What’s for Dinner?

I enjoy cooking, even short order. It’s a great pleasure for me and one I take pride in.

September 11, 2015 | | Autumn 2015 | Back Issues | Community | Departments | Headwaters Nest | In Every Issue

I’m already hurriedly chopping and dicing in the kitchen when, from the living room, comes the familiar plaintive refrain: “What’s for dinner?”

Tonight I’m making rainbow trout in a pan. I sear it on high heat until the skin is crispy, then pop it into the oven to bake it through. I’ve chopped crisp green onions and red peppers, added some butter and a tiny splash of wine, and the rice on the stove is steaming away. It’s not overly fancy, but the flavours speak for themselves and there are no mystery ingredients, which pleases me.

Before I reply to my son, he smells the fish cooking and is not happy. “Is that fish?” he shouts, holding his nose.

I’m just home from work, and after a long day of too much coffee and not enough fresh air, I’m ready for some peace and quiet and good food. I enjoy cooking, even short order. It’s a great pleasure for me and one I take pride in. Every Sunday is a cooking day for me, whether it’s making as many salads as possible in the summer, and grilling vegetables for sandwiches or just to eat on their own, or in the winter, preparing a belly-filling roast, a crock pot stew, or a casserole to freeze for later in the week.

I know I’m lucky to have the skills to make wonderful dishes from scratch. By watching my mom and grandmothers cook almost every meal I consumed growing up, I learned by osmosis. I have gathered a few favourite recipes from friends and family to add to my arsenal, but mostly I cook by instinct. (I am a terrible baker, by the way – prefering to mix and match and taste at the stove.) I must also give credit for my cooking passion to those who need only be identified by first name: Julia, Martha and Nigella.

Recently I was asked to participate in a food awareness program called “Do the Math.” The Headwaters Food and Farming Alliance challenged residents of our region to eat a typical food bank diet for three to five days so they could experience firsthand what it’s like to be short of the money needed to meet basic needs, including food. I thought I could learn a lot from the experience and shed light on issues relating to food security, cost and access in our community.

After picking up my food bank allotment, I set about planning my three to five days. Though area food banks try to supply clients with as many fresh vegetables and greens as possible, I was immediately struck by the lack. I always cook with lots of veggies no matter what the dish! Colourful peppers, spinach and kale are my regulars.

I was missing fruit as well. At work, I jealously eyed everyone else’s fresh, ripe fruit, which decorated the lunchroom like sumptuous jewels. I grew tired and developed a headache from not having my regular input of caffeine. I had selected coffee as an optional pantry item from the food bank list, but allowed myself only a small cup a day.

A veggie curry using one potato, half an onion, canned peas, curry powder, garlic, and one tbsp. oil (oil and curry powder being two of my pantry items). I put this over some rice. It was pretty tasty.

A veggie curry using one potato, half an onion, canned peas, curry powder, garlic, and one tbsp. oil (oil and curry powder being two of my pantry items). I put this over some rice. It was pretty tasty.

With some creativity, I created a veggie curry using a potato, half an onion, canned peas and curry powder, another optional item. I served this over some rice. It was pretty tasty. I dished it into four servings and made it last. I also used up the canned flaked chicken, the other half onion and a can of mushroom soup. I declared it stew, but really, it looked and smelled like cat food.

I started losing my interest in food. Nothing crunched. There was no colour, little seasoning and no choice. I was getting “hangry,” that dreaded combination of hungry and angry.

As we enter the harvest season in these hills, a season symbolized by an overflowing cornucopia of food, and as we prepare fruit and vegetables and set the table for friends and family, consider these facts about the Orangeville Food Bank:

  • It is entirely volunteer run.
  • Located on Centennial Road, it is in the industrial area, which is a hike no matter where you live in town. Think about making that trek on foot, with kids or during the winter, then carrying your food back home.
  • Because it’s an emergency food bank, recipients are limited to one visit a month.
  • During a visit, clients can gather three to five days’ worth of food (about 30 lb. per household member).
  • The food bank is open only twice a week – a few hours during the day on Tuesdays and on Wednesday evenings.
  • Only 10 per cent of clients use the food bank every month. Most use it a few times a year or periodically as needed.

Over the five days of the challenge, I creatively sorted the food to make do and blogged about my experience. I am a good cook and know quite a bit about nutrition. I have a place to cook and tools to use. Still, I was sad and lethargic and could feel my vigour waning.

A number of concerns became clear to me, mostly relating to access. There just isn’t enough food for those who need the assistance. It’s hard to get to the food bank. The hours are limited. Fresh food is very limited. It’s a stark fact that the Orangeville food bank often runs dry when the Thanksgiving and Christmas surge of donations runs out.

The Orangeville Food Bank is entirely volunteer run. Illustration by Shelagh Armstrong.

The Orangeville Food Bank is entirely volunteer run and often runs dry when the Thanksgiving and Christmas surge of donations run out. Illustration by Shelagh Armstrong.

We are in the bountiful season that many consider the best of the best when it comes to food and drink. We sit down at our long harvest tables, break bread in a restaurant, eat s’mores by the fire, or open a hot and delicious thermos of coffee atop a high point on the trail.

As I serve the fish and call Adrian to the table, then watch him digging in, I’m reminded of how fortunate I am. I savour every bite.

More on the Do the Math Challenge

To find out more about the challenge and to browse participants’ blogs, go to headwaterscommunities.org/do-the-math-challenge. To read Bethany Lee’s blog, click on her name in the participants list.

Come together to help 
our communities

My food bank experience was so inspiring that this fall and winter I’ll be watching for ways to donate either food or my time.

Many food banks run dry after the Thanksgiving and Christmas rushes, so a good starting place is to find out what’s needed. Healthy, non-perishable items, such as peanut butter, pasta and canned goods, including chunky soups, vegetables and fruit in water, usually top the most-needed list. Unfortunately, homemade items, such as jams and pickles, can’t be used, and the same goes for dented or rusted cans and out-of-date items.

Food sorting and food drives are great ways to contribute, so consider a group activity with your church, sports club or other group. Contact the following food banks for information or search for other services (e.g., in Shelburne and Dundalk) at:

Sports for all

According to KidSport Canada, one in three Canadian children can’t afford to play organized sports. The costs can indeed be high, but the benefits of keeping kids active, healthy and engaged are invaluable.

This holiday season, watch for Give the Gift of Sport, KidSport Canada’s annual fundraising campaign. From November to January, this campaign raises funds to help kids participate in organized sport. The Orangeville and District chapter helped 73 kids last year! kidsportcanada.ca

The 100% charity – Sleeping Children Around the World

Looking for the perfect gift for a teacher? Why not give a Sleeping Children Around the World bedkit gift in his or her name?

SCAW provides bedkits to children in developing countries. And no part of your donation is spent on administration – 100 per cent reaches a needy child. Though bedkit contents vary with local needs, each $35 donation typically provides a mat or mattress, pillow, sheet, blanket, mosquito net, clothing and school supplies. scaw.org

ReStore your habitat!

Habitat for Humanity has opened a ReStore at 202 First Street in Orangeville. ReStores accept household goods for resale, so visit often as the inventory changes constantly. Expect to find items such as windows, doors, paint, hardware, lumber, tools, lighting fixtures, furniture and appliances.

This is a great opportunity to take on a fix-it project or a cleanup with the kids! The profits generated by the ReStore fund the local Habitat affiliate that operates the store. So this fall, make a donation or shop for that needed item – and benefit the community at the same time. habitatwdg.ca

About the Author More by Bethany Lee

Bethany Lee is a freelance writer who lives in Mono.

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