When the going gets tough, cooks get cooking.
This past week my city, Calgary, Alberta, had the worst flood in its 129 year history. My husband and son mopped, shoveled and dragged mud, drywall and the remnants of our friends lives, now rubbish, from their homes. It was dirty, stinky, nasty, gut-wrenching and emotional work. Where was I, you might ask? I was where you can always find me when the going gets tough – in my kitchen.
Disasters are extreme. I did an extreme amount of cooking this week to match. I’ve been cooking a long time. I have developed a repertoire of recipes that I’ve made time and time again when people I love are under duress. I make these recipes in particular because they are the ones I nearly always have the ingredients on hand for. They are also the ones that people tell me that they enjoyed the most and that stood out for them. People ask me for these recipes once they’ve tried them. They are practical but seem to have just the right amount of deliciousness in them to show the care I’m wanting to transmit. I’ll share those recipes here and perhaps they’ll become something you can add to your repertoire for when you have friends in need.
I really had the fluffy sweet jobs this week. I grocery shopped, I cooked, I made a lot of fresh sandwiches. I spent a lot of time standing in my kitchen and then I delivered what I cooked. I picked up laundry and brought it home and turned it around with 24 hour service. I cleaned a fridge and a freezer, I used a little brush to hand scrub some cherished delicate keepsake belongings, and I even cleaned a friend’s garden. That involved power-spraying walls up to the four-foot mark where the river had flowed and left its debris stuck in the now silty slats of a fence. It involved blasting bushes and gradually uncovering stones 2 inches deep with caked-on mud. I misted and massaged geranium leaves that were coated in GUCK. I sprayed off bicycles that were brown with the stuff.
My most pleasurable request for help came from my friend Penny whose berry bushes were ripening at the precise moment she was committing to a relationship with the concrete, grout and some studs of the non-male, non-sexual weight-bearing variety in her basement. I picked clean some of her honey berry bushes and cut down her ungainly rhubarb.
I’m no hero. I mostly did what I did – these “keeping busy things” – to just make myself feel better and to overcome the sense of powerlessness I would otherwise feel if I did not take even a little action to help. Undoubtedly, beyond the small chores I managed, the most important things I contributed this week were the hugs, the hands held, the listening to stories, the phone calls check ups, and the sharing a quick bite together to force someone to rest a few moments.
I’m glad I was there for my affected friends this week in one way or another but on my daily routes to see them, as my car crept down streets narrowed by mega-dumpsters and blocked by city garbage trucks I saw the real heroes. They were the roaming crews of volunteers looking like they’d emerged from some kind of frosh week mud wrestling championships, the police officers directing traffic, firefighters pitching in, volunteers moving around in forklift buckets to the next garbage removal, and total strangers just magically showed up to haul crap from a friend’s basement.
I contributed in my own small, quiet way but I never lost site of the strain our mayor and all of the city’s employees were under. I had friends in the hospitality industry trying to manage their hotels with no power. I’ve had to cancel three of my company’s food tours. I have friends with restaurants whose businesses are closed for goodness only knows how long. Some may never re-open. My heart is sad for them. My stomach is sad for me. These are good people who make wonderful contributions to our city and we may lose them.
Anyway, things are improving. I offer these recipes now in hopes you might use them when a friend has a baby or when you want to stockpile some food for your family. I hope that if a neighbour is sick and still needs to feed their family, you might pop by with some of these things. If family or a friend’s loved one dies, you might drop by to sit and dry their tears and leave them with one of these dishes. God forbid, you should ever need these warm comforting recipes to become the “disaster dishes” they were for me this last week.
One thing’s certain, my friend’s really did savour this food. And, I think as a city – even with those relentless heavy grey clouds not far in the past – we can all see the sliver of a silver lining in that we’ve all learned to savour our lives more than ever.
