Bread, pasta, gravy and love

Food crosses all social and cultural boundaries, we all need it to survive.  One food that stands out as universal in some form, is bread.  Wikipedia lists more than 200 different kinds of bread, not including cakes, pastries and fried dough foods.  Making fresh bread is more than nourishment, it feeds the body as well as the soul.  That was our inspiration for serving the residents of the Caring House in Durham.

You may remember reading my post about the Angels Among Us event that raises awareness and money for brain cancer research.  In addition to introducing me to that organization, Kathy Tobin also told me about the Caring House.  They provide affordable housing, a healing environment and a positive support community for patients at the Duke Cancer Institute.

Sheridan van Wagenberg is the Executive Director.  She gave me a tour of the facility and helped map out a plan for providing dinner to the guests.  The Caring House has a wonderful kitchen with (3) ovens, large stainless tables, ample counter space and a nice selection of cooking tools.  In addition to providing dinner, I wanted to offer the opportunity for guests to help make the bread.

I settled on two kinds, Brother Bandera’s Italian bread from The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking and unleavened bread from  It seemed only appropriate that we turn this into an Italian feast with freshly made pasta, tomato gravy, a spinach, artichoke and Parmesan salad, and of course, Anna’s Gourmet chocolate chip cookies for dessert!  After dinner, I also asked if we could hold a brief communion service for any guests that might be interested, sharing the freshly made unleavened bread.

Instead of the traditional buffet style dinner for the 25 or so guests, I wanted to offer them restaurant style service in their dining area.  A respite from a full day of doctors, tests, waiting rooms and in some cases, chemotherapy.

We reached out to a few groups for volunteers.  Two people from Debbie’s Bible study group stepped up.  We needed more help and a pastor for the communion service, so I reached out to Todd Moody at Revolve Church in Durham.  I met Todd at the Ronald McDonald House and he was all over it.  “Our mission is to find community organizations where we can serve and love on the people”.  This was the final ingredient I needed for this dinner.

The Caring House promoted our event to guests and two ladies signed up for my bread class.  Renee and Teresa had both made bread before and were eager to get their hands in dough to learn a bit more.  While making fresh bread is therapeutic, it is hard work and time consuming.  With a little advance prep work, we went through all the steps from mixing, to kneading, to proofing and finally baking.

After class, we had bread in the oven and the smell began to drift throughout the house.  Debbie started on the gravy, adding the aromas of olive oil, onions, garlic, herbs and tomatoes.  The perfect combination of smells to welcome our guests back home.

The volunteers arrived in force.  We held a brief pre-dinner meeting to cover the dinner menu, process and to delegate cooking and serving responsibilities.  Our Italian feast came together right on time and with the addition of a little Italian dinner music, we were ready to serve our guests and give them a tasty and restful end to their day.

When it came time for dessert, Tabetha and Ella carried around a basket of Anna’s Gourmet Goodies chocolate chip cookies for the guests.  I had a flashback of those days when Anna was about their age.  I can’t imagine a more appropriate way to serve our products to the guests.  Judging from the smiles, they appreciated the service, the food and the experience.

After dinner, we invited those guests who were interested to a covered patio area for the communion service.  This was not a formal, ritualized service found in many churches.  Todd lead a discussion of the Last Supper, it’s meaning, followed by sharing of the elements of bread and juice among friends.  As one guest noted, there were twelve of us in the room, imagine that.


Service is an illusion

We often use the word ‘service’ at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies.  Yes, we make products, but we’re in the business of serving our customers and creating a memorable experience for anyone that receives a gift of our cookies and brownies.  It’s a subtle distinction, but it is incredibly important in any business to understand your focus and as I’ve written about previously, your ‘why’.

My friend August Turak is an entrepreneur, a speaker and an author.  When it comes to talking about service and selflessness at work, he is an expert.  He recently published an illustrated version of his award-winning essay titled, ‘Brother John: A Monk, a Pilgrim and the Purpose of Life, ’.  I won’t give away the ending, but I will tell you that after reading the book, your view of the purpose of life and the role of service to others will be forever changed.

I share stories about what we do at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies in the hope that at least one reader finds the inspiration to act.  I believe that service to others is indeed, an illusion.  To stand back and watch someone serving, you might be tempted to think, ‘That’s nice that they are giving something back’.  The reality is that in most cases, it is the one doing the serving who receives the greatest gift.

Serving the guests at the Caring House in Durham filled up my tank.  With plenty of food left over, I’m pretty sure that our guests ate their fill.  And from the reactions on the faces of the other volunteers, I’m guessing they walked away feeling full as well.  All in all, I’d call it a dinner well-served.

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