Monday, December 5. 2016
I ran behind in writing this, so I'll have to postpone Music Week until tomorrow (Tuesday). Unfortunately, nobody I'm aware of thought to take any pictures of the event below, and the evidence is now far gone. Without such documentation, I reckon we're already entering the realm of myth. I figure the least I can do is to write this event up, to establish some sort of paper trail.
Friday night the Peace and Social Justice Center here in Wichita had its annual dinner and business meeting. My little part in that was to plan and direct the menu, preparing food for 62 guests. I spent much of last week hashing out the menu with Janice Bradley and Leah Dannar-Garcia. Leah and I went shopping on Wednesday. I spent about thirteen hours on Thursday at home prepping and in some cases finishing dishes, while Janice and Leah did their own home prep. On Friday about 1 PM we met at Lorraine Avenue Mennonite Church, along with several other people (Pat Cameron, Gretchen Eick, Kathy Hull, Russ Pataki) where the dinner would be held, and started cooking. By 6 PM we had dinner ready to serve. We put small bowls of appetizers and bread on the tables so people could start noshing. And we set up a double-long table for people to serve themselves with the main dishes. The menu was mostly Mediterranean, with dishes from Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel and the Arab countries, plus one salad from Iran:
The recipes (follow the links) were typically scaled 2 times for the appetizers and desserts (more for the hummus and fruit), the salads 2-3 times, the main dishes 3-4 times (8 lbs fish, 16 lbs chicken). The main thing that limited the scaling was the size of cooking and serving dishes, although several dishes were limited by shopping -- I didn't buy nearly enough kalamata olives, so had a single one pound recipe of tapenade and had to buy extra for the salad. The salads ran out first -- possibly because they were first in the serving line, but we could have fixed another batch of the horiatiki and mast va khiar and served it in the same large bowls. The root vegetables fit neatly into two deep baking dishes, the fish into two shallow ones, and the chicken was optimally packed into my largest pot (16-inch diameter, 6-inches deep).
I made two trays of mutabbaq, and cut them into 60 2.25 x 2.5-inch pieces, so only a couple people missed out. We served them at the counter, on plates, and let people add fruit and/or cream. (I was surprised to see people dolloping the cream on top of the mutabbaq.) The cream, which I had borrowed from a "berries and cream" recipe, was exceptional -- we should have made a second batch. We had a couple cups of caponata and a couple pints of cacciatore left at the end, plus hummus and fruit -- Janice overscaled while I erred on the low side -- but I didn't hear complaints about not cooking enough.
I think it's safe to say that it all came out delicious -- one could even say fabulous. Also that the mix of dishes worked and the tastes complemented one another. (The desserts offered a mix of sweet, tart, and creamy, none of which were overly heavy.) We could have done a better job of pointing out which things were vegetarian (or vegan), which dishes had dairy or gluten or nuts or some other real or imagined hazard -- we published the menu, but that was hardly self-explanatory.
The last few years we had the dinner catered, using various Mexican and Middle Eastern sources, nothing especially memorable. Further back, we tried pot lucks, and I made large main dishes for a couple of those -- jambalaya and cacciatore are the ones I remember -- which often produced better food, but were also inconsistent and chancey. This year, when the board decided to try another pot luck, I suggested that a planned and assigned menu would work better, maybe something Mediterranean like the Ottolenghi menu we fixed for an Alice Powell memorial dinner, but a bit broader (and simpler). Leah, who runs a small organic farm east of town, suggested a seasonal fall menu, which I was fine with, but when I spelled out my proposal she embraced it, and provided invaluable support.
Also invaluable was the kitchen and equipment provided by the church. They had a 10-burner range (which we barely used), with two ovens (exactly what we needed), large baking dishes and bowls, lots of counter space, ample dishes and flatware, and a terrific dishwasher for cleaning up. We also had about the right mix of people helping out. If we were to do it again, the one change I would make would be to get together in that kitchen the night before and do the meze and prep together rather than dividing them up and working at home (especially as I had taken on most of that work myself -- by the end I was so exhausted that I wound up knicking myself a couple times cleaning up a knife). Friday had moments that seemed like chaos, but I managed to keep everything lined up and moving along properly, so it all came together at the appointed time (6 PM).
Also, other people (especially Leah and Russ) took over the clean up when I wore out. I got in line after the salads were gone, and wandered in and out of the actual meeting. The guest speaker was Maxine Phillips, a former executive editor of Dissent Magazine and a vice chair of Democratic Socialists of America, who blogs at religioussocialism.org. She spoke about "Forced Migrations and US Immigration Policy." I didn't catch enough of this to comment, but I will risk saying two things:
Unfortuantely, the 2016 election, especially of Donald Trump to the presidency, promises nothing constructive on this front. Indeed, if Trump does manages to reduce immigration it will probably be more due to making our own country less livable than to enforcing draconian laws, and even less to making the rest of the world any less treacherous.
I'm afraid I have rather mixed views on immigration. As someone whose most recent foreign-born ancestors came to America nearly 150 years ago, and whose family preserved not one shred of previous ethnic identity, I've never had any sentimental attachment to the notion that America as a melting pot of immigrants. Nor do I have a problem with the idea that a nation has a right to control its borders and limit immigration. I'll also note that the one period of history when Americans seemed to exhibit the greatest care for one another -- at least in the sense of moving furthest to the left -- was in the 1930-40s, when immigration was largely halted. One wonders whether loosening immigration restrictions in the 1970s didn't contribute somehow to the nation's rightward drift since 1980. (That nearly a third of last year's Republican presidential candidates had at least one foreign-born parent is troubling, to say the least.)
On the other hand, I've known dozens of immigrants, most real fine people, credits to our communities, and they've helped to broaden and deepen our lives. One way, of course, was to share with us the range of food we made for this Peace Dinner (plus a great many other dishes we couldn't include -- things we can explore further in future dinners). Admittedly, most of the immigrants I know are professionals, many citizens, pretty much all with their legal status in order. The only problem I see is with those lacking proper documentation, mostly because their lack of proper credentials leaves them open to exploitation, and that less because I'm sympathetic to their plight than because their vulnerability allows those in power to be more abusive -- and not just to undocumented immigrants.
But Trump's anti-immigrant tirades are not some isolated tick. They are wrapped up in all sorts of mutually reinforcing hatreds meant to appeal to the vanity of increasingly marginalized white voters -- at least those sucker enough to overlook the obvious architects of their demise: the barons of industry and finance, whose pillage of the economy has made everyone more vulnerable. But we need to recognize that what makes this tactic work is how effectively mass fears have been stoked through decades of war. The only way to break that cycle is to insist on peace, which is why organizations like out Peace Center are so important. Please consider a contribution.
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