So much to say about this experience – but I have a tendency to ramble when I faced with such a cross-section of thoughts. I’ll try to keep it focused.
First off – A Week in Their Kitchen was a brilliantly conceived plan to help bring awareness to the Calgary Interfaith Food Bank with a demographic they may not always hit as well as they might like. Crafting a message from respected people and delivering it in a medium that people in this demo embrace is extremely valuable for any organization.
Second – after the food bank building tour, and realizing how many organization are impacted by the great work of the staff and hundreds of volunteers who give their time to helps tens of thousands of Calgarians annually. As a fellow Calgarian, I am proud we have organizations like this serving our city, and proud to do what I can to help support them.
ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE - As I explained yesterday to my lunchmates, Brooke, Leah and Erin, I came full circle in this experience – but ended with a more enlightened perspective. If you recall from my initial post – I felt ashamed about being so material – I had just had a fit over the weekend about not be able to get an iPad. I also lamented no-sushi, no meat regularly… and so on.
By the end, I realized that I shouldn’t be ashamed about being able to eat the food I want, purchase the products I want and do the things I want. I won’t apologize for wanting things – even specific food or ‘toys’. I won’t apologize for indulging in the odd luxury – Jen and I work hard for what we earn, and we’re smart with our money – and prepared for most realistic emergencies. We’ve earned the ability to enjoy things in life.
So – you’re probably asking, “What did he get out of this experience, then?”
Being a person who has a certain amount of influence, and in a family fortunate to have two solid incomes and financial security – I figured the one thing I learned was that I can and should probably give more. Give money, give time, give support (through media), to organizations that provide this city and its vulnerable and sometimes forgotten citizens with the most basic of its needs – and then some.
I donate money to the food bank, but I don’t volunteer. But I will volunteer. I will also donate more, knowing that for each dollar I give, the Food Bank can make that dollar stretch four times further. I will advocate for supporting organizations when appropriate. It’s the least I can do to help.
THE FOOD – All of us ‘spoiled’ bloggers (for you, Michelle ) may have mentioned in more than one post the bubble gum pudding, the abundance of plantains, some of the sweet foods (yes, I am a cookie monster) and that sometimes the foods didn’t make the best of combinations.
Let’s be real here. Each one of us is used to having the foods we want, when we want. While we may have lamented about the food, I think each one of us was surprised at the variety and abundance of food that was included in the hampers. The Calgary Interfaith Food Bank does a great job of putting together hampers that can sustain one, two, three, four – or more people in times of need. It’s not meant to be a grocery bonanza, filled with culinary delight. It’s meant to aid our most vulnerable Calgarians in times of need, so they don’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from.
So – truth be told, there was grumbling in our household. But, we managed. And – it saved us a few dollars, too.
One thing Jen said after a day or so was: “I know that next time we donate to the food bank, we’ll take the time to donate healthy foods.” I think the same sentiment was echoed by my colleague, fellow Week in Their Kitchen blogger and friend, Dave Dormer of the Calgary Sun. The next time he donates – he’ll donate the kinds of food he thinks is appropriate, instead of just what’s available.
I’m going to volunteer – and I’m going to encourage my friends, family and colleagues to do the same. I’m going to donate more much-needed money and I’m going to be there to support those organizations willing to do the same.
I’m going to start by donating the cash equivalent of what my hamper cost to replace. That’s to calm the critics who suggest those of us willing to take the time to help raise awareness for the Calgary Interfaith Food Bank are in fact taking food from people who really need it. To those people: Are you satisfied now?
Further – anyone reading this final bit (if you lasted this long) – my appeal is to you.
Donate your time. Donate money. Donate food — healthy food, if you can. Not just your leftovers. Find out what the Food Bank needs, and then fill that need. Support those who lend a hand to great civic organizations like the Calgary Food Bank. It sounds cliche, but you CAN make a difference.
If there’s one thing I learned during this experience, it’s that I can actually make a difference, too.
Until next time (Yes, I’m long-winded sometimes), take care.
Sunday is typically a busy day for me. Aside from putting out a Monday newspaper, I do work from home that day, and chores beckon.
Lawn-mowing, flower bed weeding, dog-walking and the like – and I wanted to come up with a creative concoction for my final Week in Their Kitchen meal.
