105. Taco Bar for 120

Do you do this too?

You know, stick up your hand habitually, when something needs to get done?

Something you care about, passionately?

Like, one of your kids decides to get married? At a campground?

And, you are smitten with the opportunity to get right in there and help make it happen?

I know my limits. And I know, from experience, some ways I can effectively help. Two years ago, our son got married, and I stuck up my hand: “I can cater this wedding!” said I. And, along with some amazingly helpful people, I did.wedding buffet

This month, our daughter got married. I stuck up my hand. “I can do this!” Most of the “Ten Habits for a Green Wedding” from our son’s wedding were repeated, including everyone had their BYOC(up) and we used returnable kegs of beer and cider.

Rather than renting the dishes and cloth napkins this time, we used 120 mis-matched plates and cutlery provided with hall rental, as well as miscellaneous tablecloths – mostly dropcloths from our son’s wedding – and cloth napkins. Can you believe I own 95 cloth napkins, all by myself? And I have dear friends to lend me 25 more cloth napkins, as well as huge pots, chafing dishes, more cutlery, and stainless steel serving bowls.linens ready for wedding dinner

I LOVE the eclectic look – so funky. In fact, I’m thinking of using mis-matched dishes and linens on our own tablescapes.

table setting

Fortunately, this time the hall where we did the food prep had a great compost bin (unlike our son’s wedding where we had to discard the compostables.) The table decorations came from the forest surrounding the hall, and returned there after the festivities.

There was little traditional about the ceremony or the party afterwards. A posse of friends baked sweets for dessert. The bride and groom wore purple and white. About 80 guests rode their bikes onto the ferry and over to the campground. Any residual headaches the next morning were banished by a nude group swim in the ocean by 50 of the guests (all young!)

The bride and groom decided on a big ol’ taco bar for their celebration dinner. We brainstormed what foods we might include in a taco bar. We considered food sensitivities (gluten/nuts/dairy, for example) and came up with this menu that would suit meat lovers, vegetarians and vegans, who select their own fillings and toppings from the taco bar:

Taco Table Menu

(100% nut-free, gluten in wheat tortillas only)

Tortilla chips (12 large bags)/ Salsa (6 quarts)

Corn Tortillas (180 6″)

Wheat Tortillas (180 6″)

Hard Tacos (48)

Fillings:

Pulled Pork with  BBQ Sauce (27 lbs pork shoulder)

Ground Beef (see recipe – 15 lbs beef)

BBQ Garlic Margarita Chicken (15 lbs chicken breast, shredded)

Tuna and Salmon (10 lbs total, breaded and fried and see recipe)

Fried Tofu (2 lbs), Chopped hard-cooked eggs (2 dozen)

Refried Beans (84 oz – 6 cans)

Chopped Tomatoes (5 lbs) / Caramelized Onion (26 lbs onions)

Shredded Lettuce (2 heads iceberg) / Shredded Spinach (4 large bags)

Olives (1 quart sliced) / Jalapenos (1 quart sliced) / Mushrooms (7 lbs, sliced & sauteed)

Sweet Peppers (12, chopped)/Red Cabbage (1 small head, shredded)

Shredded Jack & Cheddar Cheese (10 lbs total, grated)

Smashed Yams (6 with cumin and curry)

Sides:

Spanish Rice (see recipe)

Bean & Corn Salad (see recipe)

Toppings:

Salsa

Sour Cream (2 quarts)

Guacamole (see recipe)

Cilantro (medium bowl, chopped)

Green Onions (6 bunches chopped) & Red Onions (2 chopped)

Lime Wedges (12, cut into quarters)

Mole Sauce (see recipe)

Pumpkin Seeds (1 lb)

Beverages:

Tea, Herbal Tea, Coffee

Sparkling Water (10 bottles) Lemonade (see recipe)

Almost all of the greens and herbs came from my garden.

