Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Busy Fifth Wednesday

Our team of color coordinated super servers. It was just a fluke that they all came dressed in shades of violet today.
The Wednesday Community Meal usually sees a spike in the number of guests we serve towards the end of the month so we knew we would be busy today with it being a rare fifth Wednesday. And, we were right. The line of guests waiting for our doors to open looped around the block.

We served 397 meals today and needed every single one of our amazing kitchen and dining room volunteers. The first guests in the door were treated to oven roasted chicken, rice, sauteed kale and watermelon along with soup, salad and dessert.

A meal of roasted chicken, rice, kale and watermelon.
Crisp green salads made with produce donated by Spring Hill Organic Farm in Albany, Food Front Cooperative Grocery in Hillsdale and longtime volunteer Kate.
A scene from today's busy kitchen. There would be no meal without our dedicated volunteers.
Volunteer Sierra cutting onions that came from The Oregon Food Bank. Working on her own, she cut 15 pounds of onions and didn't cry once thanks to a trick I had never heard of until today. She held a spoon in her mouth as she worked. She told me she learned of the trick from a teacher at school.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

New Countertops

The day I've been waiting for - new countertops.
My new Caesarstone quartz countertops were installed today and I'm so pleased - the color (eggshell) compliments the cream color of my Ikea Abstrakt cabinets and the look is clean and modern.

The installers were exceptionally nice and didn't seem to mind that my friend Bill and I were hovering and asking lots of questions. Watching professionals work is a great way to learn.

Things are taking shape.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Jeff And Amy's Cake

As promised, here is a photo of the completed wedding cake. And, I'm happy to report that Jeff and Amy were pleased with the design and the taste. They are such a nice couple.

It's Showtime

Flowers for the cake.
I especially love the Ebony dahlias.
Today's the big day. It's Jeff and Amy's wedding day and I need to transport, assemble and decorate the cake at the venue.

First thing this morning, I went to the neighborhood florist shop to pick up the flowers. I brought a container with me so that they could be put into water straight away and be kept as fresh as possible.

I also put dowels cut to the height of cakes into the three bottom tiers. The dowels will help support the weight of the stacked cakes. If you don't use dowels, the cakes would be crushed by the weight. A baked, filled and frosted cake is surprisingly heavy.

Six 1/4 inch dowels cut to the height of the cakes are in each of the bottom three tiers.
I am also bringing a sketch I drew of how I want the flowers to be arranged on the cake. Instead of going the traditional route of putting the flowers on the top tier,  I'm going to drape them down the front of the cake, putting the biggest bunch on the bottom right of the third tier. That's going to be the focal point of the decoration.
My handy dandy sketch.

I know this makes me sound crazy but I have been thinking about flower placement pretty much nonstop for the last three days. Arranging flowers artfully and naturally takes thought and consideration.

I'll post a picture tonight of the finished cake.

Friday, July 26, 2013

A Dozen Drawers

Eight of my dozen drawers.

I spent Monday of this week assembling and installing my Ikea kitchen drawers. The process got easier after the first few but it still took me nearly a whole day to finish twelve drawers.

I think the hardest part was attaching the rails for the drawers in my 18-inch cabinet since there wasn't much room and I practically had to crawl inside.

Another frustration for me was the poor quality of the screws Ikea provides. The heads strip so easily. At first I thought I could use a screw bit in a power drill but the metal just wanted to shred. I couldn't risk stripping a head so much that I couldn't get it out that in the end I decided I'd just have to suffer through and tighten all the screws by hand.

Now that the drawers are in, I'm happy that the experience is over and excited about the next step - installation of my quartz countertops.

Ikea madness.
It was a bit of a struggle attaching the rails in the small 18-inch cabinet.
Two in, two more to go.
Looking good.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Baked, Filled And Frosted

The 10-inch tier chilling.
I began baking the cakes for my friend Jeff's wedding at 10 a.m. this morning and by 8 p.m. this evening, all of the tiers were filled, frosted and being chilled.

It was a long day but also fun for me since I haven't baked a cake for months due to my kitchen remodeling project. My sister who lives close by,  loaned me her kitchen for the day and even cleared out her whole refrigerator so that I wouldn't have to move the cakes until the day of the wedding.

My nephew Sam and my niece Maya were so helpful to me,  showing me where things were in the kitchen and even helping me clean up.

Now that the majority of the work is done, it's nice to be able to relax a bit until Saturday when I need to transport and stack the tiers at the venue. Oh, I'll also need to add the fresh flowers for decoration.

After baking the pumpkin flavored cakes, I leveled them and placed them on foam core rounds that I cut to the size of my cake pans. I use foam core because after the tiers are stacked I like to put a dowel down through the center of the entire wedding cake for stability. A dowel sharpened in a pencil sharpener easily goes through the foam core.

