Real Cooking

ow’s the new job? Do you miss the cooking?”

“Not at all.”

Gordon Mohn and I had chanced upon one another in the hallway at the elementary school and I was gratified to know the superintendent of schools was interested in knowing how things were going with me. I just wasn’t sure of his motives.

As the superintendent, I was hoping he was concerned to keep abreast of the well- being of his personnel. But since Mr. Mohn is a loyal member of the Hillsboro Kiwanis Club, it did cross my mind he might be wondering if I might give up on trying to help kids learn and get back to cooking his lunch every other Tuesday.

That’s what I used to do, cook. For 13 years, I cooked for civic clubs and governing boards. I cooked for farmers’ meetings and socials for ladies. Wedding-rehearsal dinners, Valentine’s dinners, dinner for two and dinner for 600. Christmas banquets, birthday parties, graduations, showers, weddings and, yes, even funerals.

Over my years of service, I think I’ve cooked for just about every civic group and church in Marion County at one time or another.

And I enjoyed it…for the most part. I took pleasure in working with my clients…for the most part. (There’s always a few, you know.)

I liked the creative outlet that some of my more adventurous patrons allowed me to produce. And I simply loved being with the women and men who were a part of “my crew,” those individuals-you know who you are-who have faithfully worked alongside me over the years, helping to prepare and serve meals to countless thousands.

From time to time, my schedule might allow me to step back into the kitchen, but for the most part, my days of cooking for groups is over. I never wanted to use this column for promoting my cooking jobs, so I didn’t overtly mention any of my engagements in the Free Press. As a result, you never heard about where I was going next or for whom I was cooking, what they were having and how it would be prepared.

What’s more, you never got in on any of the craziness that happened, either. Like the time I pulled a pan of hot meat with a lot of juice out of a stacked overhead oven and it spilled on my arm leaving a nasty third-degree burn. I’ve got the scars to prove it.

Or the time I went into the dining room and told the speaker he had talked long enough and that the dinner I had been trying to keep warm for the last 45 minutes-as he yammered past the scheduled meal time-needed to be served…and served now. It was a farmers’ meeting and those poor guys had been there since early morning.

Being a farm wife, I knew they had all done chores before they had come into town and, as I had peeked from the kitchen door, I swore I saw half of the men in the room finding it hard to keep their heads erect and their eyes open. They needed a break and my green beans needed to be eaten before they got any more wrinkled.

Fortunately, the sponsors of that meal weren’t angry that I stepped in and seized the moment. I’ve made many, many meals for them since that winter’s day so many years ago and from time to time, that story gleefully surfaces when we’re together shooting the breeze.

And that story reminds me of another that happened in that same dining room. This time it was for a group holding a celebratory banquet, quite a dress-up, formal affair.

My crew had gathered in the kitchen for the final prep work as the guests entered the dining area and found their seats at the tables. As soon as the opening-the “welcome, welcome” as we always call it-was over and the blessing had been offered, my wait staff swung open the kitchen door and marched forth to serve the salads and drinks.

Almost immediately one of my best servers was back in the kitchen doubled over with laughter. She finally composed herself long enough to lead me to the direction of the kitchen doorway and discreetly point into the dining hall.

And there, directly positioned in front of the kitchen door, was a man-a husky man-seated with his back to the doorway. He was dressed in a nice pair of slacks and a lovely sweater, but he had a problem. His top and his bottom didn’t overlap. They didn’t even come close to meeting.

Yes, the moon was shining in Kansas that night. And very brightly. I would say it was more than a quarter moon-probably just shy of being a half moon and it illuminated the path of every server coming in and out of the kitchen that evening.

Fortunately, no one but those of us in the kitchen were in a position to notice the gentleman’s dilemma. But we couldn’t help but speculate how he was oblivious to the fact that he had a problem with his pants. Didn’t he feel the breeze as the servers swept past? Wasn’t he cold?

Bless their hearts, the high school girls who helped that night were so flustered in trying to get in and out of the kitchen without getting an eyeful. But of course that just made everyone else laugh harder.

Oh my. Next week, I’ll tell you about the dog and the dessert.

* * *

I came across this recipe for a new twist on potato salad in my Keeping Good Friends cookbook and I thought it would be perfect for this column.

Hope you like it. Kosher salt is a great staple to keep on hand. I love using it with potato dishes.

Midnight Moon Potato Salad

3 lbs. small unpeeled new potatoes (or small red or white potatoes)

2 shallots, chopped

Kosher salt

1 cup sour cream

2/3 cup mayonnaise

3/4 tsp. dried dill weed

3 green onions, chopped

black pepper

Spray a large baking dish with vegetable oil spray. Arrange scrubbed and pierced potatoes in a single layer. Scatter shallots and salt over all and bake at 400 degrees until tender, about 45 minutes. Allow potatoes to cool slightly and then slice and toss with dressing made from the rest of the ingredients. Chill until ready to serve.

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