food – noun | \ˈfüd\
: the things that people and animals eat
: a particular kind of food
: substances taken in by plants and used for growth
By the time I was peeling a dozen peaches with juice running down my arms, I already had the baked beans baking and the roasted potatoes roasting. A pan full of brussel sprouts, zucchini, and onions had been drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and was waiting its turn in the oven.
I was doing my normal kitchen hack, taking one or more recipes, combining, substituting, and creating something new. This time, I was using a peach crumble recipe plus another one that calls for blueberries. I substituted all the sugar with maple syrup or honey, using vegan butter and gluten free flour. My own food preferences have taught me to be creative in the kitchen, but this time I was thinking of others, too. Among the guests at the table that night—colleagues and friends from across the country—there would be vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians, and a respectable number of omnivores. My goal: everyone should be able to eat everything and enjoy it.
Once the fruit crisp was baking, I sliced tomatoes and cucumbers and chopped fresh basil and rosemary from the garden. We were a party of ten, so I decided paper products were in order, especially since I wasn’t sure we had ten good plates to eat off of. And soon enough, two tables were set, including a card table and folding chairs on the screened-in porch, and a pitcher of water was prepared. No amount of entertaining over the years has ever trained me to remember to provide a selection of beverages. I didn’t even have ice to offer.
When the guests did arrive—all in one car for the 50-minute drive—I made a last minute decision to heat up some popcorn chicken from the freezer to round out the menu for the meat-eaters among us. And while I finished up in the kitchen, arranging all of the dishes buffet style, my guests snacked on hummus and veggies.
I had worked for two and a half hours on this dinner, elaborate only for its many options not its complication. This is all stuff we normally eat, I explained to guests. Just maybe not so much of it all at once. I was trying to strike that balance between wanting them to feel expected and welcomed, but not expected of. This was just a meal. At our home. It was a gift freely offered, not a favor we wanted returned.
Somehow, food seems to communicate this more than other offerings. Gifts with ribbons and bows and literal strings attached seem more likely to be reciprocated. Invitations to events evoke conversations about repayment. Even food eaten in restaurants creates obligation and awkward responses to “is this all on one check?” But food set before others at home or even at the picnic I provided for these same guests the next day, this food is just to be shared not returned or repaid. That’s how I wanted it.
We had our restaurant moments, too, during the two-day visit. I had talked to two chef owners in the span of a week to make sure my friends would be suitably served and promptly accommodated. Our group joked about the four phone calls I had with one particular restaurateur when my reservation for nine was confirmed and reconfirmed and then confirmed again to be sure the time and the table arrangement was just right. These men knew the importance of talking business and doing life over the table. I suspect that’s why they are in the restaurant business.
Ironically, after two days of entertaining guests and considering every detail, last night when my oldest step-son came home and asked what’s for dinner, I said, “Not sure. Still working on it.”
A few minutes later, I said, “Fish, I think we’ll have fish.”
When I finally got the meal prepared an hour later than I had planned, I asked him if he wanted ketchup or barbecue sauce for his chicken.
“Chicken?” he said, “I thought we were having fish.”
“Oh yeah, I changed it,” I told him. “We didn’t have enough fish for everyone.”
So we ate unexpected chicken and stiff mashed potatoes and corn and peas from the freezer. And like all the food I had worried over for the two days before, this was just a meal. At our home. A gift freely offered.
In case you’re interested, here’s a gift for you: my recipe for Peach Blueberry Crisp.
Peach Blueberry Crisp (Charity’s food hack version)
For the Filling:
3 cups peach slices
3 cups blueberries
1/4 cup Stevia
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
For the Crusty Topping:
3/4 cup old-fashioned oats
1/4 cup gluten free flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup Earth Balance, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup pecans/walnuts (whichever you prefer, or use both as I did)
Preheat oven to 375. Grease a large casserole dish. In a large bowl, toss the peach filling ingredients together until evenly combined.
For the crusty topping, place all ingredients into a bowl and mix together with a fork until crumble/doughy. Drop on top of fruit.
Bake for 30-35 minutes or until topping is browned and peaches are soft.
Serve with ice cream (I like So’s Coconut Milk ice cream with no sugar added).
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