lenten journal: work in progress


    Today held a small and important victory for me.

    One of the challenges in cooking for large functions is figuring out how much to make. We have a “banquet and event order” or BEO that delineates how many people are eating each entrée offered, but how many pounds of mashed potatoes we make is up to me. As far as appetizers go, I’m told to make a cheese platter or an antipasto tray and then what different passed hors d’oeuvres were requested, but nothing is quantified other than the number of folks coming to the event. All of a sudden my job becomes a word problem:

    If one hundred and fifty people are coming for dinner and you are supposed to make sausage stuffed mushrooms, chicken satay, goat cheese and eggplant crostini, and coconut shrimp, how many of each hors d’oeuvres do you make?

    Chef says there are formulas to help answer the question, but my guess is they play it safe. Catering concerns are supposed to create the illusion of excess. We’re supposed to make too much food so the people at the party think they’re getting their money’s worth because there’s so much left over. Making too much is easy to do and is too easy an answer. The first couple of weeks I was doing functions, I made as many pieces of each appetizer as there were people at the event: one hundred people, one hundred bacon-wrapped scallops. If there were one hundred people and four hors d’oeuvres, I made four hundred pieces and had most of them left over.

    Today, I took a different approach. The BEO said a hundred and twenty were coming to the wedding. I made a hundred chicken satay, a hundred stuffed mushrooms, a hundred coconut shrimp, and I put the eggplant mixture in a pastry bag and piped it on to the crostini each time I made a tray so I could save the bread to use for croutons. When cocktail hour was over, all the shrimp was gone and I had ten mushrooms and eight satay for the servers’ snack.

    Like I said, it was a small and important victory.

    I kept thinking about the Truth Shop as I cooked today: do I want the whole truth or a partial version? The unquestioned belief in the food industry is more is better: always make too much, always hedge your bets, never tell the customer you’ve run out of something.

    Why? Why? and Why not?

    I’ll keep working on both my questions and my answers.



    1. We are so blessed to be able to make choices in what we eat, rather than just hope we will eat.
      I am on a quest to live more deliberately and responsibly, and I started with food. It takes planning, planning, planning…to waste less, use what we have, consume less, spend less money, buy environmentally friendly ingredients, make everything from scratch…and it’s been fun. I’m starting to think differently about everything now. And we also decided to only eat in restaurants that are owned by families. I wouldn’t mind at all if I was told the restaurant ran out of something. “Enough is as good as a feast.” (L.M. Montgomery)

    2. hi Milton: I was intrigued this journal entry…and have been thinking about it quite a bit. 2 years ago we had a large party for my daughter’s high school graduation. Wonderful food, but too much. It looked beautiful before the guests arrived, but looked excessive when I went to break everything down. With daughter #2’s graduation coming up in May I find myself rethinking the menu and how I want to do things. How did you decide on one piece/ person. Didn’t you wonder if people would want more than one shrimp etc?

      I work as a nurse in the inner city and am thinking more and more that I’d like to make a change. And cooking feels like something more satisfying right now. Maybe I’m naive, but medicine just isn’t what it used to be. Anyway, I’m trying to think of something “reasonable” I can alone. perhaps alone or with a friend. So I thought of “20 Lunches”. Lunches I can make and put in brown bags and take down to the streets where I work.
      Any suggestions/prayers you could give would be a real help. I’ve enjoyed the lenten writings.


    3. Lissa

      I love your twenty lunches idea. When we lived in the city, Ginger and I used to put together packets with a small bottled water, some of the cheese or peanut butter crackers, and a sandwich to keep in our book bags and hand out as we walked around. You can also give small gift cards to coffee or sandwich shops.

      As far as the graduation party, one of the things I keep trying to learn is it’s OK to run out of things. If you want to do shrimp, decide how much you want to do and don’t do more. Put it out in small batches, rather than a giant display. Keep some things handy that are easy and inexpensive to replentish — fruit, hummus, veggies and dip — and then make the special dishes you want. When I do things like this at home, I usually end up making about two-thirds of what I originally plan and I still have enough. If you send me your email to miltybc@aol.com, I would be glad to converse more specifically.


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