This is a blog featuring my personal stories of food, gardening, yachting, photography, travel and life.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Table for 280, Please!

Well, it is over, Whew! After weeks of planning and finally carrying out the marching orders the dinner came off with narry a hitch. At least from the diner's perspective and in the food service world that is what matters most.

Mike, Fred and Bill on the BBQ!

Last Monday night, 280 members of our church descended on the social hall ready to celebrate the 125th birthday of the First Congregational Church of Bellingham (FCCB). I was honored to be asked to run the kitchen end of the festivities. Our theme was an old-fashioned barbecue picnic. Revelers were encouraged to dress in western wear--bandanas, cowboy boots, etc. The social hall was decked out with an enormous facade of a big red barn. A stage was erected in front of the barn and various folks entertained as the evening went along. A special message of congratulations was read from our state's govenor Gregoire.

The pies layed out in the hallway.

The menu:

Barbecued Chicken
Corn on the Cob
Baked Beans
Cole Slaw
Fruit Salad

But what was happening in the kitchen? Well, it wasn't always pretty. The kitchen which is probably designed to feed about 100-150 comfortably was taxed way beyond its limit. The reach-in refrigerator died, and the chicken, which had been stored in that refrigerator, was discovered at the last minute to have gone bad.

Chef Michael, moi, sitting on my duff waiting for the chicken!

We sent out two volunteers to bring back about 100 pounds of ice and I turned the refrigerator into an ice box. The temperature in the fridge which had risen to 54 degrees went back down to 41 degrees and that disaster was averted. Food which had been taken across the street to another church for storage was returned and stayed nice and chilled in our makeshift ice box.
The dinner was prepared in a kitchen which was never designed to cook for those numbers of people by a cadre of hard-working, amazingly talented people who just made it happen by sheer force of will. We enlisted the help of adjacent rooms normally used for meetings and Sunday School to help spread out the preparation. Cole Slaw was served out of the board room, and the hallway was the staging area for cutting and plating pies brought in by the congregation. Fruit salad was served out of another hallway. The chicken was being barbecued out in the courtyard by three amazing guys on a smaller than expected rental barbecue.

Jean, on left, dining room manager par excellance!

Corn bubbled away on the stove top in huge pots and the baked beans baked below in the ovens.

So what of the rotten chicken? Well, when it was discovered to be bad, the smell would have knocked you over, a phone call to the local Fred Meyer was answered by a young employee who was taken compleely by surprise when I requested 400 pieces of chicken. "When do you want them?" he asked as if in slow motion. Perhaps it was my panic that made him seem as if he were in slow motion, but when I said I was sending two people over to get them right now, he sat up and paid a little more attention.

The chicken arrived and was whisked to the waiting barbecuers. The diners only clue something was not right was that the dinner was served about 45 minutes late. The news was carried to the mistress of ceremonies with instructions to S-T-R-E-T-C-H the speaking and entertainment portion.

Finally, about 7:30 dinner service began to the cheers of the crowd. At the end of the meal, my crew was beckoned into the hall where the crowd gave them a warm, appreciative standing ovation.
To my team of folks who worked so hard to pull this meal off, thank you, thank you, thank you, from the bottom of my heart. This was a tough one and you stood rock steady, were flexible, came up with great ideas as the moment required to help make what should have been impossible to do, not only possible but delicious! Jean, Fred, Mike, Bill, George, my sous chef Leslie and numerous others who stepped in here and there to serve, clean up and plate up, you were simply amazing!

The left overs went were delivered to the our local Lighthouse Mission at about 10 PM and was received by a small group of very grateful guys.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Garden Photos

The Secret Garden Project (scroll down to see the previous blog entry) is basically done for this season. Which isn't to say that a great deal more couldn't be done, but just that money and time are dwindling and other things need accomplishing before the big party in September.

One more big project needs to be completed. That is the unsightly berm along the edge of the garden near the hot tub. Earlier in the spring we were able to remove 6 very tall Cottonwood trees which have rained various plagues upon us for years, the final one being the cost of removing them. First comes the falling branches through the winter during some of our nor'easters. Then comes the sticky, yellowish seed pods that ruined our carpet when pods were inadvertantly dragged in on the bottoms of shoes and have stuck themselves all over the hot tub cover, the furniture, etc. Insidious! Then comes the flying fluff that blows all over in drifts, up your nose causing allergic reactions. Thank God they are gone! Enter new problem. Our neighbors whose garden is at a lower elevation than ours now enjoys seeing us look down on their entire back garden leaving them with absolutely no privacy. More about the solution later.

Next we poured buckets (well not buckets, but a lot) of Round Up over the berm to kill off the English Ivy and the blackberries that had covered the ground and climbed well up into the trees. That done the berm now looks like a World War I bunker, just an ugly pile of dirt. Sadly, under that pile of dirt lurks another surprise. When this housing development was created the builders decided it would be a good idea to bury the construction debris rather than haul it away leaving us with the eventual problem of disposing of it should we decide at some future date to actually landscape the berm. To date I have dug up portions of a child's wading pool, chicken wire, rocks of assorted sizes (no real surprise there), nails, lumber, etc. It all has to go. So we plan to remove the soil, etc. by hiring a bobcat to come in and scrap the mound away. Then they will haul in new topsoil and create a new berm worthy of landscaping.

That leads us back to that earlier privacy issue I mentioned. We will plant a screen of arborvitae in groups of three across the crest of the new berm leaving a space between each group of three for another shrub to add color and texture and break up the repetitiveness of the arborvitae. The photo at right is an example of how that planting might look.

We are now getting bids to have the berm itself removed. I have ignored the rest of the garden what with my concentration on getting certain aspects of the Secret Garden finished. When I did stroll the rest of the garden I discovered blossoms and wanted to share a few photos of what's been blooming. Enjoy!

The Ruby Slipper Dogwood has bloomed for weeks. A gift from the family of a former student, this variety of dogwood was developed by the student's grandfather, owner of Well's Nursery in Mount Vernon. Stunning!

Finally, I found a spot my Bleeding Heart loves!

My first Foxglove flowers!

I planted two Clematis, one on either side of the arbor in the Upper Garden. I purchased them on the clearance table at a local nursery. The plants were sickly looking and were only about three inches tall. I gave them a try and three years later they have reached the top of the arbor and bloom profusely. Patience!

Transplanted Red Hot Poker, a gift from a neighborhood gardening friend, these are one year olf transplants. I can't wait until next year!

The baskets surrounding the gazebo are filled with pansies and, in this case, a beautiful Fuscia.

Hydrangea is one of my very favorite flowering shrubs. I must have a dozen different varieties and colors scattered throughout the garden and I'm always looking to adding some new ones. This old-fashioned shrub is never out of fashion in my opinion.

And now, the question of the day. What in the world is this block of wood for? Note that some of the holes are filled in. After taking this photo another half dozen of the holes became filled in. Stumped? A future blog will answer the mystery!