Tuesdays are my day to cook community supper at my church. Most of the participants are not church members, just people who need a meal. By "need" I don't necessarily mean "can't afford dinner"; in fact, most of them are fine financially. What they need is company: we get a fair number of single older people who are tired of eating alone, and lots of single parents with small children. People arrange to meet each other at community supper, just as they might arrange to meet at the diner for lunch. They save seats for each other, and I'm always sorry when I have to collect the tablecloths and stack the chairs, because there are often people still visiting.
The supper was my idea and I had to fight hard to get it approved by the church. People weren't sure that the town needed another supper or that the Episcopal church needed to provide it or that there were enough volunteers to make it work or that the menu was okay. I proposed from the beginning that it would be two soups (one vegetarian, one not), salad, cheese, bread and butter, fruit, and dessert. There's already a wonderful spaghetti supper in town and another church does a rotating menu and I believed then (and still believe now) that what was needed was a meal which provided lots of vegetables. Some in church worried that serving soup was somehow demeaning; the people who come apparently don't feel demeaned or deprived.
So, this afternoon I went to the market and bought: 2 roasting chickens, 4 pounds of cheese, 5 pounds of carrots, 2 large cans of chopped tomatoes, 2 packages of frozen collards, 5 pounds of onions, 2 heads of garlic, 5 heads of red-leaf lettuce, 3 heads of romaine lettuce, 6 cans of frozen juice, 2 yellow cake mixes (I'm embarrassed to admit that, but I did), 3 cans of sliced pineapple, 6 pounds of frozen peas, 6 packages of lentils, 6 lemons, and 2 pounds of butter. I think that's what I bought.
I made a giant pot of lemon lentil soup with greens and tomatoes, flavored with some ground cumin. This was the first ever appearance of lentils: some people loved it and came back for seconds, other people hated it. We only had about 4 servings left so I think I'll keep it on the rotation, but I probably won't serve it again for a couple of months.
The other soup was chicken and rice, which I make every week. I used to make chicken noodle but several of my stalwart volunteers can't eat wheat so I made the swap to rice -- no complaints so I think it's a permanent change. I add 5 pounds of chopped carrots and 4 pounds of green peas along with onions, celery and garlic. It gets flavored with Bell's seasoning and a lot of salt. Chicken soup requires an amazing amount of salt and it's the salt that makes it taste good. Sorry, but that's the truth.
We had 47 people, which is about average these days. We started with only 2o or 25 and have gone as high as 90 -- 90 really stretches us thin. I like a 75 night: big but not overwhelming.
I do most of the cooking; my mother-in-law helps and I have an older couple who are nearly always there. They're in Florida this week and next -- I really missed them today. The kitchen clean-up crew is wonderful and faithful, and the real reason the suppers go so well and why I don't mind cooking every week.
About that cake mix: I made pineapple upside down cake. I don't always bake for community supper and I never made a cake before, but you know, today was a great day for all of us and I wanted to celebrate. I couldn't manage an inauguration party but I did produce a cake for community supper.