Tuesday, November 24, 2009

How do you feed 60,000 people on Thanksgiving…

…with A LOT of helping hands and loving hearts.

Since 1992 the Big Heart Brigade has been “coming to the rescue” of local residents in South Florida who would otherwise not have a Thanksgiving meal. Joined by an army of volunteers they fed over 50,000 South Florida residents a traditional turkey dinner on Thanksgiving 2008. The goal for 2009 is to feed over 60,000. They plan to reach this goal together with 3,800 volunteers from Christ Fellowship Church in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (all campuses participated).

I cannot begin to tell you what a moving experience it was to participate in this year’s preparations.  Coming together with all the volunteers for this evening was a wonderfully blessed time.  Had I known how much fun I was going to have I would have volunteered for more than one session (a definite for next year, and I will be bringing the family).

The meeting place was a Palm Beach Gardens Firehouse, a station with plenty of room to accommodate the set up that was needed.  I arrived to the aroma of smoked turkey in the air, and hustle and bustle of many volunteers (they were the early shift).

There were lots of jobs for the volunteers to do, and no job was less important than the other.  So my first stop was the coloring room.  Here the goal was to complete 500 placemats per volunteer shift, a doable feat if at least 50 volunteers went through the coloring room and completed 10 mats.  I was told that while the recepients greatly enjoy their meals each year, some of their fondest memories were of their placemats, so I was off to make my 10 as special as possible (hope they like them).

When I was done with my placemats, it was time for me to join the assembly line.  There were boxes being assembled to hold the meals, and the food assembly lines were a buzz of activity.

I quickly joined in the buzz helping wherever I was needed.  By the end of the evening I was exhausted, energized and elated all at the same time.  I was happy to be part of something that was going to bless so many, and I am hopeful for all of those who will recieve the meals being prepared.  I pray that these meals will be a blessing to them.

We all gave our hearts to the Big Heart Brigade!
Big Heart Brigade

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pasteles!!! A time honored Puerto Rican Tradition.

Puerto Rican Pasteles (similar to Mexican Tamales in shape and concept, but not made from corn) are a cherished holiday tradition.  No Puerto Rican household would be without pasteles during the Christmas season.

I have wonderful memories of pasteles making growing up.  My parents would start the process in the evening usually after all the evening clean up was done and us kids were off to bed (at least until the "first fruits" were ready; I was always up to have the first of the pasteles as soon as they were cooked).  Pop would prepare the masa grating by hand each of the vegetables and Mom would prepare the meat; then when each of these were ready together they would assemble and wrap the pasteles.  They would work late into the night, most times making well over 100 in one sitting.

The making of Puerto Rican pasteles is a time consuming process, not one usually taken on alone; just as my parents did this process together, the process is usually a shared family event.  I myself have taken on the task of making pasteles twice before, once alone, another accompanied by my sister Carmen and my cousins Barbara and Belinda.  However, this year in an effort to preserve the element of surprise for our "early bird" Thanksgiving, I decided to tackle this task alone once again.  But I am never really alone, as I had my best helper, my daughter Briana, help me in preparing the vegetables; cleaning, peeling, etc. and I also had the help of my sister Carmen when it came to wrapping.  

I started my task by checking out the recipe at Elboricua.com, unlike my parents who prepared their pasteles without having to reference a recipe, I have not yet reached that level of confidence so I am thankful for recipes such as this one being posted.  This particular recipe yields 18 pasteles, but I wanted more than that so I did double the recipe.

First I set off in search of my ingredients.  This of course started with a trip to the farmers market for all of the vegetables that go into the recipe.  Unfortunately, not all items were found in one place, so after going to a total of 4 stores (there must have been a shortage of green bananas, as that was the hard item to find), all ingredients were purchased and I was ready to start.

I prepared the masa and the meat...

...then it was time to assemble.


In the end just over 40 pasteles were made in total.  We will be enjoying them throughout the holidays!

But I look forward to another pasteles making session before the holidays are over, accompanied by my my daughter Briana, my sister Carmen, and my cousin Barbara (hint, hint ladies).

Feels like Christmas is in the air!
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