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)


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)


Spanish Rice (see recipe)

Bean & Corn Salad (see recipe)



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)


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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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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100. Chocolate Soap and Massage Butter Recipes

Tomorrow is our “Death By Chocolate” murder mystery night with the ladies of our ‘hood. I’m one of those weirdos who doesn’t crush on anything chocolate.

But, I love the smell of it. And I AM crushing on making soap these days.

So, I made chocolate soap and chocolate massage butter to give to the 13 participants.

Following are the recipes. But, first a caveat: cold process soap has safety requirements and processes that I won’t go into here – there are plenty of YouTubes and online instructions. See my first post about soap.

Chocolate Peppermint Soap (makes 12 bars)

Melt and cool to 110˚: 16 oz soybean oil (Crisco), 7 oz coconut oil, 3 oz cocoa butter, 2 oz shea butter, 4 oz olive oil

Using mask and protective clothing and rubber gloves, and avoiding breathing the fumes, slowly pour and stir 5 oz lye into 2 cups distilled water. Let cool to 110˚.

Add lye to oils, and blend with a stick blender.

Add at trace: 2 tsp peppermint essence, 2 Tbsp cocoa powder

(To get two-toned soap, I added the peppermint to the mix, poured about 1/3 into another cup, then added the cocoa to the other 2/3 before pouring it into the molds.)

After 24 hours, remove from molds, cut into bars, and let it cure for 4 weeks.

Chocolate Massage Butter, on the other hand, doesn’t use lye and it’s quick and easy to make. It makes a wonderful gardener’s hand cream and cuticle cream, too, because of the nourishing, healing oils.

  • 4 oz olive oil
  • 4 oz cocoa butter
  • 4 oz shea butter
  • 4 oz coconut oil
  • 1 oz beeswax (pellets or grated)
  • 2 tsp vitamin E oil
  • 1 cup distilled water (at room temperature)
  • 2 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • Melt the oils (except vitamin E oil) with the beeswax, and cool them until they just start to harden. While cooling, whisk the cocoa powder into the water, then slowly add it to the oils as you blend thoroughly with the stick blender.Stir in the vitamin E oil. Pour into 4 oz jars. Let cool, cover, and store in the fridge for up to a year.

Makes 8 x 4oz jars.

Smells good enough to eat. And you could, as long as you don’t mind a bit of beeswax!


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96. Soap and Christmas

2015 christmas treeChristmas around here is uproarious. With 6-9 young adults and two dogs coming and going, games and food are constantly on the table, or in the case of the dogs, on the floor (for a split second.)In a rebellious moment, I decided to eschew all the traditional Christmas tree decorations and simply use the Chinese lantern (Physalis alkekengi) skeletons from the plants originating with a gift our niece gave me 3 years ago, plus pine cones, and birds. Thankfully, the ‘kids’ did most of the placement, so I didn’t have to climb those ladders.

The dishwasher and clotheswashers are in full throttle. Sauna and steam room likewise. Space heaters and seasonal lights, too.  We all use much more energy than little ol’ D and I use when we’re here alone.

The whole point of Christmas is to spend time together as a family. Over the years, we’ve reduced our commercial footprint to nearly nil. Now, we each contribute a small, often hand-made gift to each other’s stocking. Each year, I’m impressed anew with the thought and originality of each person’s contribution.hemlock with jack-o-lantern plant

I’ve long wanted to learn to make soap, and a short lecture at our local botanical garden got me started. I managed to make three kinds of soap (Skin Rx hockey puck, eucalyptus, and calendula/borage), some beard balm and beard oil, and foot soak for the stockings, and it was fun!

To make cold-process soap, the basic ingredients are lye, water, and oils. There are plenty of recipes online, and it’s important to learn about the process before you make a batch, because the lye can be dangerous, the proportions of oils to lye vary depending on the oils used, and the additives must be added at a certain stage. My goals are to use organic and vegan ingredients as far as possible.

