Monday, February 9, 2009

Tracy... & the camp's kitchen

There are two kinds of soup cook-helpers in nickelsville:  an occasional  kitchen director who takes over the entire operation (i met at least two trained chefs at the camp, and a few others who had some restaurant experience), and regular cook helpers, who just come along to help anyway they can - they usually ask for clear directions, chop and cut as told,  and leave the business of  soup turning into something edible to me.  

Tracy is the second type.  i often see her sitting by the fire, always cheerful with a ready smile for everyone, so one day when she wasn't busy she  volunteered to come along.  We first checked 'the kitchen' - a big tent at the edge of the camp, covered on three sides and open entrance.  the newest donations, especially vegetables, are usually there, either on two long side-tables or neatly packed in crates underneath.  vegetables are rather rarely  donated, perhaps because they are perishable, but we were lucky that day:  found some carrots, onions, a few sweet potatoes, even a lonely eggplant and a pepper or two.  

after Tracy and i packed all that into a shopping bag, we found 'food manager' - a person responsible for the smaller closed tent next to the kitchen, where the other foodstuff is  kept.  i believe that only the food manager can go into that  tent, because i used to be asked what's needed  and the food manager fished it out, if the tent had it.  

nowadays i'm such a regular fixture, that i'm often allowed to dive into that tent myself to find what could be soup-worthy.  it's  easy task though, because the tent has crates  with things divided by category:  noodles here, cans here, rice there, potato sac here, and bunch of cat food in the corner.   it must take sorting it everyday to keep such a good order!

now  Tracy and i started to look for a big soup pot.  we didn't need it for cooking, as we use the  pot in the church, but around that time i was trying to hold on to the soup bucket, so i insisted that the cooked soup goes into nickelsville's pot and the bucket goes back  home with me; i no longer do that,  as it finally clicked with most of the people that the bucket gets regular use for soup, and someone said to me:  'makes total sense - we give you the empty bucket and you bring it back full of soup...'  nowadays the bucket usually materializes the moment i show up at the entrance gate; it probably also helped that at some point i took a sharpie and wrote on all sides of the bucket 'nickelsville, SOUP', and that i tied the the top to the bottom with a heavy rope:). 

the big pot was not clean when we found it, it had a residue of previous something, so i was looking for a volunteer to clean it while we are away in the church.  i can't remember if it was Darren who did it that day, only that  someone took the pot behind the kitchen tent, where all the washing and scrubbing usually gets done - an outdoor washroom of sorts, with cold water from a hose.

it's a good place to mention the main kitchen fixture in nickelsville:  a big coal barbecue grill next to the small tent that holds the foodstuff.  it seem to be perpetually on during these winter days, but maybe it gets shut for the night, or when the fuel ends - fuel seem always close to the top of the list of 'things needed' written on the big bulletin board by the entrance gate, along with the blankets and flashlights and sometimes food.

the grill is outdoor, off course, and has no cover above it.  i often see people making hamburgers and hotdogs there or occasionally cooking soup.  or just congregating around, because it's warm there.  there is another source of warmth, also close to the kitchen tent: an open fire pit of sorts, but i do not believe it's used for cooking - i  see people sitting around it on the chairs, soda or coffee in hand,  chatting and socializing like in a living room by the fireplace.

Tracy was very mindful soup-cook helper.  she cleaned and chopped veggies, and was very much  into the idea that we should waste nothing;  cut off the bad parts of sweet potatoes all right, but instead of peeling them just scrub them well. she was no stranger to utilizing every little bit of everything - i kept thinking i wished she was cooking with me the day i asked one of the 'soup director' types to chop cauliflower leaves along with the florets - the horror!   who eats cauliflower leaves!  i'm sure the explanation that it's actually one of the healthiest parts of the plant would not fall on the deaf ear with Tracy.

she kept asking detailed questions about the shape and size of the pieces she was about to cut,to make them just right  and on the end, when i asked her to taste the soup for final seasoning, she fell in love with the sweet/hot banana sauce, which somehow ended up in our bag of possible soup ingredients.  she kept adding more and more of it, until i joked she should keep the rest of the bottle for herself.

while we cooked Tracy talked about how her faith sustains her and keeps her going.  and how before that, she was alone on the streets, with no help or direction whatsoever and many troubles.   i asked if she is able to share her religious beliefs with other residents.  she had an interesting answer which she delivered with her usual gentle smile:  'no, i'm told to keep it to myself, so i do not share that.  but that's all right.  it keeps ME going'... 

today the snow was falling on nickelsville's  tents in the evening when i delivered tomato-pasta soup.  snow again!  i found out the camp is moving march 5th, but they do not know where to,  yet.  what they  do know it is that it'll  be moving out of university district, as seattle chamber of commerce apparently pressures them to do.

the snow is still falling down hard 4 hours later, as i write this, thinking about my friends and neighbors in nickelsville. a week ago or so i emailed Natalie, over at 'real change news', that i'm probably about done with cooking soups, as the winter is over in seattle. now i think i'll stick with  it till nickelsville moves away.  i'll skip thursdays, as some other projects came up, but will keep coming mondays:  cooking soups is fun, and  only so little time left to document nickelsville's  u-district period.  hopefully Nova will keep coming, too.

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