Hear that? That’s the sound of me prying open the blog to tell y’all something cool. And mildly shocking.
Weellll, technically I chopped and stirred. And crunched. The crunching was the best bit.
This chopping and crunching happened on a day organized by Clare of An American in Ireland to volunteer in a CrossCare Community Cafe. In addition to being a blogstress, Clare works for Kellogg’s. As part of Kellogg’s support for CrossCare, Clare invited folks with amazing kitchen skillz to prepare the noon meal for CrossCare customers, using donated ingredients. This list of dignitaries included Clare herself, Lily from A Mexican Cook in Ireland, Rosanne from Like Mam Used to Bake, Caryna from Caryna’s Cakes, and our very own Gunternation Bill. And me.
Yeah, this is one of those times, kids, when you have to blend. And I mean blend as in, look like you belong without calling any particular attention to yourself, not blend as in blend ingredients, as that might be too MasterChef!
Caryna, Bill and I were assigned to the Portland Row Cafe while the other crew worked at Crosscare’s Holles Row location. The day was sunny and bright and I was immediately impressed with the open, colorful cafe. While the Portland Row location has functioned as a soup kitchen for many years, the facility was remodeled in recent years, with original roof beams now being lit by sun streaming in through skylights. A few people were having breakfast in the inviting dining room, and the kitchen with busy finishing off preparation for that day’s Meals on Wheels.
We were given a tour of the kitchen, larder and store rooms, and immediately noticed a supply of beautiful courgettes with blossoms still on. “It has to be vegetable lasagna,” we agreed, and Caryna went to work on the sauce. She is Italian after all!
Bill and I started chopping the veg for roasting: courgettes, onions, some peppers and a bit of sweet potato. Bill put two pans of veg in for roasting while the sauce was simmering. On our tour of the storeroom we had spotted the array of cereals that Kellogg’s supplies through their Breakfast for Better Days program. We discussed using some Crunchy Nut flakes in a dessert, but weren’t sure we’d have time to make two dishes.
But just as the roasted veg was ready, we saw tweets and instagram boasts coming from the Holles Row team. They were making lasagna and rhubarb crumble! “We can’t let them beat us!” Caryna cried and we both ran to the larder. We had a few canned fruits to choose from. (CrossCare had just lost most of their refrigerated and frozen goods in a recent power outage.) I had a childhood flashback to a quick and easy cobbler made with fruit cocktail. So that’s what we did. And of course we topped it with Crunchy Nut flakes.
Bill constructed the lasagna while Caryna and I put together the cobbler/cake/bake. Using cereal flakes to top a sweet or savory dish is quite common in my culinary heritage, so I knew just what to do!
Both of our dishes went into the oven and both came out golden brown and delicious.
The cafe was full for lunch service. CrossCare Cafes are open to the public, with the goal to provide nutritious meal to everyone in the community, even those with reduced means. There were folks of all ages dining together the day we were there. The kitchen manager shared many stories of connections being formed in the community, of former Meals on Wheels recipients who now come into the cafe at lunch, and of people who venture into the cafe when they might not otherwise know where to go for help. For those of us who love food, it’s extremely gratifying to see the community life that comes from giving people a place at the table.
The kitchen staff were great as well. Most of them are volunteers, and they kept the kitchen humming. We didn’t scrub a single pot. Everyone did their job with a smile, and occasionally a song.
And although I joke about not being able to cook (it’s just that Bill cooks so much better), I had a great time in the kitchen working alongside Bill and Caryna. Anyone can cook. Just get in there and start chopping!