Diary of a Lunch Club

As you know (if you follow my blog) I help with a senior’s lunch every week, and as we only have two cooks, I have to cook on alternate weeks. There are usually some disasters (not always my fault). I thought I’d write a diary for you this week. I can’t include photos of the other workers, as most are ‘vulnerable adults’ (or else shy!)

When I was at school, one of our lessons – Food and Nutrition – involved writing a time-plan each week. We had to start at the end (serve dinner) and work backwards, working out timings. It wasn’t a favourite activity, but I still do it today whenever I’m planning an event or big meal. To be honest, I really hate cooking dinners, but don’t tell anyone that, because it seems to be one of the main things I have to do.

In case you ever are called upon to cook lunch for 40 people, here is the diary, complete with quantities, which you might find helpful. The main thing to remember is that although cooking times are the same whatever the quantity, heating times are longer. So, for example, mashed potatoes need to be boiled for twenty minutes (unchanged whether one or fifty) but heating a big saucepan of 5kg of potatoes will take at least 30 minutes before it begins to boil, and peeling them will take another 30 minutes. Here is the diary for this week:

Roast Gammon followed by Ginger Sponge and custard.
Quantities for 40 people.

Wednesday: Shopping.
I try to arrive at the supermarket early, so there are plenty of easy parking spaces that will allow access to the boot of the car, because my bags will be heavy. I am fairly rubbish at parking, even in an empty car park, so this is bit of a stressful event.

I enter the supermarket at 8:45. Realise I have left all my shopping bags in the boot, so go back for them. Reenter supermarket at 8:50.

Buy everything on list (see end of blog). Pay, and remember to put receipt safely in purse (this is another very difficult thing – which causes Husband some stress when yet again, I have lost it).

When home, transfer things to fridge and freezer, and try to remember where they are so I don’t leave them there on Friday (it happens).

Thursday: Cook puddings.

I use my super-efficient Kenwood Chef mixer, which is the one piece of kitchen equipment I could not manage without. I make the sponges in two lots, each batch making 4 loaf-tin cakes (which are then easy to transport in a container). Being very old, I work in pounds and ounces.

Put dog outside (she mutters about this) and wipe all surfaces to avoid cross-contaminations with allergens (I use nuts in my kitchen). Tie back hair, put on apron, wash hands. (Because although this is my kitchen, I am cooking for the public, so need to raise the hygiene levels a little.)

Put 1lb butter and 1lb caster sugar into bowl and mix on high speed. Add 8 eggs, one at a time, cracking into a cup first to ensure no shell/bad eggs. Beat very hard. Add 1lb self-raising flour and 28g ginger, mix, stir, mix. Put into 4 lined loaf tins, bake on 170º for about 35 minutes. While cooking, make the next lot.

I set an alarm on the phone, but got it wrong, so they almost burnt. This happens more often than you might think.

Put on cooling racks until cold, then pack into air-tight containers. Cut off the end of one sponge and ate it (to test it wasn’t too burnt. Plus they smelt really nice, and I was hungry). Put into car so I don’t forget to take them tomorrow (this also happens fairly often).

Thursday afternoon: H phones to let me know that the boiler at church has broken, so there won’t be any hot water. Super. The plumber/engineer is coming to mend the boiler in a couple of weeks. Double super.

Friday: Visit washroom 23 times and pray a lot – which is normal for someone who gets anxious about leaving the house. Mainly pray that I won’t poison anyone. Leave home 8:30am.
Remember to take: My hat, sausages and 6 gammons and milk and butter from the fridge. Puddings. Sweetcorn from freezer. Food bags. Church keys. Marker pen (to write date on any new sauces that we open)

9:00 arrive, unload, put freezer stuff in freezer.
Say hello to D and R, the ‘advance team’ who arrive. They are busy, returning the tablecloths from last week, which have been washed and ironed, setting up the tables and chairs. They also chat about growing up in the 1950s and make me laugh. D has brought his meat-slicer, which means I won’t have to hack the gammons into pieces when they’re cooked. He isn’t meant to, in fact, I’m not sure he’s meant to be there at all as he has a major heart operation next week; but I am hugely grateful.

We have a checklist for when we arrive, so I start to go through it: I wipe surfaces and bleach sinks. The church kitchen is used by a variety of groups during the week, so we assume the worst and clean everything. I fling all the tea-towels into the laundry pile (because although they look clean, someone might have blown their nose on one). I turn on the dishwasher and water heater, preheat the ovens to 180℃. I throw away old sauces (check dates) and put dates on new sauces. Then I clean the microwave, check fridge temp etc.

Get out 6 saucepans (because the saucepan cupboard is under the sink, and when S arrives I don’t want to keep asking her to move). Plates and jugs and dishes are put in hot cupboard, switched on, temperature set to 65º.