We had a revolving door of fantastic kitchen crew members, many of whom had restaurant experience. In fact, I can honestly say I barely had to lift a finger – I just barked orders: “Here’s your list of food to buy.”, “This is the recipe. Can you make it happen?” “You’re in charge of all the drinks, okay?” “Can you chop 36 peppers (36 avocados, 30 pounds of onions, etc……?)” “These 48 lemons or 8 jalapenos need to be juiced/chopped. Oh, do you have scratches on your hands? Sorry about that!”kitchen crew

Some food was prepped in advance, such as Theo’s pulled pork (12 hours in the smoker!)pulled pork

We scheduled about 3 hours of food shopping and fourteen hours of prep, and I’m proud to say that the dinner was on the table at exactly the scheduled 7 pm.

Even though I’ve catered several other large events and am a Home Economics teacher, I still lack confidence about appropriate quantities. In case anyone wants some guidelines for your own event, I include some recipes below and quantities above. I have adjusted them after the fact to reflect our event’s actual requirements. Keep in mind that most of the guests were hard-working, fit young bicycle riders with great appetites. There were even a few competitive athletes. My goal for quantities, if I’ve planned it right: there will be enough of everything with a modest quantity left over.

We shopped in the big city before heading over to the island, and left the fresh produce and dairy for last minute shopping locally.

It was a challenge to get everything and everybody into and onto the truck, in the rain.

packing the cooler

But, “we” did it!

I made a diagram of where each food item on the taco bar would be located, repeating the same foods on each side of the table for flow.
taco table map

Here are some recipes, to serve 120:

Spanish Rice: 1. In a 20 quart pot with a tight-fitting lid, simmer 9 cups brown rice in 20 cups vegetable stock until water is absorbed, about 30 minutes (keep an eye on it!) 2. In a heavy casserole, heat 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil. 3. Add 4 chopped onions, 1/4 cup fresh garlic, 4 chopped green and 4 chopped sweet red peppers, 6 minced fresh jalapeno peppers, 3 Tbsp. cumin powder and 1 Tbsp sea salt. Saute until onions are translucent. 4.Mix saute with cooked rice and 28 oz tomato paste. 5. Heat through and garnish with 2 bunches of sliced green onions. Serve with sour cream.

Guacamole: Mix all these together: 30 just-ripe avocados, mashed with a potato masher. (Our avocados, purchased 3 days before the wedding, were quite firm. We put them into a brown paper bag with ripe bananas, on the counter. I think it worked.) Juice from 10 juicy limes. 2 red onions, minced. 3/4 cup of minced garlic. 3 Tbsp. ground cumin. 8 chopped tomatoes. 1 Tbsp sea salt. 1 tsp. ground black pepper. 1 Tbsp. cayenne or 3 Tbsp. hot sauce. Cover and refrigerate until serving.

Lemonade Concentrate: juice 3 dozen lemons (enough to almost fill a 2-litre pop bottle), and mix it with 2 cups of warm honey. Infuse 1 cup of boiling water with a handful of fresh mint leaves for about 1/2 hour, and mix all together. Add 5 cups water to 1 cup of the concentrate for lemonade. Add ice if desired, to serve.

Bean and Corn Salad: For dressing: Mix together 1 cup lime juice, 1 cup olive oil, 2 Tbsp. minced garlic, 1.5 salt, and 1 tsp. ground cayenne powder. For salad: In a large bowl, mix 2 19-oz cans black beans, rinsed and drained, a 2 lb bag of frozen corn, 2 chopped avocado, 2 chopped red peppers, 4 chopped tomatoes, and 1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced.

Mole Sauce: 1. In 3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, saute 4 chopped onions, 2 Tbsp crushed garlic, 1 tsp ground cumin and 1 tsp ground cinnamon. 2. Add 2 tsp coarse salt, 4 cans whole tomatoes, 4 large chipotle chile in adobo sauce, 2 cups raisins, and 12 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped. Simmer to blend flavours. 3. Blend sauce to a smooth consistency. 4. Serve at room temperature with cilantro on the side.