Triple “S” soup (sausage, squash and spinach)
1T olive oil
An onion, chopped
1pkg thawed frozen chicken sausage
½ c white wine
28oz canned tomatoes, followed by
2 cans water
1pkg frozen chopped spinach
1pkg frozen cubed butternut squash
1cans Scarpone’s mixed bean medley
1. Heat a stockpot and add the oil and then the onions sautéing them until they are translucent
2. Add the sausage and let it brown then add the white wine and scrape the brown bits off the bottom as it deglazes the pan
3. Add all the other ingredients and simmer about 15 minutes. Add Salt & pepper to taste.
4. Serve, share, very freezable.
Aunt Edith’s Sweet Chicken Curry
Notes to the Cook
This recipe makes a huge amount and freezes wonderfully. It will make about 5 meals for 4 people so though it looks like a lot of work up front, it has a great pay off in the end. This is definitely one of those recipes that you need to do all your “hunting and gathering” of ingredients and cook “mise en place” (everything in place) as the French do. The other huge bonus with this recipe is that I have yet to meet a kid who did not like it. Serve with couscous or jasmine rice and a crisp chopped romaine, mandarin orange and almond salad. Naan bread is also a wonderful accompaniment for soaking up the sauce.
3 T of olive oil
3 onions, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
6 T of flour
2 T of India curry
1 t cinnamon
1 t ground cumin
½ t ground cloves
6 c chicken broth
1 c white wine
1 can of coconut milk
1 c of tomato sauce
½ c lime juice
½ c of mango chutney
½ c of raisins
6 c of cooked chicken, diced
4 Granny Smith apples, chopped
½ c of yogurt
1. Sautee the vegetables from Group 1 in the oil for 5 – 10 minutes until they are soft.
2. Combine all the ingredients in Group 2 and add them to the veggie mixture stirring until the vegetables are coated.
3. Combine all the liquids in Group 3 and slowly add them to the veggie and spice mix to make a smooth sauce.
4. Simmer for 20 minutes.
5. Add the ingredients from Group 4 and cook about 15 minutes longer.
6. Top with some chopped fresh parsley and serve over rice.
Karen’s Hot Italian Sausage Pasta Sauce
Notes to the Cook
This makes a huge batch but it freezes beautifully. It is a bit of work the first time but you’ll likely have enough left over for three or four meals you can pull out of the freezer when you need it. This is my family’s favourite meal to come home to after a long cold day of skiing.
2 ½ lbs Hot Italian sausage
1T. olive oil
2 onions, chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 large green bell peppers chopped into bite sized pieces
1 large yellow bell pepper chopped as above
30-40 mushrooms, halved
2 small zucchini chopped into bite size pieces
2 – 28 oz cans of whole tomatoes
1 – 13 oz can of tomato paste
1 jar tomato sauce
1 T each dried parsley, basil, and oregano
3 –4 bay leaves
1 pkg frozen chopped spinach
1. Remove the meat from the sausage casings and brown it in a non-stick skillet, breaking the meat up as it cooks.
2. Drain the fat from pan and put the meat on a plate between layers of paper towel to squeeze the remaining fat from the meat. Set the meat aside.
3. Heat the oil in a large stockpot and add the onions. Cook until translucent and add the garlic and cook just until it becomes fragrant about 30 seconds to one minute.
4. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a slow steady simmer for 2 – 3 hours.
5. Serve over any type of pasta.
6. Freeze leftovers in meal-sized portions.
7. This meat sauce can also be used as a lasagna sauce as is or if you add a few different cans of drained and rinsed beans and some chili powder it also makes a great chili.
Karen’s Refrigerator Bran Muffins
2 c boiling water
5t baking soda
1 c coconut oil
2c agave nectar
5 c whole wheat flour
1 t cinnamon
2 t Salt
2 c Natural bran
4 c All-bran cereal
½ c wheat germ
½ c sunflower seeds
2 c mixed, chopped fruit like raisins, dates, apricots, currants or craisins
1. Add the soda to the water and set aside.
2. Cream the coconut oil and Agave Nectar together and beat in the eggs one by one.
3. Stir in the buttermilk
4. Combine the flour, cinnamon and salt and add it to the above mix followed by the soda water mix.
5. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well.
6. Distribute evenly over 4 dozen muffin tins or make how many you want and keep the rest of the batter in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.
7. Bake the muffins at 400ºF for 20 – 25 minutes.