I had a chance to pass food out in some of the affected neighborhoods today. It is the same story no matter how many times you see a disaster. Every time it makes you sick to see all of those hurting souls.
It’s hard to put the experience into words. Disaster relief can be very difficult, both physically and spiritually. It is also a place where you can see the better side of humanity when you see strangers show compassion.
Now it’s time to sift through the rubble to uncover the pieces.
It seems that spring is a good time of year for disaster relief. Not that you want people devastated by disasters, but when the inevitable happens, thousands of volunteers from countless organizations are ready to serve.
There are various types of disaster relief. The most common is cleanup. I’m a part of a different kind of relief organization. We provide hot meals to both victims and relief workers as they work to put lives back in order. When you think about it, it doesn’t really seem like much, but providing a hot meal to a hurting family can bring some measure of comfort.
I’ve volunteered with Mercy Chefs over two years now and have been on so many deployments, it’s hard to keep them straight. I’ve seen so many faces. Aside from those I regularly work with, I can only remember Benny.
We went to Greeley, Colorado after the flooding in September 2013. Benny was an out of work guy who volunteered every day we were there. He said, “I don’t have a job and don’t want to waste my time on the couch.” That’s my kind of guy. Sometimes it can be hard to worry about others when you don’t know how you are going to pay the electric bill.
We are in Vilonia, Arkansas this week after a tornado ripped through town Sunday. In less than 24 hours we were on site. I hear another of our mobile kitchens will leave for Louisville, Mississippi tomorrow.
I don’t know how long we will be here or where I will be sent next, but I always have a bag packed.
I adapted my recipe from my mom’s spaghetti sauce recipe. Actually, she said get got it from a friend when she worked at a bank in St. Paul.
Growing up, my mom would make this recipe maybe once a year because it was time consuming. I’ve streamlined the process for my lasagna. Not having to make meatballs shaves some serious time.
For the past three years, I’ve been selling these lasagnas to fund our mission trips to Honduras. People are now starting to come to my door for one. I always have these delights in my freezer for customers. After all these years, I’m still my biggest customer. I eat this lasagna with great regularity.
The lasagnas inspired us to start a small catering business. We haven’t built a site yet, but are on Facebook. The hope is to generate enough money year round to help fund my trips with Mercy Chefs.
(I have to thank the staff at The Daily Post for triggering Madonna’s ‘Express Yourself’ in my brain. This will confound me for a couple of days just like when ‘If I Could Turn Back Time’ by Cher was unleashed. Well played, Daily Post.)
My favorite way to express myself is through cooking. Who doesn’t like cooking? Apparently a lot of people. My mom was a good cook. I say was as if she is no longer among the living. She is a good cook. I usually get to enjoy her food around Thanksgiving.
Around June, she will ask me what I want to eat. Since we stay three days, there is room for more than turkey. Chicken and dumplings usually hit the list. So do pork chops, egg salad, seafood dip, and whatever else I can get her to make. Still no salmon patties. I may have to resort to threats.
The short order cooking adventure is always surprising as my mom hates cooking. She despises it. As long as I remember she has always hated cooking. I never watched her cook. I never learned her techniques. This skill is mostly self-taught.
I believe I mentioned couch surfing for a couple of years. My friend who lent me his couch was also kind enough to let me watch him cook. I watched. And watched. When I got tired of watching, I watched some more. That’s all I ever did there. I remember I was allowed to stir gravy a couple of times. Woohoo! Actually, I was really jazzed. It took me years to get the gravy just right. It’s simple to make, but it is more art than flour and oil.
Sixteen years later, my fanaticism has only grown stronger. Yesterday, my wife told me that she lost the three pounds that she gained from my recent cake spree. She likes my food. I have friends who take phenomenal pictures who will shoot my food in exchange for a meal. This would be a bad trade if I made them a pan of Hamburger Helper.
The past two years I have spent volunteering with Mercy Chefs, and now I have finally decided to try my hand at catering. Hence, the name Cater It Forward. We have a long way to go on, well, everything. There is a lot more to this business stuff than slinging hash.
Making an income is secondary. The original plan was, and still is, to cater to raise money so I can afford to deploy with Mercy Chefs. The organization is 100% volunteer. This business can help earn gas money, hotel accommodations, airplane tickets, whatever I need so I can serve others through Mercy Chefs.
This organization has been to Africa. I went to with Mercy Chefs. My good chef friend was in the Philippines recently to provide aid.
Am I starting to sound like a shill? Sorry about that. With all of this cooking, I think of that 80’s drug PSA. Or was it the nineties.
“I do coke. So I can work longer. So I can earn more. So I can do more coke.” Cue the sad trombone: Wah wah wah waaaah. The infinite cocaine loop.
I cook. So I can serve others. So I can do more coke cook. It’s not perfect, but I hope I was able to illustrate my point.