Marinated Fish: 1. Put 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced, into a bowl, and cover with red wine vinegar. Set aside for 30 minutes to several weeks in the fridge. 2. Mix 1/4 cup olive oil, 1.5 tsp ancho chile powder, 1tsp ground cumin, and 1 chopped jalapeno. Pour over 5 lbs fish, cut into strips, and marinate for 20 minutes. 3. Put fish into a pan, top with onion mixture, and bake in a 350˚ oven for 20 minutes.

Ground Beef: In a large wide pot, scramble-fry the ground beef until cooked. Drain the fat. Chop 10 large onions and saute until translucent. Add to the beef, along with 28 oz tomato paste, 1 cup mild chili powder, 1/2 cup ground cumin, 1 Tbsp salt, and 1 Tbsp black pepper. Heat and stir mixture for 10 minutes to blend flavours.

One tip I have for storing the prepared food in the fridge for reheating just before serving: Use extra large ziploc bags – you can store so much more food if you have limited fridge space.

Our last minute crew was a well-oiled machine – everyone did their job: reheating food, lighting the fuel under the chafing dishes, making coffee and tea, setting up drinks, putting all the foods into serving bowls, cleaning dishes, and clearing surfaces. That hour flew by in about 3 minutes, and we were suddenly ready. A shout-out to my helpers – about a dozen of them made it happen. So grateful.

And, as a total non sequitur to this post about food, my toenails matched my polka-dot dress. 

What the heck – it made me happy.

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104. Beekeeping

D has long talked of keeping bees.

I’m trying to encourage him to retire, yet I’m slightly trepidatious about it. Will I need to entertain him all the time? Or, will he develop/revisit some of his own hobbies and social circles?

To that end, I bought him a starter beehive kit for his birthday. Except, it was a little hard to conceal. When I brought it home, I was all in a tizzy. I had just returned from a couple of days in the city, and had to get the house ready and food shopping done for weekend company. Our nephew carried the kit into my studio, where I thought it would be safe from D’s observation, but when he came home a couple of hours later, he gave our great-nephew a tour of the yard, AND studio, so the surprise was ruined.

He is keen, though, and has read some books, taken a beginner bee-keeping course, talked to our friend who is a beekeeper, and ordered a “nuc” (for “nucleus”), which is a small starter bee colony centered on a queen (of course!.)  “Small” is a relative term; in this case it means 20,000 bees as a full, functioning hive has about 50,000 bees.  In fact, the hive will spend most of the summer growing and will not, as a result, produce much excess honey.  It will need most of its honey for the winter.

The race was on – he needed to build a bee deck to house his first and future hives.

In true Green Life spirit, I noticed a deck demolition going on in our neighbourhood, and thought the lumber being discarded looked re-usable. D picked up a truckload of it, then spent a full day removing nails. What a green hero in Carhartts!carhartt guy reclaiming lumberHe first needed to locate the deck in the yard. An open location that has southern exposure and gets sun almost all day (but has occasional shade) is best, as bees need warmth in the winter and especially in the morning. Even I have noticed that the bees only leave their hives in nice weather.

D built a substantial deck. He never does things by halves. I envisioned insubstantial rebar posts to hold the requisite electric fence. I say requisite, because we have black bears in our neighbourhood, and if you read Winnie The Pooh, you will know that bears LOOOOOVE honey (Bee Fact: it’s actually the embryonic bees – like grubs – that they like.  The honey is their dessert).

But, did I tell you D favours substantial? His bee deck, how can I say this, did not exactly blend in with the environment. I painted it the same green as the house (Behr’s Ponderosa.)  Bee books advise to shoot for “inconspicuous”, just in case neighbours (who are very rarely, if ever, bothered by nearby hives) are nervous.That helps.

