. Not only do I get to help those in need; I get to wet my culinary whistle every week, and I’ve found an amazing group of people who enjoy volunteering as much as I do. Let’s see, I’ve made chicken pot pie, spaghetti Bolognese, rice pudding, tapioca, herbed hard rolls, lots of salad; and this week I will be making bread pudding, which will require the ovens, so cross your fingers!