(Featured image was a result of bartering food. My good friend Josh shot the image).
This Saturday, I’m taking a little trip to Paris, TX. I’m helping a Mercy Chef, a good friend of mine, with a cooking project. We haven’t worked together for a few months. The last time was a road trip to Colorado. Mercy Chefs was deployed to provide assistance after the flooding in September 2013.
The Colorado trip was probably one of the most eventful deployments I have been on. The funny thing is that the adventure was totally unrelated to Colorado, to floods, to feeding people, to anything we could have ever expected.
I left Shreveport around 10 pm and made it to his house near Dallas around 2 am. This happens to be the most normal leg of the trip.
We left town right after church. We had a lot of ground to cover. We were driving a big Dodge Ram 3500 something. I dunno. Is was a big diesel. We were pulling Mercy 1, our flagship mobile kitchen. Thirty-seven feet of kitchen. We certainly weren’t hauling a twelve foot Jon boat. I felt like Snowman on Smokey and the Bandit.
After a pit stop at Taco Casa it was my turn to drive. I was pretty jazzed. It was my first time pulling a trailer. I was doing okay, but the truck was acting strange. It was intermittent so we just kept cruising. We were on fumes and had to gas up.
Are you familiar with JIT? Just in time. It’s a manufacturing term. The JIT manufacturing philosophy requires a plant to have shallow inventory. Storing inventory costs money. Ideally, the plant will receive materials as they are needed. They receive it ‘just in time.’ No downtime.
Our fuel gauge was below the ‘E’ mark as we were pulling in Dumas, TX. To put it mildly, Dumas is a glorified truck stop. Nothing but rigs hauling cattle as far as the nose can smell.
Just as I was pulling into the truck stop, steam started emanating from under the hood. You never forget the smell of antifreeze in its gaseous state. It surprised me and I cut my turn too sharp. Skillfully using the trailer, I knocked out the trash cans next to the gas pump.
I could barely contain myself. It was hilarious! We are in a big fuming truck and I’m trashing cans. We finally stop and to fuel up and begin our radiator investigation.
It looks bad. Green fluid is pouring all over the ground. I was waiting on the EPA to declare a chemical disaster.
We found a mechanic next door and he tells us that we have a hole in the radiator and he has to order a new one. Great. Time now to find a hotel.
For two days we take in the sites in Dumas. Time really seems to stand still in Dumas. I actually think Dumas is the initial singularity. As philosopher Scott Weiland said, “Big Bang Baby.” We were in a black hole. (Just to be clear, I do not think the universe came from a big bang. Or a big pow for that matter).
Two days later, we are back on the road. After a really long time (not to get all technical on you), we reached our destination. I don’t remember anything out of the ordinary during our stay, but we did have a blowout on our post-Colorado travels. No, not a beer bash. A tire that is flattened vigorously. Good times.
The moral of the story: avoid Dumas if you know what is good for you. Take it from William Shatner…avoid Dumas. Okay, he didn’t say that, but he would have if he didn’t see that man on the wing.
There was a time where I had an incredible memory. I knew everything there was to know, or so I thought. The most vivid memories revolved around food. For the past three years or so, I have documented my life with food pictures. Most of my pictures are of my kitchen creations, but there’s also a smattering of other memorable meals.
These past three years it seems that my life memories are disappearing. I’m forgetting even the context of food pictures. Who made it, how it tasted, where it was eaten seems to be slipping. I’ve decided that I need to capture the context before these food memories disappear altogether.
January 2012–I headed to Trussville, AL to volunteer with Mercy Chefs to feed hot meals to the tornado victims. When I arrived, it was determined that Mercy Chefs wasn’t needed as Samaritan’s Purse had the situation under control.
I just drove nine hours from Shreveport . I wasn’t going to turn back so I was allowed to volunteer in the kitchen as a Samaritan’s Purse volunteer.
We provided most meals but some meals were served by local organizations. Grace’s Kitchen served up some delicious meals a couple of times during the two weeks I was there.
This trip is beginning to get fuzzy already, but I don’t think I could ever forget the cappuccino brownies.
I remember them vividly. I was sitting at a long table with maybe thirty volunteers, most of whom I had never met. I sat across from this guy that moderately resembled Harrison Ford. He was telling me that he was an electrician and he traveled and volunteered his time.
Maybe he was a plumber, I can’t say I wasn’t really paying attention. Something about being a former alcoholic and whatever else he was saying about carpentry or Hungarian ice wrestling. I was too busy thinking about these brownies to pay him much mind. I’m surprised he didn’t mention my glazed eyes.
These cappuccino brownies floored me. I knew I had to have them again. Fortunately for me, they posted the recipe on their website. I don’t even have to suffer through a conversation with some Blade Runner wannabe.
My friend, Josh, shot the picture of the brownies. I was able to pay him in brownies.