I’m most proud of my hockey puck soap (so Canadian) – it’s got activated charcoal and a luffa sponge that I grew myself (seeds from West Coast Seeds.) Activated charcoal is often used in face masques to detoxify skin and scour out bacteria.

This is what the Miriam Sponge Gourd (loofa) looks like:loofah Collage

And here are my proportions for Hockey Puck Skin Rx soap (basic recipe courtesy of Lexi, the teacher):

19 oz olive oil (pomace), 15 oz palm oil, 8 oz coconut oil, 3 oz sweet almond oil, 6.1 oz lye (NaOH), 14.9 oz distilled water, 1 oz lemon grass oil, 1.5 oz activated charcoal, 1 loofa sponge

I lined a 3″ pvc pipe, 12″ long, with baking parchment paper, taped plastic to the bottom, inserted the loofa, and poured the batter all around (beaten to a light trace – you will learn about this when you research.) After 72 hours, the soap had dried enough to shrink it, allowing me to slide it out of the tube. I cut it with the paper still on, which helped to hold it together, using a sharp filetting knife.

For another stocking gift, I used some old (clean) socks to corral soap nuts, which are actually the husks of nuts grown in India (purchased at The Soap Dispensary in Vancouver, BC, Canada, also available at many online soap-making suppliers.) They create a lather, and the little packets should wash 6-8 loads of laundry.soap nuts

And, just to give you a little giggle, here is the floor below our poor Charlie Brown bush-found hemlock (I requested a fir), 4 days after we installed it:dropping hemlock needles Thanks for reading, and Happy Gnu Year.

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83. Downton Abbey Fundraiser Tea

Mrs Hughes CollageI mentioned in my last post that I was “Mrs. Hughes” for the fundraising tea at “Downton Abbey”. It was held in the local art gallery, which proved to be a cultured venue. The art on the walls, by Suzy Arbor and Meghan Hildebrand, made the atmosphere extra-classy.maids getting tea sandwichesDownton table setting

downton serversThe Driftwood Players provided the “footmen” (no one volunteered to be Barrow, I noticed!) and staged an historical fashion show and skits for the guests.Downton footmen

And the guests, oh! the guests! Didn’t they just embrace the era? (Betty and Mary, below, were on the organizing committee, but also came as guests.)

Downton tea bossesIt was all highly entertaining, and raised funds for the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers’ efforts to support grandmothers in many African countries stricken by AIDS.serving maids ready for duty

As Mrs. Hughes, my job was to design the menu for the 60 guests, formulate the recipes, help find volunteers to prepare the food and serve as maids at the tea, shop for the food I was responsible for, instruct and oversee the female staff and kitchen during the tea, and help clean up all the dishes and linens that were lent for the day.

Volunteer bakers prepared the food at their homes, with instructions for how to “Food Safe” their kitchens.
Cathy cooks Claudia bakes tarts

Sandwich assembly and scone-baking happened the morning of the tea, to make sure these critical tea components were fresh:sandwich assembly for Downton TeaMy “staff”:downton maids all in a row

tea dainties ready for plating

You might be interested to see the menu:

Bottom Tier: Sandwiches

Rolled Asparagus & Prosciutto

Egg Salad and Watercress Fingers

Cucumber & Cream Open-faced Cheese Squares

Lox & Avocado Triangles (Gluten & Dairy-free)

Carmelized Onion Pastries

Baby Rarebits with Beet and Orange Relish


Middle Tier: Sweets

Lemon Tarts with Fresh Berries

Cream Puffs with Chocolate Mousse

Macaroons with Marscapone Filling (GF)

Raw Hazelnut Chocolate Babycakes (GF/DF)

Whole Strawberries


Top Tier: Scones

Welsh Cakes

Scones with Clotted Cream

Lavender Jelly

Strawberry Jam


Kenyan Black Tea and Decaffeinated Black Tea

Water with Lemon Slicesplating tea food

As much work as it was for all the volunteers, it was also a chance to play-act a fantasy, and was as fun a way to volunteer as I can remember!Gayle with tiered tea service

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