D built a stand to perch his hive on, and installed the electric fence. It has about 6,000 volts but fear not; extremely low amperage – touch it and you’ll definitely feel it, but will be unharmed.From our garden shed, I requisitioned a ceramic green plant tray, and filled it with beach glass for the bees to stand on while they’re drinking, so they won’t drown.

Now, we’re ready for our new tenants.

D and his friend went to the city to pick up their nucs of Carniolan bees. Because the bees are coming to a restricted zone, where all bee hives are registered, the breeder has the nuc inspected for hive beetles before they leave her bee yard. The bee breeder simply transfers her 5 frames into the centre of their new hive, making sure that the queen is present.nuc transfer

Then, with all the openings sealed with tape and screen, so the bees don’t wander off while they’re being moved to their new homes, the new hives were put into the bed of our truck, strapped down securely, and covered with a damp drop cloth. D moved his nuc to the bee deck, and smoked the hive to calm the bees down before he released them to do their important work in our yard and all the yards of our neighbourhood. In the photo below, he is adding the food trough; he mixed about 2 litres of 1:1 water:sugar syrup as a starter.  Most bees don’t need to be fed at this time of year, but ours will need a couple of days to get oriented and find their flowers.

The bees lounged around for a few minutes, and then they started exploring. It was exciting!

So much to learn from and about these creatures. Welcome home, bees.

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103. Live-edge Slab Bed Construction

This I cannot claim responsibility for (well, I do have some responsibility for giving birth to the person):

But, Tess, the genius behind the bed, has given me permission to share her bed-making process.

And, she did use our tools and reuse some of our collected materials, so I guess you could say we had a small, small hand in it. She used wood and tools that have personal memories and meaning wound through them.bed-labelled copy

At the Christmas holiday, Tess and her partner picked up some well-cured maple slabs at a local supplier, Steve Willgoose Woodworking

Here they are after a bit of cleaning up – debarking, digging out soft areas, some sanding.

Tess’s first order of design was to size and position her bowties. They stabilize the major cracks.

She cut them, mostly on the bandsaw, out of shim wood scavenged from the beach on Haida Gwaii, where she was fortunate to spend a university semester.

Using a drill and Grandpa’s chisels, T routed out the bowtie shapes. When one of the bowties was too small for its setting, she had just enough of the wood left to make another one. Next step was applying copious amounts of wood glue – those little suckers will stay there – and pounding them in with a wood block.

She sanded them down to flush, and sanded the whole slabs to a beautiful smooth surface that we can’t stop stroking. Between the first and second sandings, she raised the grain and the wood fibre with a water-soaked rag, and then let it dry. That made a much smoother surface possible.

T filled the long teardrop-shaped hole with stones collected from Ucluelet and Iceland. She taped them in place from the front with a combination of duct tape and painter’s tape, then turned the slab over to fill the hole with 2-part clear epoxy. A sheet of plastic covered the work table. When she poured in the epoxy, it looked pretty good, but soon we could see that the dam had burst (or should I say “Damn! Burst!”) and the epoxy was leaking out as fast as water. It covered the plastic, and spread onto the front surface of the maple, even started dripping onto the floor.

This turned out to be the most frustrating lesson learned, and she just had to let it cure for a while until it was hard enough to clean up. You don’t want the epoxy all over your hands and clothing – it’s impossible to clean, even with paint thinner. She mopped up with rags as best she could, and then faced the problem again after a sleep.

Once it was firm enough to sand, T sanded the epoxy and the imbedded (NPI – no pun intended) tape off the surface of the wood and stones She had to resort to digging some of it out with sharp instruments, like my 1/2″ belt sander.

I think Tess consulted her brother, who has considerably more experience working with epoxy and wood slabs. He tapes off the hole, then clamps wood tightly against the tape so the epoxy has nowhere to leak. The second pouring of epoxy went better. Here’s a view of it from the back of the headboard, so you can see the light shining through:

She shaped and sanded the elegant bedposts – the headboard posts from a 4 x 4 clear cedar post, and the footboard posts from a beautiful salvaged fir porch post of her grandfather’s.