D puts out ‘sign-up’ sheet for next week, so we’ll know roughly how many dinners to cook.

I start to peel potatoes. We have coloured chopping boards, to avoid cross-contamination, so they are cut on the brown one. S arrives, and starts to peel the carrots. We only have one sharp knife, which she uses. (S comes every week to help us. She suffers from autism, so likes to do the same jobs, in the same place, with the same equipment each week; and any changes need to be discussed in advance. She also works very hard, and we miss her when she’s away.) We cut the carrots into sticks, because they go further than when cut into rounds (don’t ask me why).

I prepare the cauliflower.

9:45 Rinse meat, boil, wrap in foil.

10: 05 Put the potatoes onto the stove to boil (2 saucepans)
S grates the cheese.

10:15 T&H arrive, and set up the cafe in the front of the church. People begin to arrive for coffee. I can hear lots of laughing and chatting (loud chatting).

10:30 Meat into ovens.

At some point F arrives and washes his hands and says hello. F helps to set the tables with bowls, glasses and jugs of water. F also has ‘special needs’, but he takes more care over the setting of the tables than anyone else would. He is also in charge of the music, and has a preference for marching bands. The rest of the cooking is done to the sound of military music.

10:34 Tins of oil into oven to heat.
10:35 Strain potatoes, shake flour and salt and pepper over them, shake, put into tins of hot oil, into oven.
S puts the custard into jugs, covers with cling film, leaves ready to be microwaved. S then goes for a coffee break.

10:50 Water on hob for cauliflower.
S appears in the kitchen, to tell me the lights aren’t working in the washroom. I investigate, and find there is no electricity anywhere, and all the ovens are off. Not sure what to do, then electricity comes back on. Carry on cooking.
11:00 Put carrots onto hob. Salt all pans. Turn potatoes and move them around the ovens, because some ovens work better than others. Ovens seem a bit cool.

I check the ovens, and realise that although the electricity is back on, the ovens have set themselves to ‘automatic timer’ and are not working. I cannot remember how to override the automatic setting and spend 5 minutes pressing random buttons. Eventually they come back to life. I shove the dials to the hottest setting and swear a little.

I start to make the cheese sauce. T appears in the kitchen and begins to explain, in great detail, what is wrong with the boiler. I am not terribly interested at this point, and find it difficult to remain polite, especially as he is standing between me and the fridge and I need the milk.

11:10 Cauliflower into boiling water.
11:30 Sausages in oven (sausages are an alternative for people who don’t like gammon).
Prepare peas in microwave (because we have one person who will only eat peas). I also use the meat thermometer to check temperatures. The gammons are over 75º, which means they’re cooked. Phew.
11:30 D cuts the meat. I remember to check carrots. The cauliflower is cooked, so I strain it, and pour over the sauce. More people are arriving in the kitchen, washing up and chatting. I mostly ignore them (otherwise I will make a mistake).
11:32 Sweetcorn into boiling water.
11:35 Check/turn/move the roast potatoes again.
11:45 Make gravy. I’m not sure that anyone actually eats gravy. C arrives, and says that the person who always used to like gravy, even when there’s a sauce, died a year ago. I decide the baseline stipulation for people we cater for needs to be that they are not dead, so I only make one jug of gravy.

I move all the food to the hot-trolley, which keeps it warm while people come and sit down and grace is said. There are bowls on the tables, and everyone puts in £3:50 (which I have to remember to take home and give to Husband with the receipts from shopping).

I put the puddings into ovens (switched off) to warm slightly. I microwave the custard.

I serve the meals onto plates, the servers take them to the people sitting at the tables. I serve 35 dinners, plus 3 people ask for an extra dinner to take home for someone who is housebound/ill.

All the leftovers are put on the serving hatch, and people take them home in empty containers to eat in the week.

Rev.P gives a short talk while I put the puddings into bowls.

The servers collect all the dirty plates and serve the puddings.

The washing-up team start to clean up, L takes home the tablecloths to wash.

I take off my apron and drive Mum to her house, then go home.

I feed the cats and ducks, and give the cauliflower leaves to the chickens, then go inside for a sandwich. Am knackered.

Shopping List:
For 40 People

3 large cauliflowers (or 2 1/2 kg broccoli)
4kg carrots
10kg potatoes
6x750g gammon joints
1 packet sausages

4 pints milk
8oz butter (plus 2lb for puddings)
450g cheese
onion gravy mix
oil
tin foil
napkins
dettox spray
2kg bag sweetcorn
small plain flour

Custard 7x400g (the large tins) or ice cream
2lb butter
2lb SR flour
grd ginger
16 eggs
2lb golden caster sugar
tinned fruit (as an alternative)

*****

Thanks for reading. Hope you have a good week with no disasters.

 

Anne E. Thompson has written several novels. They are available from bookshops and Amazon.
You can follow her blog at:
anneethompson.com
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