I would be lying if I tried to claim more than the average dumb male knowledge of food and it's preparation. I can cook to an extent if forced to. My abilities are more of the outdoor camping type cooking. Mix it all up and throw it on the fire. Honestly, I do not mind standing back and letting others handle the planning and implementation of meals. I have always felt that someone needed to be there to eat. I have developed over the years a well rounded ability to do that. So I became the eater. The one who ingests the labors of others. The one who sits back after the meal satisfied and full of the compliments every cook/chef loves to hear.
My brief foray into the world of food prep was the month and a half I spent at McDonalds as a first job in 1965, maybe 1966. I was paid $1.10 per hour to be whatever type of bitch the manager wanted me to be. Lot bitch. Fry bitch. Burger and bun bitch. I absolutely hated it. I realized my talents were not in the preparing of food, but more in line with making food disappear. I found employment elsewhere. I went to work for Marriott Corp., working on the landscape crew who kept all the Hot Shoppes in DC sharp looking on the outside. That was my type of labor. Pushing a lawn mower and raking. Suited me perfectly.
So I get to college some years later. I need to find another source of fun money. My parents were not believers in providing more than the minimum which covered housing, tuition, and books. Beer and pot money had to come from somewhere else. So I went to work in the Cafeteria. Being a dumb ass about food before it was on my plate indicated my abilities were more suited to dealing with the leavings. I became the rinse bitch. I sat on a stool with gloves on and received the trays of half eaten food on nasty plates. I would toss the solids, sort the dishware into specific racks and set them up to go into the industrial sized dishwasher found down at the end of a long conveyor system. It was a very nasty job. College students are such slobs. And it seems that throwing their trays at me was a sport more than a few enjoyed. Especially when the meal was particularly unsatisfying. When I complained, I was fired. So I went to work in the college bowling alley setting pins. That was a great job.
By age twenty I have established the fact that any part of eating other than consumption holds no interest for me. I pursue other venues to find income and job satisfaction. I get married and sometimes cook at first, but it soon becomes apparent, my wife has a better handle and a keener interest in doing it than I do. So she becomes head cook. Again no ego deflation, just the right person for the job. For twenty eight years now we have existed this way. I have often considered cooking, but I get the distinct impression I should not bother. So I haven't.
Yesterday, I participated in my first volunteer effort to help with a Thanksgiving Dinner for folks who are in need. A local Pizza joint, Pat's Pizza in South Sanford decided to sponsor the effort. They provided the kitchen and the space to have it. They wanted volunteers and my wife volunteered us. She is their accountant.
Now the owners of Pat's have never done this. It was obvious as soon as we arrived. No one in charge, just find something to do and do it. Now remember I have over twenty five years of not being involved in food prep. They already had carvers carving. They already had dishwashers washing. I stood there awkward wondering just where I would fit in. A nice lady came by and said I looked like just the guy to mash potatoes.
"Cool", I thought. Something I could handle. Give me one of those mashing tools and turn me loose. Instead of handing me a masher, she guided me to ......the Hobart Mixer. Woah. Now that was a machine. I stood in front of it in wonderment over the industrial-ness of it. The over whelming size of this drill press looking thing found me gazing at it with humility and respect. Look at the size of that mixing bowl. See the monstrous blade that mixed stuff up in that huge stainless steel bowl. It even had speeds and a crank to raise and lower the bowl. Serious kitchen equipment. A Man Mixer.
I guess I never considered that if we were cooking forty turkeys, a substantial amount of mashed potatoes would be needed to accompany said turkeys. Tommy Thomas (He actually prefers his given name, Elias, but well that was what my mom called him back in the day so)...anyway, Elias comes over with the first batch of boiled potatoes and we dump them into the mixing bowl. Between the two of us, we figure out how to make it work. He throws in a pound stick of butter and a pint of milk. He walks away. I flip on the machine on setting two. Immediately I understand this is not a machine to be trifled with. This machine will tear your arm off if you hang too close.
The first batch came out lumpier and drier than Elias liked, so we did it again. With a look that said "Yeah, I guess this will do, Elias scooped it into the first stainless tray and I mashed the next batch. I must have watched that machine mash over a hundred pounds of potatoes in space of maybe a half hour. And though I know it was dummy work, I felt I had contributed. I had found something in that madness of volunteers I could handle. I was not useless as I feared I might be. I enjoyed the brief time I spent there immensely.
So went my first volunteer Thanksgiving meal. I was done before the first plate was served. As a matter of fact as I write this, the first folks to eat are just sitting down I think. My wife, daughter and I had planned to stay for the duration, but there were so many volunteers, it was obvious some of us had to leave so others could contribute their time and effort. The turnout for help was overwhelming. And I have found some serious pride in my community for that. This last minute meal because another more established one had been cancelled has apparently filled the gap just fine. Again many folks get a Thanksgiving meal they would not have otherwise. A local tradition like so many across this land is saved by the efforts of well meaning and capable people.
I hope your Thanksgiving went as well as mine did. This one really drove home the point of this day for me.