Using hardwood dowels and glue, T attached the head/footboards to the posts. I didn’t take photos of this step.

The bed rails are made from purchased S4S fir 2x8s with a 1×2 slat ledge screwed to the inside edge. The rails are attached to the posts with hardware from Lee Valley Tools. Here, the assembly crew is checking the bed for square:measure bed for square

The fir slats I salvaged from a former film studio warehouse have hardened with age – they may be 50 years old or more. Tess was commanded to lie down on them to make sure they’re strong enough, but I knew they were, because we used the same ones in our pull-out wall bed in the studio.live edge maple bed

I will transport the bed components to the city, where T will apply the finish and will update with another photo of this beautiful/meaningful project.

I learned so much from watching Tess work. This chronicle leaves out much of the design process and constant figuring and measuring. I am full of admiration for Tess’s skills, and I know she has learned a whole whack of new ones.

 

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102. Easter Egg Dyes From the Garden

Years ago, we took the kids on an RV road trip at Easter. Before we left, I planted four plastic veggie packs with grass seed, so that there would be grass for the Easter Bunny to deposit eggs and other goodies into on Easter morning. We have always had real eggs for the outdoor Easter egg hunts. I still get angry when l remember the one horrible Easter morning that spruce budworm pesticides were sprayed over the whole region – our area was sprayed at 5 a.m. But that anger is balanced by the amusement I felt when the eggs were hidden in 30 inches of snow one year. Where did the Easter Bunny find stashing places in snow? I bet some of them weren’t found until the spring thaw.

We love to colour Easter eggs with plant dyes from the garden – such a fun craft to do with children. The time-honoured dye has got to be onion skins, but there are several other lovely, sometimes subtle dyes to be obtained by taking a walk in the garden or forest.

Because I grow a dye garden for my fibre art, I even have the luxury of having real dye plants like madder and dyer’s camomile. In the fall I harvest and dry these dyestuffs.

I pack them around the white or brown eggs, and wrap with netting and elastics or string.

I place them into water and boil until the eggs are hard-cooked.

Lift out with a spoon and plunge into ice water – helps prevent the grey colour around the yolk.

Then, we get to unwrap them.

dyeing easter eggs collage

Aren’t they a delightful surprise?

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101. How To Make a Bee Cake

Our friend, a beekeeper, had his 16th birthday on February 29. We thought this rare occasion, occurring once every 4 years, deserved celebration. His bees, by the thousands, pollinate our plants here at This Green House.

Without any real plan, I said I would make a bee cake. Here’s how it went down:

  1. I baked 3 round cakes, an 8″ gluten-free chocolate quinoa cake, and a 4″ and 8″ sunshine carrot cake, chosen for its golden colour.
  2. Cut the two 8″ cakes in equal quarters, and cut the points off:
  3. Using chocolate icing to stick them together, line up dark-light-dark-light cake pieces on the serving platter. Prop up the 4″ head cake with some off-cuts.
  4. Using chocolate off-cuts, add a stinger at the tail end. Ice the head and underside with chocolate icing. Add eyes and wings (recipe below.)
  5. To make wings: Grease an aluminum foil mould, shaped into wing shapes (two about 9″ long, and two about 5″ long.) Mix 1 3/4 cups white sugar, 1/2 cup water, and 3/4 cup light corn syrup in a heavy pot. Heat on high, stirring constantly, until it boils. Continue to let it boil until it reaches 310˚ F, then remove from stove. Immediately pour into the moulds to a depth of about 1/4″. Let cool, and place against the bee body. 

I asked the birthday boy not to inspect the anatomy of the bee too closely – I’m sure it’s not correct for any of the 20,000 bee types in the world.

bee cake construction

Also on the pot-luck menu were these cute bee appetizers, made with olives by Lissa:

I had fun with the decor. 

And, I thank the bees for the inspiration!

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