It made use of a number of the different ingredients I had in my hamper – and nothing that many of us wouldn’t find in our own kitchens on a regular basis. I called it – Potato Tuna Florentine cakes (it’s a rip-off from Leah… I think). Here’s the recipe:
- 6 Potatoes diced up
- 1 can of tuna
- 1 packet of chicken noodle soup mix
- 2 TBSP of butter
- Leftover pasta sauce (in this case it was Spinach and cheese florentine)
- A couple of shakes of Montreal Steak Spice
Quite a simple recipe. Boil up the potatoes in the chicken noodle soup mix (rather than water) until they are relatively soft. Then, mash them up with a little butter and add the steak spice. Mash until desired consistency is achieved.
Use either oil or butter to grease up a muffin tin and preheat the oven to 400 F. Fill tins about 3/4 full and then use a teaspoon to spread out the mashed potato, just enough to put a dollop of leftover pasta sauce. Put in the oven when it dings…
They’ll have to cook about 35 minute in order for the bottoms to firm up (wish that happened when I cook… but I digress). Watch the tops to make sure they don’t blacken too much. And you should end up with this:
I thought they tasted awesome, and I had a hard time not licking the bowl of mashed potatoes clean. This recipe makes about a dozen cakes, and I’d say that three of them are reasonable-sized meal, with a couple of other vegetables or a meat.
Jen returned from her gymnastics meet and took it for lunch today – and we’ll see how they go over with her. Thanks Jen, for sticking with the program when you got back home!
I brought them for lunch again today, too. Even though I am holding a photo seminar for reporters and ordering pizza for them. I am committed… But it ends after lunch.
Lots to reflect on and lots of questions to ask before I have a final post. But, I’ll have something later tonight or tomorrow.
So, when I last left you, it was when Jen was gagging up the ‘beef and broccoli’ concoction I had made. I liked it – and I took it for lunch the next day – along with a meal replacement drink for a snack.
I think that was Thursday. Well – a whole lot has gone on since then.
Thursday dinner: This was simple KD. I may have already mentioned this to y’all, but that was dinner. Not so bad – it’s normally lunch for us when we have my two boys staying with us, but it certainly sufficed that night.
Friday: Friday is golf day for my dad and I. It’s also the day before my triathlon. Yes, I knew about the triathlon prior to doing the Week in Their Kitchen. But, it didn’t matter.
Friday morning I had a bowl of Cheerios and a coffee (I had coffee in my house prior – and that was one of the rules). But, I knew that my dad would be having stuff on the course, and I had to refrain. When I got to their house to grab dad for the golf game, he said: “I have some fresh coffee if you want to fill up.” Sorry, dad. Can’t. Ugh. Maybe I’m taking this way too seriously.
We get out to the course and he says, “I’m going to get a muffin and a refill on my coffee. Do you want something?” No Dad. Ugh.
We get to the turn after hole 9 (I shot a 42 on the front nine) – and he asks – you want to stop for something? I said, “No, I have my meal replacement drink. That should tide me over.” It did. But, oh how I wanted a nice big egg salad sandwich from the snack shack.
COOKIE UPDATE – By now, you may have heard that cookies are not safe in my house. Between Jen and I, we’ve crushed the Oreos (1 row left out of two trays), and one bag of chocolate chip cookies is gone. One left to go.
Once golf was done, I went back home, had a nap, and then had a snack. Just a piece of bread with some peanut butter. But, I knew that I’d be going to my son’s recital in Lomond, and that I would have to eat at my parent’s place later. And also the next morning. So, I packed up the spaghetti noodles and some of the pasta sauce from the hamper, and the bag of Cheerios.
During my son’s guitar recital in Lomond, of course they have a 10 minute break with all sorts of num-nums. I just sat in my chair and pouted. I didn’t eat a thing.
We didn’t get home Friday night until 10 p.m. (NOTE: in this time Jen had to bow out of the experiment for a couple of days as she was coaching in a gymnastics competition in Kelowna) – but I cooked up my pasta at my parents, because I needed to carb load for the big triathlon the next morning. Pasta was good. I woulda taken pictures, but… I didn’t.
SATURDAY: So far today I have had a bowl of Cheerios and I had leftover spaghetti – from the hamper. OK – I you may call this a cheat – but… I had four slices of oranges, two perogies and a small carton of chocolate milk. For those of you that don’t race, the race committee sets up food for you after the race in order to replenish your body. So – hamper or no hamper, the free food would have been there for me at the race regardless. I just didn’t indulge (and put stuff in my murse, and stuff).
