Sunday, March 30, 2008

Adventures in cooking for the masses - Postscript

My first shot at being in charge of cooking for a large group of people seemed to go well.  I'm neigh on exhausted, so no in-depth commentary this evening (What!?!  Rue's not going to write a thesis on her day/weekend/experience?  Who are you and what have you done with our Rue?).  I don't have a final count, but I think we had somewhere upwards of 200 people.  Thanks to both Steve and I padding the number a little bit as well as me just downright getting the amounts wrong in a couple of cases, we had more than enough food.  Everything went pretty smoothly.  The chicken was all adequately cooked.  A lot of people said they enjoyed it.  I had a great team helping me out on every front.  Couldn't have done it without them, especially the girls (and Jacob) who helped out with chopping more onions, peppers and olives than most of us had ever seen in one sitting before.  Now, I think, I'm going to go clean out my backpack, make sure that I'm ready for the morrow and collapse for about 8 hours before the work week starts anew.
This last week was Ff150*.   This upcoming week is church committee budget week.  Fortunately, it's an off-Friday.

*Which should probably be relabeled as Ff200ish.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Adventures in cooking for the masses

A while back, at a mission trip team meeting, we were talking about the upcoming fundraisers, primarily our big variety show, silent auction, dinner that is one of two big fundraisers the mission teams do each year.  Leadership positions were described, people volunteered and, near the end, I heard my voice say, "Steve, I'll cook dinner".  Normally I let others take the big leadership roles.  With these roles comes extra work but also extra financial incentives.  For this particular fundraisers, those in leadership roles get a double share of the profits made.  In past years raising funds hasn't been an issue for me due to either the generosity of my friends and family in responding to my support letters or the fact that my trip has been paid for by the missions committee because I was one of the trip leaders.  This year, due to my lack of trip leader status and the fact that my team is going to India for two weeks and that costs a substantial amount more than any other trip I've done in the past, I thought it might be a good idea to volunteer for a fundraiser leadership role.  No one else had volunteered to cook.  I've helped out in the kitchen a number of times in the past for these types of things.  I figured it shouldn't be that hard.

Some time and much planning later and we're finally into what I'm calling fajita week.  Much of my free time this week will be spent finalizing and implementing my master plan to lead a team that will cook a fajita dinner for roughly 150 people this coming Sunday.  My master plan might also be morphing into a plan to take over all of Metropolis...I'll keep you updated on that one.  The thing is, I'm really not that stressed about it.  Either I'm kidding myself that it really isn't going to be terribly difficult or I've got a really good master plan....or maybe some of both.  I'm even confident enough about the whole thing that I'm going camping with friends Friday night and all day Saturday.  I'm guessing that's not going to be the wisest decision that I've made of late.  But I don't get many chances for camping and the date was set by someone else and based on circumstances beyond my control.  So, I'm going camping.  Then I'm going to come home and lead a team to cook the largest meal I've ever been in charge of cooking the next day.  There is a reasonable chance that this will all become a massive fiasco that will become an interesting and slightly embarrassing story as well as a morality tale in the years to come.  Fortunately, this is a church event and we're big believers in grace (and getting people to pay ahead of time for the meal).  But, I guess that also means that there's a fairly reasonable chance that this will all be a roaring success...and it will take me four years and possibly some protesting on my part before I'm not in charge of big meals at church.  But, that's okay.  I like to help out.  And, if I'm good at something, I don't mind using my talents...especially if I can help train my replacements  (yes, I'm looking at you Elizabeth, Kathryn and Rachel).

If you happen to be the praying type, I would appreciate your prayers for me and the whole dinner situation between now and next Sunday evening.  I can do all the planning in the world, but without God enabling that plan to actually work, I'm toast...or burned rice, sticky tortillas and undercooked chicken in this case. Thanks.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

It's kinda like a mission trip. Also, other things I need to stop doing.

Sometime around 9:30 yesterday morning a squirrel wandered into a transformer switch of some sort at a power substation in south or possibly southwest Fort Worth and shorted out the whole system.  Power was restored about an hour later, but apparently electricity quit flowing to some of the city's water pumps and that caused a decrease in the water pressure which led to the possibility of contaminants seeping into the water supply.  There was no further mention of what happened to the squirrel.  Since it takes 18 hours to complete a test of the water system, and that test must be done at a variety of locations, an odd shaped area of southwest Fort Worth was under a water boil order.  Basically, that means that the water that comes out of your tap just might kill you or at least make you wish it had (I've been the victim of water related illness before.  Trust me when I tell you that, at times, death seems preferable.).  So, before you drink it or use it in cooking or making ice cubes, you have to bring it to a rolling boil for at least two minutes.  From what I've read, you actually just have to get it to a rolling boil.  But, since people don't always agree on what a rolling boil is, I think the two minute rule is there just to make sure that everyone's bases are covered.  As I've said, water illness issues aren't fun.
I first learned about all of this while I was at the gym yesterday.  As with most fitness centers, my gym has televisions in the cardiovascular fitness area (where you walk, run, ride a bike, climb stairs, row or whatever it is you do on an elliptical machine but never actually go anywhere).  And, so that the people listening to Sports Center don't have to sort out the play-by-play sound from Oprah's current conversation with the doctor that tells you to eat your vegetables (or whatever), the audio is broadcast to unused FM radio stations.  This works out great for the most part.  That is, unless your iPod doesn't have an FM tuner and the local news broadcast is only giving specifics about the water boil issue by talking about it, rather than by showing some sort of graph or chart or specific instructions in clear to read text on the screen.  I ended up spending a little over an hour riding, ellipticalling, rowing and finally walking while waiting for some sort of explanation about how long we were going to have to boil our water for.  They did have an almost helpful map that outlined the area under the order and I was pretty sure that my house was included but the gym was not (which meant I could use the drinking fountains, something I was very grateful for at the end of my workout).
Upon my arrival home, the internet was the first to give me the specifics of the issue.  Apparently it was old news by this time as neither the radio nor the television news were covering it.  To be fair, the networks were on to national news by the time I turned it on and, if they mentioned the squirrel related water boil order for this small area of the city in which I live, I didn't catch it.  The effect on me boiled down to (pun intended) the need to treat the water like it was more or less lethal if consumed until further notice.  To some, this would be disconcerting.  To me, it meant slipping back into mission trip mode.  That required writing lots of post-it notes to myself to make sure I didn't drink the water, put the lid on the toilet seat down (my cats drink out of the toilet) and breaking out the hand sanitizer.   No worries.  The water in my water bottles in the fridge got me through until I could boil up some water and things were fine.

