"Why did we agree to do this, it's a helluva lotta work...?" I wondered out loud.
Lisa and I were going over the menu for the upcoming St. Patrick's Day Festival put on by our Parents-In-Partnership Club (the PIPS) at St. Agatha Catholic School and the load of feeding 600-800 people was weighing a tad heavy on a busy couple. With kids. With work. The litany of excuses came like a torrent as to why we didn't need to do this anymore. Hell, we started the damned thing 16 years ago as a corned beef and cabbage dinner in the parish hall, only to watch it grow with bagpipers, a neighborhood parade route and motorcycle cops. Then, the parents club took it for a few years and made it a fundraising event. It was Big Time now with tents, thick electrical cords for the bands, tokens and T-shirts! You know it's reached another level when cash is not accepted at food and drink stations. A 5K Fun Run even made it healthy, fer chrissakes!
"Look at it this way, we're back where we belong after a five year hiatus, the food will be GREAT, and it's Siobhan's turn to really experience a proper St. Paddy's Day, local event," Lisa assured me. Our older kids all have great memories of marching in the parade, helping in the kitchen and having one generally fantastic day. I think.
Oh God, I thought, "it's for the children..." Well, that pretty much locks it down then. So, "in for a penny, in for a pound," as the adage goes, we ordered our food products and began the roller coaster ride that is planning, ordering, preparing and executing a successful food event. Siobhan being only six and in the first grade guaranteed another 8 years of the Lisa and Brian Cooking Show. I will be 61 when she graduates 8th grade.
Two hundred pounds of corned beef began a 24-hour cooking cycle in our home on Wednesday for a Saturday meal. Thanks again to neighbor Tony for the commercial oven install that allowed three briskets to be braised every twelve hours (225 degrees; we'll talk tender later) with all the ease of cooking at work. The boys had to be beaten back with the wooden Tomato Sauce Paddle several times to prevent product loss. Shepherd's Pie filling for 200 was done on the Crab Boiler on the back deck and cooled in buss tubs. Sausage Rolls, 700 of them, had to be hand rolled. We made enough to fill the food stations and planned on having leprechauns do the rest on Saturday.
Hot dogs, 400, were a no-brainer and the idea of cutting the corned beef for the sandwiches with crispy cubed potatoes was a stroke of genius.
"How are you feeling about this so far?" I asked Lisa on Friday night.
"Good, this feels really good. We're prepped, have a good plan for tomorrow and we have volunteers," she said breathing a sigh of relief.
Saturday morning found us walking into the Hall at 8:00. The tents were ready, but, empty except for parent volunteers making last minute arrangements. The principal was dumping ice onto 12 kegs of beer, Bonnie was zipping about on her Razor scooter and my Loverlu was walking the field of battle, surveying her plan of attack; moving a table here, checking hot boxes there, and getting psyched for the onslaught to come. There were still 4 hours before the official step-off, but, preparation cannot be too soon.
As I pulled sausage rolls in puff pastry out of the oven, we checked them and agreed, "This is gonna work well..." Shepherd's Pies, Corned Beef, Yukon Gold Potatoes, Whole Grain Mustard Sauce and Twice-Backed Potatoes all got the Lady's approval and were staged by 11:00.
People we've never seen began arriving. Green curly wigs, people in white long sleeved shirts and vests, pipers on the church steps tuning their drones, Portland Police lining up to escort the parade, firefighters in their turnouts, fire trucks, lights, sirens, a guy selling helium balloons in the shape of pets on a string...it was like walking into a Moroccan bazaar. The convergence of humanity was staggering.
Lisa and I chuckled.
"This is pretty cool..." We held hands, giggled again, had a smooch.
"Ready to go?" she asked, "The kitchen's good?"
"Hell yes, let's do this!" I followed.
We didn't look up for the next three hours as bands played, food flew out of the kitchen to outside tents, friends popped in to congratulate and re-hydrate us, tempers flared temporarily and our Altar Society ladies shuffled in, one by one, for a hug and a kiss.
"This is what it's all about," I thought, "People getting together, having a drink, listening to a tune, sharing a meal and a hug. Maybe even having a spin on the dance floor." An old Okie oilfield buddy used to say, "They was all there: eight to eighty, crippled, blind and crazy!"
Indeed, we had every walk of life present including some of the local homeless. All having a grand time.
At one point, I was able to leave the kitchen and take a 10 minute break to fire up a cigar and check out the party. A middle aged man with a dog on a leash came up to me and while his dog watered the tree next to us, leaned over and whispered while looking away,
"Are you the guy with The Sauce? I heard you're the guy that makes The Sauce."
He was referencing our published Tomato-Fennel Sauce featured at the annual Knights of Columbus Spaghetti Dinner held every October.
"What are you looking for, what quantities?" I asked, looking away from him, poking the grass with my toe.
"I got some from you last year at the Christmas Bazaar and I ran out. You got some?"
"Maybe..." I teased him, "But, it'll take me a coupla weeks before it's ready. Can you wait"
"Yeah," he said, "How do I contact you?"
"What mass you go to? I'm at the 10:30; meet me in the Hall afterwards for coffee and donuts..."
He nodded, gave his dog a click from his mouth and off they strolled.
You can't make this shit up, I thought, shaking my head and taking a good, long draw off a brilliant Honduran cigar.
People are people; we are wonderful at times, pains at others, but, seeing a friend you haven't seen in a year or two is restorative. Parents that sent their kids to St. Aggie's and have fallen off the radar, "C and Es" we call them; only to be seen at Christmas and Easter showed up. Hopefully, this event will help them to reconnect not just with old pals, but, with something much more important: their Faith.
This is why we cook: we are called to serve one another through the kitchen, with a plate, a knife and fork or even with a hug in the Parish Hall. We provide an edible catalyst that buds new friendships, maintains current relationships and restores old ones.
We are a Faith Community and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.
Take Care, God Bless and Remember:
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends,
the Best Things in Life Aren't Things."