So, here we are… another row of chocolate chip cookies and another bowl of cereal later. It’s Saturday night at 8:50 p.m. I’ll probably just make some peanut butter and jelly and call it a night. But, I’ve still got two more days to go, and I’ve got a couple of more ideas on some meals.
Jen gets back tomorrow, so she’ll be back on the program for the final two days.
Me: So, what do you think?
Jen: (gag) I don’t really like it.
Me: Oh. OK.
Jen: I may not like it. But I’m going to eat it.
OK – I thought it was tasty. It was Beef and Broccoli and a Caesar salad. For those of you who may have seen the picture on Twitter probably know the only thing on the plate that resembled that meal name was the salad. It was Beef and Broccoli – but the beef was wieners and the broccoli was substituted for large slices of red pepper. The real deal was the mix packet for beef and broccoli that I found in the hamper. Here’s the recipe:
6 hot dogs (sliced up)
2 Red peppers (sliced into large chunks)
1 TBSP of Montreal Steak Spice (one of my chosen three spices)
1 cup of water, with the beef and broccoli mix. I wasn’t able to add the required soy sauce, nor the diced onion for the mix.
1 TBSP butter – to precook the wieners and peppers (recipe calls for oil, but I had none)
Basic idea is to briefly cook the red peppers and wieners in a saucepan with the butter and the TBSP of steak spice. Then add in the beef and broccoli mix. Stir and bring to a soft boil in about 2 or 3 minutes. Serve.
I didn’t have anything to serve as a bed for it (I only have potatoes as a starch), and I thought pasta was overkill.
I like beef and broccoli. This just didn’t end up being beef and broccoli. Too many clashing flavours. Sweet peppers, salty wieners… and a tasteless mix sauce.
So, as I mentioned in my post earlier today I promised I was going to find something that we could put together. I see and hear of some of the ingredients in other hampers and I rifle through the goods from mine and don’t find the same things. After going through my goods, my limited culinary skills couldn’t find anything to put together a ‘gourmet’ meal.
Lesson one: Not all hampers are built the same.
While I have some really good singular foods, I don’t have any combo foods. Except the package of spaghetti and some of the sauces. Or peanut butter and bread. This is a challenge and forces me to really think outside the box when creating combination meals.
If I don’t have the items I need to cook – I normally go to the supermarket to buy them. Calgary Food Bank clients don’t necessarily have that option and they make do with what’s included in the hamper. They may have a few odds and ends they can use to make things work – but not always.
Me (to Jen): Sorry the meal didn’t taste very good tonight.
Jen: It’s OK.
Jen: Just because I didn’t like it, it doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the fact you made dinner for me.
That, in itself, meant everything.
Talk to you again soon.
OK – so Darren’s Surprise gave my poor, pregnant fiancee a nasty case of heartburn… you know how pregnant women can be.
Other than that, she said it was tasty and dutifully filled her bowl for lunch again today. Such a trooper.
Last night we (I) got lazy and went with a can of beans and some wieners. It’s not bad, especially considering that we’d eat beans on toast or beans like this on any given night – but we could have made something. But, with Jen not getting home until 9 p.m. and me working until at least that time – both at work and at home – you can clearly see why we order in, or make easy foods.
I won’t lie – this is tough for us. I’m glad I made Darren’s Surprise the first night – or we’d be pooched. We’ve got to come up with something better that utilizes more of the ingredients. Tonight. Tonight. Always tonight.
Also, I should say that I downed about 12 Oreo cookies (and I’m still training for a triathlon here!) because all of the other snack foods in my house were off limits: pickles, pretzels, cheese and crackers, the tray of strawberries in the fridge… so I had a cookie. Then I had more cookies. Then a rush of childhood nostalgia took over and I just grabbed a bloody handful and said: “What the heck – it’s only for a week.”
But – I could be doing better. I’m just lazy when it comes to food. Lazy because we find that it’s easier and more convenient to order in or go out for meals. We eat healthy – we do – but we choose our foods carefully and we choose what we want.
Clients of the food bank don’t have that luxury. They need to plan their meals; they need to ration their food; they make do with what they have and they make the best of it. The clients are thankful. I complain.
Something about this isn’t right.