Well, things were mostly fine.  There was another, nonwater related issue I was dealing with.  If you were paying attention above, you would noticed that I said I was at the gym, doing cardio stuff for a little over an hour.  And that's correct.  What you might know, if you know me, is that when I go to the gym, I work hard.  This has become almost a requirement for me, especially in the last couple of years and since I spend 10ish hours a day in front of a computer.  I have to make up for all that sitting somehow.  So I rode and ellipticaled and rowed and walked hard and fast for that hour.  Normally, this isn't a big deal.  I'm in good enough shape that I can handle this...most of the time.  What I hadn't factored in was that I didn't have the greatest dinner on Thursday evening (tuna with A1 sauce, garlic and green beans.  It's a whole lot better than it sounds) and I had skipped the snacks that are a part of my normally well balanced work day nutrition routine in favor of sausage rolls, bagels and very good chocolate cake (to celebrate coworkers' new reserved parking spot, newly conceived child and birthday respectively).  So, while my eating hadn't been horrible, it certainly hadn't been great.  And, again, most of the time, that works out okay for me.  I can do most of my activities at the gym with little impact except the possibility of being ready to gnaw off my own arm before I get home.  Except that, for some reason, somewhere between doing 45 minutes of intense cardio and doing an hour (or a little bit more) of fairly intense cardio, there's a tripwire in my body.  If I don't prepare to do the hour (mostly by eating better.  Even swapping my normal turkey sandwich for a peanut butter and honey one will make the difference) I feel horrible afterwards.  And that's the kicker.  I'm fine while I'm working out.  If I had the time, I would quite happily workout even longer. (Yes, I've become a gym rat.  In some ways this is great.  In other ways I find it oddly disturbing.  Fortunately, it's disturbing in a way that's great for my overall health, so I've learned to live with it).  It's on the drive home, after my body has had a chance to wind down and do whatever it does with sugar stores and other things I should probably learn more about that I start to crash.  The thing is, it normally starts just with me being hungry.  So I grab something quick to munch before I shower.  Last night it was a couple of leftover cookies.  That was a bad idea.  It seems to me that feeding myself foods ladened with refined sugar is probably about the worst thing I can do to myself in times like this.  But, I did it anyway.  And by the time I was done figuring out about the squirrel induced water of death and got done with my shower (no worries.  Remember to keep your mouth closed and sanitize your hands after you get done.  Just like in Mexico.) I was starting to feel it.  And I knew it was going to be a long night.  I had a good dinner and drank a lot of non-lethal water while boiling up some more.  I went out to run some errands, chatted about the squirrel death water and the fact that it was leap day with the ladies at the buy counter of Half-Price Books and chuckled while overhearing a conversation between a girl and her father in Target.  They were in the kitchen gadgets section and the girl was commenting on the cool new animal shaped gadgets they have, exclaiming over a toucan something or other.  Her father asked, without missing a beat, "Do they have a three-can?".  If I hadn't been fading incredibly fast at that point, I would have laughed out loud.  By the time I got home, a little before nine, I was exhausted.  I looked at the cats (who still seemed confused by the toilet seat situation and dismayed that I hadn't sat on the couch and petted them recently...but they're always dismayed about my lack of time on the couch).  So I had some fruit, more water of the boiled and now safe to drink variety and went to bed.  I woke up this morning a bit sluggish and hungry.  And that's about how I've stayed all day.  I really gotta start planning my workouts and my eating habits a little bit better, cause this just isn't a lot of fun.  But, on the plus side, I did feel okay spending about 90 minutes on the couch this afternoon (which made the cats moderately happy) finishing the book that I've been reading.
Prisoner of Trebekistan by Bob Harris is part memoir of Mr. Harris' ten years spent playing in multiple Jeopardy games and tournaments, part memory self-help book, part love story and a whole lot of fun.  I highly recommend it...unless you're Mom in which case you should hold off on enjoying it at least until after Mother's Day...or whenever we get together in May.  I'm just saying.  Oh, and about noon today the city decided that the water really isn't lethal and we can quit boiling it and resume drinking it out of the taps.  I'm off to go clean up all the various post-it notes that are scattered around my bathrooms and kitchen.