Twin Valleys, nothing comes more to mind for me when I think about it then the time that I spent as a head cook in the kitchen. The kitchen was the heart of the community and it was a privilege to me to work there and to provide meals to my family. This is my memory of a typical day in the kitchen.
It is 1:00 and the lunch hour is over and the lunch crew is clearing out after another great meal. I come in with my crew for today, Tricia, Lesley and Johanna. I tell them what we are making and make sure that everything has been brought up from the basement storage. It looks like it is a vegetarian meal for dinner tonight. Soy burgers with fresh buns, roast potatoes, turnip, Harvard beets and veggies sticks are on the menu.
Tricia and Johanna are going to handle the potatoes, beets and turnips. Lesley is going to set up all the condiments as well as do the veggie sticks of carrots and celery. Lesley will also assist where needed. It takes about 150 pounds of potatoes to feed everyone for a meal, 75 pounds of turnips, 75 pounds of beets, start cutting the buns so they are ready to have the burgers put into them a case each of carrots and celery for the veggie sticks. It looks like a lot of food to the uninitiated but we all take it in stride as we have been doing this for a while.
I look over and see Jeff H. doing the pots from lunch. He is one of our regular volunteers when the person assigned is unable to do their turn because of other responsibilities in the community. Pots and dishes are something that all the men get a turn doing, but there are a few who do it more than others because their hands are the first to go up when the call for volunteers goes out at meal time because someone can’t do their shift. Jeff H., Don W. and I are three of the main people doing this. I know in my case it is because I love being able to see all the people go by the dish window after meals and get a chance, if only briefly to say hello to them and share a bit of my day with them. When doing pots it is because I know how important it is to the kitchen staff to have someone there they can rely on to get things done and ready for the next meal.
It is time to get started. I pull out the 20 cups of soybeans I have had soaking and they are ready to be ground and mixed with the 4 – 5 dozen eggs, 5 cups of wheat germ, 3 bunches of celery, 10 Tbsp of poultry seasoning, 2 ½ Tbsp of pepper and 5 Tbsp of garlic powder. It takes a while to form out the 250 or so soy burgers so I mix it all up in the Hobart mixer and will move it to the main table after to form the burgers. Meanwhile, Tricia and Johanna have started washing and cutting the turnip and potatoes. There is only the one sink and we have to share it. Tricia and Johanna get the sink first so Lesley keeps herself busy by doing my running for me. She helps me gather up the different ingredients I am going to need to make the burgers. She realizes that Paul has forgotten to send up the relish for the burgers so she heads down to the storage room to get some.
It is now 1:30 and the burgers are starting to be formed, the potatoes and turnips have been washed and the turnips are being cut. Lesley is washing her carrots and celery and starting to cut them up. It looks like chaos from outside the kitchen but we have a rhythm going and all is well. I realize that I need to make sure that the oven space is free because there are buns on the menu and our baker has had his dough rising and is ready to bake them. The buns go in the oven and the smell of fresh bread fills the kitchen and draws anyone who is near to the window to ask what’s for dinner. This is a regular thing here so we have put up a chalkboard in the window with the menu on it. This doesn’t stop the students from asking for extra snacks or “previews”of the meal. They all want to taste the buns that they have smelt but there is a strict limit of one bun per person and only at meals (well except for us cooks we have to do quality control on them first).
By 3:30 the beets are cut up and put into the steamer to cook. Also at 3:30 the doors fly open and Kirk comes in from the farm with 25 flats of eggs. He has a special request from Imelda for some flour, butter, sugar and apples so that she can make some apple pies for the farm crew. It is one of the perks that they get for working the long hard hours that they do. Imelda is a great baker and she does little extras for the farm crew now and then. I send him down to Paul to get what she needs. George comes down from his office upstairs because he has smelled the fresh buns baking and wants to try some. We give him one with some of the fresh butter that was made that morning and send him on his way.
By 4:00 the potatoes are ready to be cut up. Tricia takes care of this since the beets are ready and are being peeled and diced up smaller by Johanna. Johanna’s hands and arms are purple by the time she is done. We are going to make the beets into Harvard beets for dinner so that maybe the kids will be more likely to try them. I give Lesley the job of making the Harvard sauce under my supervision. She takes 10 cups of sugar, 20 Tbsp of cornstarch, 10 tsp of salt 40 whole cloves and 10 cups of mild cider vinegar to make the Harvard sauce. When the sauce is ready we add the beets to it and keep it warm in the top of a double boiler till about 10 minutes before serving then we add a pound of butter to it to help thicken it a bit.
Dinner is at 6:00 so we are starting to get down to where things need to be organized as to what is cooked when and where. The soy burgers start on the grill and are kept warm in the oven starting about 4:15. The turnip will go in the steamers that we have at 5:10. They take about half an hour to 45 minutes so will be the last thing cooked. The potatoes have to go in the ovens by 5:00. Lesley has cut up all her veggie sticks and has them all laid out on trays so they are ready for serving. She is concentrating now on getting the condiments in the bowls. Johanna and Tricia start cutting the buns so they will be ready to have the burgers put into them and are putting them into bowls and covering them with towels to keep them fresh.
It’s now 5:30 and we all start putting together the soy burgers in the buns. The potatoes will be done in 15 minutes and the turnip has been in the steamer about 15 minutes. Lesley is starting to put things out on the serving tables in the hallways. People are done work for the day so they are starting to gather around the lodge in preparation for dinner. The students who are new hear soyburgers and they start complaining. I tell them that they will love them because they are not like any burgers they have ever had. They are very wary but most are willing to try. They know that the food they have had here is better than they are used to having.
It’s 5:50 and the food goes out on the serving line. People are lined up out the door and at 6:00 we let them start. Some of the kids try to take more than their share so we gently remind them that it needs to feed everyone and that they can always come back for seconds if there are leftovers after everyone has had their share first. Everything is out and we can relax for a few minutes before beginning cleanup.
The soyburgers are a hit with the kids. They are amazed that they taste as good as they do. They always thought there was nothing as good as McDonalds but this has opened up a whole new world for them, healthy food.
Dinner is over and it is time to clean up, get the pots done and start preparing for the next day’s meals. We have to look at our menu for tomorrow and place our order for the stockroom so they know what to bring up in the morning. It is almost 7:30 by the time I turn out the lights in the kitchen but it leaves me with a feeling of success that I rarely have felt in my life. Everyone who worked on the meal is tired but happy with the feeling of a job well done.