I owe it to the challenge to see what I can do with the food provided. That’s the challenge Calgary Food Bank clients face every day.
Let’s put a new recipe together tonight.
I just finished lunch, and between keeping up with a breaking news story and figuring out where to slot today’s news, I’m penning the latest installment of a Week in Their Kitchen.
Lunch (Darren’s Surprise – recipe posted below) was good. It simmered in the crockpot overnight and turned out quite tasty. I’ll have no problem eating it again tonight for dinner (or tomorrow for lunch) and still likely have some leftovers.
Here is one of my challenges, and it’s two-fold: I like to snack. Not unhealthy snack – but eat four or five small meals a day. Tough to do when you have to ration food to make solid meals to help you get through the week. Second – I eat/snack when I want, normally. That’s not realistic when you are trying to ration.
Another is the stark realization that I’m not REALLY eating anything I like. The bubble gum flavoured pudding made my mouth numb (snack 1, before lunch) and I really wanted a snack last night, but found nothing appealing. But – as Brooke has pointed out, Calgary Food Bank clients don’t get to pick and choose, and are often happy someone is there to lending a helping hand.
@Kait_Dee refers to it as “foodsnobbery” – maybe living in relative opulence, and not worrying about where my next meal is coming from has turned me into something of a food snob. You need only read my previous posts to see that I’m looking a gift-horse in the mouth, and turning my nose up at some of the food – simply because I don’t typically eat it.
Food Bank clients don’t have a choice. You don’t either, Darren. I need to stop being such a princess and figure out how to put together decent meals for Jen and I.
I’m going to take better stock tonight of my supplies – and come up with something good. I’ll probably post recipe, with pic and more thoughts later tonight.
You can also follow my Week in Their Kitchen adventures in real time by following me on Twitter.
The actual dinner on night one turned out to be eggs on toast. With a couple of scoops of the crunchy peanut butter (something we don’t normally buy) on a spoon. Jen was enamored with the Oreos and the crunchy peanut butter – and scolded me for separating the candy out. I said – IT’S NOT DINNER!
But, I sorted through some of the goods and came up with this recipe for a ‘Veggie Chili’
- 1 large can of diced tomatoes
- 1 large can of mixed beans
- 1 can of brown beans in tomato sauce
- 1 can of red kidney beans
- 1 full red pepper – chopped
- 1.5 cups of chopped mini carrots
- 5 chopped potatoes (with the skins intact)
- 1.5 cups of water
- Salt and pepper
Since we’re allowed three spices that were previously in our home, I used a pack of pre-made chili spice. I may add a little flour and water to thicken it later.
This should provide Jen and I work lunches or dinners for a couple of days.
Looks like a bowl of Cheerios for breaky tomorrow.
Will update the blog regularly – but you can also check out my Week in Their Kitchen adventures as they happen by following me on Twitter.
I went to the launch of the Husky Helping the Hungry Week and got my snapshot with, well, @leahblonde… Good start, I figured.
This has been something I’ve been thinking about for the past week. Then as the minutes ticked by and it was time for me to head down to pick up my hamper, I began getting more nervous. You can’t really put your thumb on what it is that’s built up the angst in you, until you sit in the car, navigate your way through the city and are a short distance away from the Food bank.
Then it all becomes clear.
I’m a professional. A person whom many look to as someone of some limited stature in the community – being in the newspaper business. It dawned on me – what if someone I know sees me walking up to get a food hamper? What does that look like to them? Do the rumours start? How do I feel about that? What’s going to be in it? Questions, questions, questions. Problem: my image of self-importance and perception of those needing the food bank requires serious balancing.
I get inside and I am immediately ushered to the window for participants in the blog experiment. The wonderful woman (who’s name I didn’t get – read: bad journalist) immediately began asking for ID.. OK… I have it – but I have none for Jen. Ugh.
After providing my scenario of Jen being stricken with pregnancy complications and unable to work, I got a referral to Best Beginnings – a program for low income pregnant women that provides moms-to-be a wealth of information and support. Good info to give out.
I got the green light to get my hamper. It begins.
Then, the lovely Brooke says, “I hope you have enough room in your trunk”, and I see them piling the food into the bins. I’m a blue-binner. Then it hits me again. I’m dressed well, I’m fiddling with my Blackberry and thinking, “I have three sets of golf clubs and snowboard gear in my trunk. I felt low. I told Brooke I felt small. I enjoy luxuries – others struggle for food.