The bottom layer of the tiers got a coating of dark chocolate ganache.

After adding the second layer to the tiers, I let the cakes chill well before frosting.

I made a simple cream cheese frosting and used the back of a teaspoon to add swirls for texture. I like the natural look of this frosting technique and think it will look soft and elegant with the addition of fresh flowers for decoration.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Youthful Energy

Young volunteers from the SPARKS service day camp helped serve the Wednesday Community Meal today and filled the dining room with bursts of bright youthful energy.

This is the third summer that the SPARKS campers have volunteered at the meal and as usual, it was a real pleasure work with them. They all worked hard and were kind and caring to the guests.

Besides serving food, the SPARKS campers took time to also visit and eat lunch with the guests. It was inspiring to watch the interactions and it made the guests so happy because sometimes the social aspect of the community meal is just as nourishing as the food.

Here are just some of the volunteers who helped serve 387 meals today:

William took time to sit and visit with Don.

SPARKS campers Emma, Jack and Alicia visiting with Bob who has a wonderful sense of humor and is a good friend of mine. I've known him for 14 years.

Jack served soup along longtime volunteer Dorrie.

Joe was pulled into one of the hardest jobs at the community meal - washing dishes. Longtime volunteer Bill showed him the ropes, including where to find the chocolate donuts.

Carol and all of the regular volunteers enjoyed working alongside the middle schoolers and having the extra help. It was a fun day.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Wedding Cake Preparations

My wedding cake task list.

This is wedding cake week since I have the honor of making the cake for my friend and fellow Wednesday Community Meal volunteer Jeff's wedding this Saturday.

My kitchen of course is still not in working order because of my remodeling project but my kind sister has come to the rescue. She lives nearby and has prepared her kitchen for me to use. She is even making space in her fridge so that I'll have room for the cake layers to chill.

Initially I had planned for my kitchen to be done by now but the counter top installers are running weeks behind schedule and that's just how it goes. It's a lesson in patience and flexibility. In the grand scheme of things it's not that big of a deal and the show must go on.

There is a lot to do this week so I'm making lists and breaking up the tasks.

Early in the week is devoted just to getting ingredients and supplies and assembling the decorative cake board.

Wednesday is for making the fillings and frosting bases.

Thursday and Friday are just for baking and frosting the cake layers and letting them chill, chill, chill since I'm expecting it to be hot on Saturday when I need transport the cake. I'll transport the cake in layers and then assemble it and add the fresh flower decorations at the venue.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Fun Night

Thank you to everyone who attended the Bruce Springsteen Tribute Concert last night. The turnout was great and the best part was that we raised funds to help feed the hungry in our community - $2,574.87.

Here are a few snapshots from the event:

I took this photo before the start of the concert from the window of Kempton Hall where we serve The Wednesday Community Meal. At the event, The Very Reverend Bill Lupfer, who is the Dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral,  announced that it is estimated that more than 36,000 free meals will be served just this year alone through the church's Hunger Ministries. Besides the weekly community meal, this includes the annual Thanksgiving and Easter Meals and the daily distribution of food bags.
The stage was the porch of the cathedral. It was a warm and breezy evening and perfect for an outdoor concert. Thank you to all the musicians who donated their time and talent.
It took a lot of volunteers to pull off the large event including my daughter Eleanor (left) and niece Maya (right) who manned the poster table all night. My goddaughter GraceLin helped by keeping them awake and alert. Local poster artist Gary Houston designed and printed posters just for the event.
The view from the stage.

Casey Neill was the last musician to take the stage. The last song of night was "Thunder Road."

Rhubarb Berry Crumb Bars

Placing the finished bars in cupcake liners made them easy to serve.

I made these Rhubarb Berry Crumb bars to sell at the Springsteen Tribute Concert and they were so easy and such a hit that I have to share the recipe.

I found a recipe called Blueberry Crumb Bars online on the site. The recipe was rated 4.5 out of 5 stars and there was a note at the top that said "you can use any berry you like." I love a tried and true and versatile recipe.

Because I added a healthy dose of tart rhubarb to the recipe thanks to my sister's jumbo rhubarb crop, I increased the sugar in the filling mixture by 1/4 cup and the cornstarch by 1 teaspoon. I also added a teaspoon of vanilla extract and a pinch of sea salt which I believe enhances the flavor of rhubarb.

Rhubarb Berry Crumb Bars

Crumb Mixture:
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups flour
1 cup shortening
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 cups berries (I used a combination of blueberry, raspberry and blackberry and frozen works just fine)
1 cup rhubarb, finely diced
3/4 cup sugar
4 heaping teaspoons cornstarch
pinch of sea salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a 9 x 13 inch pan.

In a medium sized bowl make the crumb mixture by combining the sugar, baking powder, flour and cinnamon. Add the shortening and break it into the mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. I like to use my fingers to do this. Add the egg, mix well and set aside.

