So when I went back four weeks later, just before New Year's, I decided to take the Metro North train and two subways to Bay Ridge to check out the kitchen. I'm very slowly learning my way a little bit around the NYC subway system, and there are always friendly natives around to help out a confused visitor. I found St. John's, an Episcopal Church, in the shadow of the Verrazano Narrows bridge, across which sits Sandy-devastated Staten Island.
I guess almost every day the folks in charge of prepping and cooking changes, and on Saturdays it's Jamie Kemmerer and his wife, Elisha (pictured above with their son, Jerome, now six months.) I was put to work in the big social hall, at a round table with several other volunteers. First I was washing and chopping celery, then peeling and cutting winter squash. Half a dozen of my co-workers were young adults from a green training program, like Cyndra Davis (pictured), who came in on their week off from school to help out. Several of them had been flooded out of their homes, so they knew the need. Click here for a story I filed for Workers Independent News, featuring Cyndra, Jamie and others.
Jamie said he likes to cook, but it took awhile to get used to the quantities he's been preparing every Saturday almost since Sandy hit. The trickiest part, he said, was getting the seasoning right, because when you put in "a pinch" of something at home, it's a little unclear how to multiply that by 50 or 100 times.
In the kitchen, Jamie and his sous chefs cooked up a veggie and a ham version of angel hair pasta with white sauce. They brought out a huge plastic storage bin full of pasta (hint: vegetable oil goes a long way toward untangling that many pounds of angel hair), and other vats of peas and carrots and ham, and a big pot of white sauce. We layered a couple dozen half-trays with all the ingredients, and it was amazing that everything was finished off simultaneously. At least it was amazing to us, maybe not to Jamie.
We also put together many trays of Vegetable Gratin, with white potatoes, sweet potatoes, sauteed onions and a mixture of vegetables including cauliflower, butternut squash, broccoli, cheese, some butter and some cream. Oh, yum!
One of the week's volunteers was Coren, who had just arrived on a work visa from New Zealand but who didn't have a job yet. She was "adopted" by Jamie and Elisha and spent Christmas with them. She also helps take care of Jerome, who is one of the most easy-going babies I've met. Also working that day was Dominic, a Swiss transplant to the city, who told me over coffee at a local diner that looked right out of the '50s that he's doing green renovations of buildings.
Near the end of the afternoon, an excited Coren called Jamie over to say we'd just gotten a donation from Kansas -- big bags of fresh veggies and lots of olive oil. It was from the residents of a town that had been destroyed by some natural disaster or another; can't remember if it was a tornado or a flood. A local (NYC) musician and his artist wife had been to the rebuilt town to provide moral and material support, and the townspeople were returning the favor to another devastated town. It really is a small world, getting smaller.