At that point I felt ashamed. Not for being at the food bank collecting a hamper – but for being so material. Don’t get me wrong – I work hard for what I earn, and I enjoy the fruits of my labour. But, we also try to spend wisely in our family. In fact – I had a hissy fit this weekend because Jen wouldn’t let me buy an iPad – a completely REASONABLE expense, I thought.
And now it becomes more clear how silly I was being.
Let’s get on to the hamper itself. (This post is getting longer by the second).
I was quick through – except for the small plantain conversation I had with one of the volunteers. He said you could make a lot of different things with plantains – just type it into Google – and I said I’d make it work.
Then I met volunteer Len, who gave me the run down on the food, as I stacked it in my cart. One thing that struck me going through the line: the volunteers are proud people, happy to be giving a hand. And they should be proud. Len was proud to be helping and providing his expertise to the Calgary Food Bank.
Now for initial impressions on the amount of food in the hamper: We would never eat all of this in a week.
I had a back and forth Twitter conversation with Brooke about how candid I was supposed to be in this blog – and, for lack of a better way to put it, she said: be honest.
Let me preface the honesty by saying, I understand this is donation-driven, and more money is sorely needed to help balance out the hamper meals. But… on one hand I found myself pleasantly surprised by what it had in it – and puzzled by other selections.
First the good: Lots of staples - milk, eggs, sauces, pasta, breads, produce (apples, oranges, lettuce, peppers) butter and extra milk, because Jen is pregnant. Good supply of canned goods for chili, stew, and other dishes.
Good mix of nutrition here. It made up probably 60 to 70% of the food hamper. Way to go, Calgary Food Bank.
Now the bad: Surprised by the amount of food that (I’m sorry for the honesty) wouldn’t appear at my house in the quantities they appeared in the hamper. Yes, we have a bag of cookies – but not two bags of chocolate chip cookies, and a box of Oreos. Puddings, turnovers – they’re treats, but they’re also somewhat unhealthy, aren’t they?
We don’t really eat candy in our home (I have two older sons), unless it’s a one-shot deal once in a while – or when Grandma and Grandpa are around. I received a bag of it from the Calgary Food Bank. I can appreciate, however that for many families trying to scrape together their pennies, that treats like this don’t come very often.
Also from the perspective of a family that is used to eating chicken, pork or beef at least three or four times a week, not seeing much for meat was interesting – but not entirely unexpected, considering the cost of fresh meat and the fact its quite perishable.
To round out the hamper there was toilet paper, kleenex, meal replacement drinks, et al. Not too terribly bad. In fact, quite good considering that much of it comes from donations. The nutrition is rounded out (minus the ‘treat’ food) and we’ll make this work.
Immediately I set to work on preparing a chili that Jen and I can eat for a couple of days in a row.
That’s it for now. Will probably update this more than Brooke wants me to.
To be honest – I’m nervous.
Jen has her reservations because she’s nearly 7 months pregnant, wondering if we’ll have the food we need to make sure our babe stays healthy. With her teaching pre-school and coaching gymnastics at night and me working as the managing editor of Metro News, we rarely have time to prepare meals – because we often order in, or go out to eat. This week will be a wake up call. We will be preparing the food we have for breakfast, lunch and dinner with the food from the hamper.
I mean, it’s not as though we don’t enjoy cooking – we just don’t have a lot of time to do it. But, this week things will change.
I’m excited to be a part of this project, to raise awareness about the challenges faced by the families who are served by the Calgary Foodbank. I hope we can raise the awareness of this project, so people get a first-hand account of what all of the participants are going through.
Jen and I have been wanting to find the right way to start making a difference in our community – not yet finding the right fit for us. This, after some discussion, appears to be the first step into what will likely become further community service. Let’s see where it leads!
I’m looking forward to the week ahead. I enjoy cooking and I’m going to see how many different combinations of meals I can come up with, with just the supplies in the food bank. It will be tough to juggle – no doubt. But, with any luck, we’ll learn some humility, enjoy the experience of cooking together, and come out with a better sense of what’s important to us.
Today is the launch of the program – and the pick up of the hamper. Do I have trepidation? …uh, yah. Like I said from the top – I’m nervous.
But – here’s to a week of growth. Check back soon.