In another bowl, make filling by adding all the ingredients and mixing well.

To Assemble:
Press half of the crumb mixture into the bottom of the greased pan. Spread the filling evenly over the bottom layer. Crumble the remaining crumb mixture evenly over the filling layer.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until the top is slightly brown and the filling is bubbling. Cool completely before cutting into squares.
Be sure to let the bars cool completely before cutting.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Concert Tonight

Food and drinks will be available for purchase.

Please attend the Bruce Springsteen Tribute Concert tonight at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral (147 NW 19th, Portland, Oregon).

The concert begins at 7 p.m. and the gates open at 6 p.m. Admission is free but donations are gladly accepted. Every penny made goes to support Trinity Hunger Ministries and The Oregon Food Bank which support the Wednesday Community Meal.

There will be food and drinks available with all proceeds also going to Trinity Hunger Ministries.

I hope to see you there.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Cabinet Fronts And Sage Advice

My new pantry cabinet.

Lots of space!

The high gloss cabinet fronts still need hardware.

This past Monday, the template was made for my new eggshell colored Caesarstone quartz countertops and I was happy to learn from the template maker that I could go ahead and install the cabinet doors and drawers.

The countertop is scheduled to be installed on July 30 and in the meantime I'm just trying to keep the project progressing and work hard every day.

The foil finish on the cream colored Ikea cabinet fronts has a reflective quality that I like a lot. I want to get all the doors and drawers in for a final look before I chose the hardware. I'm leaning towards chrome Gilmore knobs and pulls from Restoration Hardware but I don't want to be hasty. The finishing touches are important so I shouldn't be impatient.

When details are important and I feel rushed, I always think of my kind high school art teacher Mr. Gaer who advised me, "Learn to take your time and consistently do your best work. You don't want mess up your project at the end just because you were in a hurry to finish."

Mr. Gaer knew me well. I have lots of ideas and get really enthusiastic at the start of a project but I'm not so great with fine details and I like to work fast. It's akin to opening a brand new can of paint and feeling so excited about the color and getting started and then in the end just slopping it on because you want to be done.

I have worked so hard up to this point that it would be a shame to not finish the kitchen right.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Room For More Cookbooks

My cookbooks are on my new bookshelf and I can't believe it but I actually have room for more.

Before, I didn't have adequate storage to keep my collection all in one place. It's so nice to have them together, organized and at hand. Yeah! Things are coming together.

My baking and chocolate cookbooks are the ones I use the most so I put them on the lower shelves so they're easy to reach.

Finished Bookshelf

My cookbook shelf— I did discover I was short four shelf standard clips so that's why there's one shelf sitting upright in the right section.

Being smart means knowing when to ask for help.

I discovered that when I tried to rip 8-foot by 14-inch pieces of heavy 3/4 applyply on my table saw. I managed to get one piece onto the saw but smartly didn't even attempt the cut which would have surely been uneven because of the unruly size of the board. Heck, while I was supporting the wood I couldn't even manage to turn the saw on.

So I put the board down and made a desperate call for help to my friend Bill.

With his help, the boards were cut down to the correct width (11-inches) in no time and ready to be cut again crosswise into shelving. After a final sanding and oiling, the new bookshelf is complete and ready to house my cookbook collection.
The sideview of the bookshelf. The quartz countertop will be flush with the back

I am so pleased with how it looks and love that it's the first thing you see when you enter the new kitchen. The grain of the maple appleply is beautiful and the tone of the wood is warm and compliments the cool blue tiles that will be the last thing I install.
The wood and tile look great together.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Making A Difference

Dorrie, one of our dedicated servers, passed on a sweet compliment to the kitchen today.

"A guest wants me to tell you that that was the best meal he ever ate," she said. The compliment was so nice and much appreciated.

There's so much work that goes into preparing the Wednesday Community Meal and it's this kind of appreciation from our guests that keeps us going. We are all unpaid volunteers who just want to make a difference in our community and do our best to help those who need it most.

Serving in the dining room is hard physical work but Mary Ann makes it look easy. I always hear from guests that they are grateful for the kind and attentive service.

It's a real pleasure to be able to treat our guests to homemade food served on nice china in a large and beautiful dining room.

Today we served 326 meals of tasty comfort food - oven baked chicken and homemade gravy. We also offered a side of rice or mashed potatoes, sauteed greens and homemade biscuits.

MMM... chicken and gravy over rice.
Linda worked hard today mashing two giant batches of potatoes by hand! Credit should also be given to Sierra and Leah who peeled them all. They must have felt like they were in the Army. The Wednesday Community Meal is a real team effort and truth be told work can be fun when you are with nice people.
There was also hot soup, salad and dessert. The kitchen smelled pretty darn good.

A bowl of hearty minestrone soup.