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Mommy Blogger—Dinner Gone Wrong

By Katie Burke

Published online: Sep 11, 2023 Articles
Viewed 521 time(s)

You would think that after cooking dinner at the City of Refuge once a month for over 5 years, I would have a system. As it turns out, I do not. I can still show up and screw up dinner for 100 people with no problem.

When I first started volunteechefing at the City of Refuge, it was a family affair. Now I have two teenagers who have full lives and I end up cooking by myself which is a huge chore considering I can barely pull out a meal for three of us on the regular. But, on the last Saturday of the month, I roll in to the City of Refuge on Park St. around 4 o’clock with my only strategy being that God’s going to show up with a fish-and-loaves kind of miracle. It usually pans out.

Except when it doesn’t.

Last month, it didn’t. I pulled in, washed my hands, reluctantly put on a hair net that’s never going to be my vibe and surveyed the donated supplies. Given that ground beef and instant mashed potatoes seemed in adequate quantities, I thought I could pull off a Shepherd’s Pie.

Even though I had never made one before.

When I was growing up, my mother was an amazing cook and she handled all the food. She lovingly prepared a full meal every single night. I use this as the main excuse why I have no idea how instant mashed potatoes work. But Shepherd’s Pie seemed doable for someone at my culinary level.

It wasn’t.

In the beginning, everything went good with browning 15 lbs of hamburger, which instilled a false sense of security in my simple mind. I could do this. I even managed to boil the approximate amount of water I assumed I needed for the potatoes. I poured the potato flakes in and stood back, ready to watch the magic happen.

Except nothing did.

Well, kind of. It seemed to maybe clump up but it was very gritty and hard. I thought time would be my friend, so I went back to debating whether green beans or corn went into Shepherd’s Pie. Being that I didn’t know, I decided to just mix both vegetables to make sure I had enough food. Once, I had run out of the main course midmeal while serving and there’s not a more terrible feeling. But after I finished the vegetable concoction, I turned my mind back to the potatoes.

It turned out, time had not helped.

These potatoes looked so off that I had no idea what went wrong. So I turned to the directions which I hadn’t actually read because I assumed it was self-explanatory. Did you know there are some forms of instant potatoes that require water AND milk AND butter? Yeah, me either. But considering I had only added the flakes to pure water, I assumed the milk and butter were necessary components. Even though they had been sitting for 15 minutes or so, I thought I still had time to add milk.

In retrospect, I don’t know that to be a good idea. But then, I was operating on full confidence. Adding milk and butter to solid instant potatoes made everything a little-less better. It softened the mixture to soup level and by now, I was expected to serve 100 people dinner in less than 15 minutes.

I was stuck.

I committed. I thought what sounds better than Shepherd’s Pie? Shepherds soup! Since the layers weren’t holding, I just decided to mix it all. Hamburger, potato mixture and vegetable medley. It looked pretty much how it sounds.

Not good.

When I had arrived earlier, they told me a local bakery had donated a sheet cake and they placed it in the freezer. Local donations are so critical to the mission that the companies who donate food to the City of Refuge are permanently endured to my heart. I had pulled this cake out of the freezer and let it thaw as I navigated the rough water of Shepherd’s Pie. When it was time to serve dinner, I opened the cake box, so thankful that at least there was a great dessert to distract from my self-inflicted fiasco. I soon saw that the cake must have been donated because it was an accident on some level. The entire full sheet cake was covered in black frosting.

And when it started to thaw, the black food color started to spread. So for those of you keeping score, I was about to single-handedly serve 100 people some kind of weird soup mixture with a side of black cake. I can’t even describe how terrible all of this looked. And, yet, not one person complained. The men and women who came through the line took the food and thanked me for my time. I actually wished they had been a little mean to me as social feedback is my best teacher.

Instead, they taught me compassion and grace in a situation where I probably didn’t deserve it.


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