The evening before the holiday luncheon, Tara was home making cookies, herbal teas, punches, and other sweet treats; Marissa was making baked beans and two kinds of mac and cheese; Will was making pulled pork and composing a beautiful salad; Jane was finishing up her five varieties of biscotti; I was home chopping garlic, ginger and lemongrass and making a mess.
The folks at Capital Roots (formerly known as Capital District Community Gardens) put on a series of lunches and breakfasts for themselves in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Culinary talents explode and all sorts of dishes and concoctions are shared. There is old-fashioned comfort food and new-fangled gluten-free fare; free-range this and farm-raised that; home grown and preserved goodness; sweets and savories to satisfy every palate. Each meal seems to outdo the day before and no one leaves the table hungry or dissatisfied. Everyday is a feast and we volunteers get to share in these blowouts when we’re around.
This was my last day of volunteering, my last day on the Veggie Mobile and my bittersweet goodbye to an organization and a group of people I adore. I had offered to make Tom Kha soup. It would be an appropriate farewell gesture before my leaving for Thailand with the Peace Corps. I had made this soup once before at home and thought it was good enough to share with my colleagues here. The recipe wasn’t too difficult and I found it produced a soup that rivaled some of the better Thai restaurants I visited here and in New York City. Tom Kha is a warm, creamy, mildly spiced soup with sautéed aromatics, broth, fish sauce, chicken and mushrooms, coconut milk, lime juice, cilantro and basil. It is not too sweet, not to tart, rich in a variety of flavors and always a pleasure to slurp with friends. It would be a warming treat on a cold winter’s day.
The recipe I use indicates that it makes enough for eight people when served as a first course. I wasn’t sure how to translate that so I would have enough for two dozen people as part of a large buffet. I was aiming for Tom’s huge 4 liter slow cooker and was picturing that everyone would ladle some of the soup into a ceramic mug, nothing fancy. I didn’t know whether to double or triple the recipe, so I kind of split the difference, doubling some quantities and tripling others until the crockpot was filled.
I had been living at Tom’s house for seven months and I was still having trouble maneuvering around his kitchen. I was not used to his knives, his bowls, his pots, his kitchen. I grabbed a cutting board, placed it on the counter next to the sink and began peeling the garlic, then the ginger, and finally trimming the stalks of lemongrass, winnowing away the tough outer leaves. While the oil was heating in the pot on the stove, I finely minced these aromatics. The papery coverings of the garlic and the peel of the ginger were tossed into the sink along with the stems and leaves of the lemongrass. I knew better. I knew the lemongrass shouldn’t be going down the garbage disposal, but I was too lazy to stop. I was concentrating on the soup. While the minced vegetables were being sautéed, I turned on the disposal and watched the stiff stalks of grass whir around the drain, being chopped and sucked down inch by inch.
Thai red curry paste was added to the pot and I flicked the switch on the disposal again. The water wouldn’t drain from the sink and was starting to back up. From stove to sink and back again, I was creating a delicious soup in one and an unholy mess in the other. The soup was simmering; the sink was bubbling; I was stewing. I located the plunger and feverishly applied pressure up and down, administering CPR to the drain. Nothing was happening. No amount of plunging, no amount of whirring was making the water go down. I knew I needed a plumber. After alerting Tom, I called the plumber and arranged a Wednesday morning appointment. I couldn’t miss my last day of volunteering, not with a gallon of soup at the ready. I made sure Tom would be home.
Tara, Marissa, Will, Jane and I received a hardy round of applause for our culinary efforts, but shortly after lunch Tom texted me the plumber’s bill. The lemongrass was the culprit as suspected. I would have preferred to have donated the money to the folks at Capital Roots, in addition to the soup, the $600 soup.