Mike, Julie & Willem, Day 3: Creamy Mushroom Rotini

June 2, 2010 at 11:11 pm 2 comments

You know what I love about this experience? The reminder that there is SO MUCH FOOD in the kitchen even when we’re convinced that there’s not a thing in the house to eat. If all I had was a styrofoam package of sad-looking mushrooms, milk and dry pasta in the cupboard, I’d order in.

But wait – before I get to the mushroom rotini, I have a confession. W had an apple today.

He has been wondering why he can’t have any apples. He’s ecstatic over the sudden surplus of packaged cereal bars, so he’s not suffering. He can’t wait to have Kraft Dinner, especially with hot dogs(!). But he’s accustomed to eating a few apples and pears per day, including a bowl of apple slices at bedtime. It feels odd to tell him he can’t have any fruit. We have no bananas, no smoothies, no dried apricots. I’ve tried to explain why, but his 4 year old mind isn’t quite grasping the concept.

Of course, clients of the food bank likely have to explain to their kids with some regularity why there isn’t enough or they can’t have the foods they want.

So today we went to the opening of the Hillhurst-Sunnyside Farmers’ Market – a tough place to go and not buy anything – and were chatting with Kris Vester (from Blue Mountain Biodynamic Farm) at his stall. W eyed a basket of organic apples and asked if he could please have one. He hasn’t had an apple in days. I looked at Kris, who knew about the project. “If I give him one it won’t count, right?” he offered. Technically, yes. But who’s to say that the child of a food bank client couldn’t be offered an apple from a kindly farmer? And really, denying a 4 year old an apple is not going to help get any point across here. It would be a little ironic, wouldn’t it?

So W had his apple. I bought a fresh tangle of greens and a bunch of chocolate mint for my sister, picked up a bag of organic barley flour and a dozen beautiful eggs from Kris’ mom (for next week) and we went back home for dinner empty-handed.

I had to cook up the remaining (and rapidly declining) 4 packages of mushrooms, which were like clowns coming out of a Volkswagen. I sliced and cooked up two batches in my cast iron skillet with a generous drizzle of canola oil, salt and pepper. (I would have loved to add a blob of butter, but got a pound of stick margarine that I can’t bring myself to eat or serve my family. I can’t believe they still manufacture this stuff. It’s a block of trans fat. I’ll spare you the rant.)

Anyway. I cooked the mushrooms until they released their moisture and then started to brown, then sprinkled a spoonful of flour overtop, tossing it around to coat the mushrooms. I poured in 2% milk until it bubbled, adding a splash more at a time as it thickened. As I did this, I boiled some rotini, then dumped the drained pasta into the mushroom pan and added plenty of pepper.

It was good. Mike was in heaven. (W was not a fan.) Had I been making this under my own authority I’m sure I’d have added herbs and cheese – I love the reminder than plain food is delicious. I should know this, but I still get caught up in the herbs and spices and other additions.

So my McGyvering has been successful; but I’m a food writer. I wonder how many people would be able to do the same with what they have.

I’ve offered in the past to compile a cookbook for food bank clients, a collection of simple recipes using ingredients commonly found in food bank hampers. Often there will be a surplus of uncommon foods (read: plantains) that people have little experience preparing (last week it was eggplant) and sometimes the staff at the food bank winds up looking for easy recipes online to pass out to those on the receiving end of such. I offered help in that regard too – perhaps in the form of an ingredient-du-jour handout or element of the website? But this all assumes that people are interested in recipes.

Not all food bank clients have the time or interest in cooking – many just need to eat. This is not at all a criticism of those who use the food bank – not everyone in general has the motivation to learn how to cook. Or to actually do it. Thus the crazy popularity of convenience foods, grated cheese, pre-diced potatoes and the like. And it seems to me those going through crises might be even more strapped for time and energy than most.

We could, of course, turn our attention to the bigger problem – and the structural solutions – but people use food banks for a variety of reasons, and there will always be people in need. A number of you have asked what I think is the best thing to donate, based on this experience. I’ve only been at it a few days – and what clients get in their hampers varies greatly, even within the same day. I’ve always been inclined to contribute beans and raw ingredients, but healthy prepared foods seem like a better idea- so people don’t wind up with pancake mix and no syrup or Helper with no hamburger.

I may myself start buying multivitamins for children, just to cover their bases if they do need to live on largely empty calories. (Which, it must be said, many well-to-do children are doing as much of.) It said in our debriefing that vitamins wouldn’t be necessary, as all hampers are nutritionally balanced. As great a job as they’re doing at the food bank (and they really are, especially considering the fact that they rely on donations, without government support), I beg to differ. Lots of plantains, mushrooms and coleslaw (or whatever has been donated on any particular day) is a good thing, but not varied enough to be considered perfectly balanced.

Of course it might be according to the Canada Food Guide, which classifies those bubblegum pudding cups in the same category as milk and cheese…


Entry filed under: Julie.

Uninspired. Humbled. Kristen – day 3

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Erin  |  June 2, 2010 at 11:20 pm

    Love your post. Love the picture of W. I switched to butter this year after a guy at the Sustainable Calgary Book Club (while reading In Defense of Food) explained that margarine was just steps away from plastic. I had enough at that point (but I’m using it this week while the pound of butter stares at me when i open the fridge). Love the pics from the market too – can’t wait to check it out next week!

  • 2. calgaryfoodbank  |  June 2, 2010 at 11:26 pm

    Poor W, he doesn’t seem to like mushrooms very much!

    Don’t worry about the apple, you’re right he could have been given one in a variety of different circumstances. I bet after 3 days without one he really appreciated it today!


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