“Like most of us, Stephen Henderson felt guilty about eating well in a hungry world. Unlike most of us, he did something about it. This fascinating tale is incredibly inspiring. Wondering what you can do? Reading this book would be a good place to start.”
“A graceful, well-balanced, and enlightening work. An inspiring philanthropic account that deftly displays the author’s affability, knowledge, and passion.”
On his journeys which became The 24-Hour Soup Kitchen, author Stephen Henderson often imagined himself accompanied by the 19th century chef, Alexis Soyer. Born in 1810 into humble circumstances in Meaux-en-Brie, France, Soyer rose to become the most famous chef in Victorian England. A true bon-vivant, Soyer was an excellent singer, mimic, raconteur, and a prolific inventor of labor-saving devices for the kitchen. He also essentially invented the “soup kitchen,” or a highly-efficient way of feeding masses of poor people, when he went to cook in Ireland in 1847, after the country was devastated by the great potato famine.
I need to be flexible in my menu planning, as it’s always something of a surprise what donated food is available (or not) to cook with at the Salvation Army soup kitchen in Hudson. Today, there was a quantity of “Vegetable Kabob Kits,” countless bags of desiccated baby carrots, sliced apple and grape “snacking trays” — complete with a vile caramel dip— and many pieces of half-dead pitahaya (dragon fruit), each one still affixed with a $5.99 price tag. Hmmm. What would YOU have made of all this? I ended up preparing a pasta primavera, after I suddenly recalled a tip, cadged from Mario Batali, who taught me that a few lemons (skin, pith, seeds — the whole shebang), pureed in a Cuisinart with a bunch of garlic and olive oil, is an excellent way to begin a zesty sauce. Fruit salad and a bagel with a schmear (!) completed the meal.
Call them Ismail’s. I’m referring to the red lentils, or dal, I made for lunch today at the Salvation Army soup kitchen in Hudson. The recipe I used is from Ismail Merchant’s cookbook entitled, Passionate Meals: The New Indian Cuisine for Fearless Cooks and Adventurous Eaters. I’ve cooked it so often, and it’s simple enough — red lentils, onion, garlic, halved lemons, and cinnamon sticks — that I’ve set it to memory. Merchant, a producer who collaborated with his life and business partner, director James Ivory, to make 44 films (among them such classics as “Howard’s End,” “Maurice,” and “A Room with a View”), was known to cook enormous quantities of Indian food for the delighted cast and crew on their movies. Merchant died in 2005, but I like to think he’d be pleased to know some of his “passionate meals” are still finding their way into hungry stomachs.
It’s probably safe to guess these rainbow bagels were some baker’s way of cashing in on Gay Pride month in June. Which presents me with an existential conundrum. Specifically, is my orientation more queer or Scottish? I know I’m enough of a homosexual that when I saw these swirling horrors yesterday in a box of donations at the Salvation Army soup kitchen, I immediately camped it up, proclaiming them “so bad, they’re good,” and asked Darcy, the kitchen’s director, if I could please take them home to surprise James. (After a knowing chuckle or two, I imagined I’d toss them out.) Ah, but then there was lunch today. About to prepare a couple turkey sandwichs for us on an excellent wheat bread I’d bought at a farmer’s market, I spotted the bagels. They were stale, but edible and, in fact, I had quite literally taken them away from a needy poor person, simply to amuse my husband. With this realization, my Scottish thrift kicked in. You see, my paternal grandfather grew up, poorer than poor, in a tiny town called Moulin in Scotland’s Highlands. And, my own Dad liked to mock his children’s petty complaints with a withering threat of “I hope you never know hunger.” So, if I’m going to be both a gay man, and a wearer of the Henderson tartan, there’s a color-saturated sandwich in my future. I guess I’m proud of that.
When corn is overly abundant in Louisiana, chefs will often stir up a big pot of maque choux (that’s pronounced “mock shoe”). Hudson, New York is pretty far from New Orleans, I’ll admit. However, when I discovered a whole mess of frozen corn kernels that were already defrosted and about to go to waste at the Salvation Army soup kitchen, I decided to riff on Cajun cuisine for today’s lunch. A true maque choux recipe typically sautés corn in a mixture of bacon, bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, and garlic. But, because a local farmer had donated a big box of garlic scapes, and I am experimenting with meatless meals on “VegeTuesdays,” I left out the bacon, and substituted scapes. The result — would you call it a Mock Maque Choux, or a Maque Choux manqué? — was pretty yummy if I say so myself.
If you’re of a certain age, any viscous green substance (guacamole, say, or split pea soup) will probably make you think of an infamous scene in “The Exorcist” where a young girl vomits with projectile force. I have a further verdant association, as in 1998, when I was still a P.R. consultant with Radio City Entertainment, it was the 25th anniversary of this movie’s original release, and a celebratory screening was arranged at the Music Hall. As a surprise guest that evening, Ellen Burstyn, the actress who played the girl’s mother, agreed to appear. I was assigned to be her escort, and fretfully sat with her in the green room (!) for a few minutes before she went onstage. My nerves were jumpy because in my hand was a grocery sack containing a black Sharpie and half a dozen cans of Campbell’s split pea soup on which I’d been ordered to get Burstyn’s autograph. The plan was to give these away to a few fans out in the audience. I dreaded asking for this favor, as it seemed something of an insult. Burstyn is, after all, an Academy Award winner, and has starred in many excellent films besides “The Exorcist.” But, I did my job, and made the request. The look she gave in response — it wasn’t one of anger or hostility, more a grimace of humiliation — haunts me still. I thought of it yet again, and still felt regretful, as I made roasted cauliflower with a green pea chutney for today’s “VegeTuesday” lunch at the Salvation Army soup kitchen in Hudson. Sorry, Ellen! I don’t know what possessed me.
Necessity is the mother of … vegetarian entrees? Yesterday, I went to the Salvation Army soup kitchen in Hudson, to scour the walk-in refrigerator and see what food donations I would have to cook with at lunch today. What I discovered was a lot of overripe tomatoes and an astonishing quantity of eggs — maybe 40 dozen. What the cluck? My first thought was to make an Israeli shakshuka, but then I worried this might be fussy to serve. So, I devised a South Indian egg curry, where I hard-boiled the eggs ahead of time. Easy peasy. My goal for the future is to keep experimenting with meatless menus, which has caused me to mentally dub this luncheon as “Vegetuesday.” (Oh. And here’s a news flash on the cookie front. I gave a last minute tweak to the classic Tollhouse recipe, by using half whole wheat flour/half white flour, and added a cup of coconut along with the walnuts and chocolate chips. Yummy!)