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Feast takes planning

Thu., Nov. 26, 2009, midnight

Valley Meals on Wheels prepares for Thanksgiving diners

The Valley Meals on Wheels kitchen was bustling Monday as workers and volunteers not only dished up their normal number of meals for that day but also cooked ahead for a large number of diners expected Wednesday for a Thanksgiving dinner.

The organization usually cooks about 400 meals a day for senior centers and delivery routes in Spokane County except for those in Cheney and the ones covered by Mid-City Concerns in Spokane. That number was expected to be more than 700 for Valley Meals on Wheels Wednesday, while Mid-City Concerns was to provide about 500.

“It’s like putting two days into one,” said chef Jerri Horton. On Monday, Horton had a few donated turkeys in the oven and was cooking three dozen turkey breasts in a tilt grill. The turkey was wrapped in foil and immersed in water while cooking in the grill in batches. “It makes them so tender and juicy,” Horton said. The meat would then be chilled, sliced and reheated Wednesday.

Wednesday’s menu also included cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, pumpkin custard, sweet potatoes and rolls. Everything on the menu was made from scratch except for the cranberry sauce because there was simply no time to make it. In addition to making the turkeys ahead of time on Monday, rolls were baking and 30 pounds of onions were being chopped for the 200 pounds of stuffing to be made.

At the same time Horton and two other women formed an assembly line to put together the day’s delivery meals. They stood in a line, bathed in steam from the warming table, efficiently spooning food into partitioned trays, covering them with plastic and placing them in warming ovens to keep the food hot. At the same time the ovens regularly buzzed as batches of Thanksgiving rolls finished baking.

The staff and volunteers are learning as they go, said director Pam Almeida. This is the first year the Valley Meals on Wheels kitchen has been up and running for Thanksgiving. “This year will be a big trial run,” she said.

Even with all the extra work, Almeida said she was confident that things would go smoothly and the food would be enjoyed. “The kitchen is a wonderful thing,” she said. “The food is so much better. The nutrition is better. It’s good to make people happy.”

Since they started cooking food from scratch, diners have stopped complaining about the food. “It’s amazing how much it tastes like home cooking,” she said.

And there are more people than ever eating the food. Almeida said she’s noticed a 10 percent increase in the number of people eating at meal sites since her organization took over the cooking contract in January. Because of that there was some uncertainty in planning how many to cook for on Wednesday. That was the big meal of the week since Meals on Wheels staff will take Thanksgiving Day off. All meal sites will be closed and the Coeur d’Alene Casino has volunteered to provide meals for home delivery on Thanksgiving Day.

By Monday, though, most preparations for the big day seemed to be well in hand except for a few last-minute details. “I have to go out and buy silverware,” Almeida said.

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