Wednesday was our first Cafe this fall. The food preparation part is always a bit stressful for me due to all the variables involved; we're never sure of how many people will come to help or what their skill level will be, or how far the donated market vegetables will actually go (or which burner will stop working on our decrepit stoves). And I am such a single-minded person, it's hard for me to interact very much with volunteers when I have so many soup-and-bread-related issues crowding my pea-brain. It always works out in the end; there is (almost) always enough soup and bread and there are always those angels who tell us how good it is. But that comes later - usually when I'm lying prone on the sofa upstairs fanning myself. During the preparation hours themselves, I can get a bit wound up (envision the tightly strung, bossy chef Skinner on Ratatouille), and I often feel guilty that I'm so involved with vegetables that I'm not giving people much attention.
Part of the pressure is related to the strong desire of our community to make the experience of eating here not only healthy and nourishing but also good for the soul. We want it to be relaxing and beautiful, with good music in the background, and warm bread with real butter, plenty of soup made with love and care, and servers who invite you to stay as long as you want and bring you seconds and hot sauce. We want the experience of dining here to off-set just a little of the ugliness of living in poverty and/or on the streets. Creating the desired ambience AND all that food is a bit of a tall order.
But Wednesday I overheard a conversation in the kitchen right before we opened the doors that made me feel we have it under control - if anything is ever under control around here. A volunteer was setting out bowls of boiled peanuts on the tables as an "appetizer" (only in the South) and was asking Kim, community member and de facto Wednesday morning volunteer coordinator, how high to pile the peanuts in each cut-glass serving bowl. Kim replied, "Just until it's beautiful."