. . .
A small ice-maker sat in one corner and appeared to be in working order. A quick perusal of the cupboards revealed baking powder, baking soda and a generous supply of dried spices. Beth doubted that the previous cook had ever touched them. More likely, she had favored chocolate. Several small boxes of chocolate pudding and a half used box of chocolate drink mix were the only other foods that occupied the cupboards.
A small storeroom produced better results. The shelves on one side held restaurant-sized cans containing fruits, vegetables and pickles. A few cans held whole chickens in broth. The other side held containers of oil, vinegar, powdered eggs, pasta, coffee, tea, creamer, powdered milk and drink mixes. Large bags of rice, flour, cornmeal, sugar and oatmeal sat on the floor. Unopened. She guessed that most of the storeroom supplies had come from the distribution center. A rolling cart held more stale bread. The supplies appeared in good condition, but the smell of decay filled the air. She looked further and found several bags of potatoes tucked under a shelf. Most of the contents appeared okay, but it was definitely the source of the odor. She'd have to go through them soon, but there was no time for that now.
Menus began to take form in her head as she hurried to find Cassandra. She nearly knocked her over as she raced out the door. Cassandra grinned.
“Looking for someone?”
“I'm looking for you. We've got to shop. Now.”
“Okay. I really appreciate it, Cassandra, but there's no time to spare. Not if you want me to be your cook for more than one meal.”
Fortunately, the grocery store was nearby and carried a fair selection. Beth had not shopped for food in over 15 years. She'd read newspapers regularly and even scanned the enclosed flyers. The pricing knowledge proved helpful. Still, the small budget and time constraints presented a challenge.
She stopped in the produce section first. Apples were in season. She found four bags of small ones in good condition. They met her need, but consumed almost twelve dollars of the food budget. She spent nineteen more before she left produce, procuring a variety of greens, a 5 lb bag of carrots, 3 large bunches of celery, a bag of onions and a couple of lemons. Five dozen eggs and three pounds of generic margarine added eight dollars in the dairy section. She checked the bread section and cringed as she chose seven large loaves of the cheapest white bread. There was not enough money for anything else. At least it wasn't stale. Several packages of yeast and a small box of brown sugar completed her purchases. The total was $50.62. Beth dug into her own wallet for the change. She had plans for all of the purchases and time was ticking. She handed two bags to Cassandra, grabbed the rest and hurried out. She didn't look back when Cassandra called for her to slow down.
Cassandra placed her groceries on the kitchen counter.
“See you at supper.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that you are not going anywhere. You got me into this, you're going to help me out.”
Cassandra gave her a thoughtful look and then a smile.
She had Cassandra fill two cookie sheets with slices of stale bread, while she opened a large can of pitted cherries. She drained the fruit, then added flour and sugar to the liquid. While Cassandra stirred the heating juice mixture, Beth sprinkled oil and seasonings on the bread and placed the sheets in an oven. She created a crumbly mix of shortening, sugar, flour, oatmeal and cinnamon. When the cherry liquid had thickened, she added the fruit and divided the contents between seven square pans. She sprinkled the mix over the fruit, gently patted it down and placed the pans in another oven. She showed Cassandra how to wash and prepare the greens. Oil, vinegar, lemon and seasonings were combined to create a dressing. She retrieved the toasted bread and set it on a counter too cool. She opened a can of chicken and removed skin and bones. It yielded far less meat than she had hoped for and the consistency was a bit too soft and damp. Thinking quickly, she opened several more cans and emptied the broth into a large pan along with flour, sage and rosemary. While Cassandra stirred, she hurriedly removed meat from the other chickens. She became aware of voices in the dining room and glanced at the clock. Only 45 minutes until dinner.
Beth started a large pot of rice and returned to the chicken. She dredged the pieces in seasoned flour and added them to a pan containing a small amount of heated oil. Soon the outsides were crispy and a pleasing shade of brown. A quick taste test indicated that the process had helped to provide a bit more texture as well. She grated a couple of carrots and mixed them with the greens. Cassandra divided the greens into bowls while Beth began to warm a large can of peas and make iced tea from some mix she'd found in the supply closet. She poured it into several ice-filled pitchers. She quickly cubed the toasted bread to create croutons and sprinkled them over the bowls of salad. As Pastor Bob began the closing prayer, she heaped rice onto platters and surrounded the mounds with pieces of fried chicken. She could hear tables being set up as she drained the peas and placed them in serving bowls. Cassandra located some glass measuring cups that could substitute as gravy boats and began to fill them.
Beth grabbed serving trays. A platter of chicken and rice, a bowl of peas and a pan of cherry crisp went on one. A pitcher of ice tea, a plate of fresh bread, a bowl of salad, a stick of margarine and a small cruet of the salad dressing filled the second. She repeated the process 6 more times. It suddenly occurred to her that the tables were not set. Did the waiters do that? Evidently they did now. Cassandra had directed them to the cupboards and instructed them to bring plates, glasses and silver to their tables. It only took a minute before they returned for the trays.
Beth checked that the ovens and range were turned off, then followed Cassandra into the dining area to join the other residents at their table. She sat for a moment trying to catch her breath. With more time, she could have done much better. She hoped that it would be sufficient to satisfy Pastor Bob. Cassandra lost no time and began to fill her plate. Suddenly Beth realized how quiet the room was. Not a single voice. Looking around, she saw that everyone was too busy eating to talk. She began to relax and enjoy her own meal.
When the meal ended, Pastor Bob rose and gave a special prayer thanking the Lord for the bountiful meal and for blessing Redemption House with a new cook.
Many of the residents stopped to thank Beth before heading back to the living quarters. Beth gave her own heartfelt thanks to Cassandra before she left. In a minute, she would go and check out her new sleeping area. Cassandra had pointed to the door, but there had been no chance for Beth to look. She sank into a chair, realizing just how tired she was.
“Surely you haven't forgotten that you are responsible for cleaning up?”
She looked up at Lord's Servant Margaret's icy stare.
“Dorinda is no longer with us.”
As she turned to leave, Beth saw the hint of a smirk.
“Stay below the radar, girl. Just stay below the radar.”
Why had she forgotten Hannah's advice? There was always a price for attracting attention.
Margaret intended to see that it was paid.
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