Expect more good food and conversation than sea urchin omelet or monkfish livers at senior center

Consider the plight of volunteer cooks at the Charlotte Senior Center. The deadline for the Dec. 1 newspaper is Nov. 25. Yes, the day while people are still recovering from a culinary extravaganza. But time waits for no man, nor can newspaper presses pause for volunteer cooks.

Thinking about other special meals — a recent New Yorker (Nov. 2) offers “Ingredient Substitution Guide for Thanksgiving Recipes.” These hilarious substitutions need not be confined to Thanksgiving repasts.

In “Foodimentary: Celebrating 365 Food Holidays with Classic Recipes,” we find that national food holidays run the gamut: National Turkey Neck Soup Day (March 30) to National Chocolate Cookie Day (Aug. 4).

Photo by Lori York From left, Janet Morrison (Charlotte), Sue Foley (South Burlington), Carol Geske (Charlotte) and Andy Hodkin (Shelburne) working on a Monday lunch in November.
Photo by Lori York
From left, Janet Morrison (Charlotte), Sue Foley (South Burlington), Carol Geske (Charlotte) and Andy Hodkin (Shelburne) working on a Monday lunch in November.

Certainly, December being National Fruitcake Month offers dubious delight. Calvin Trillin pointed out, “Nobody in the United States has ever bought a fruitcake for himself.”

Johnny Carson realized, “There’s only one fruitcake in the world, and people keep sending it to each other.”

Fruitcake worries aside, consider these two culinary adventures. In “We Are What We Ate: 24 Memories of Food,” Julia Alvarez notes that her husband likes to tell about when, before they were married, she invited him over for dinner: “I served him salad with bottled dressing with a side plate of fried onions and tofu squirted with chili sauce. … I’m always aggrieved that he forgets the dinner rolls, which I bought at Grand Union bakery.”

In contrast, there’s Jim Harrison’s eating extravaganza, “A Really Big Lunch” (The New Yorker, Aug. 29, 2004). Before Harrison and 11 comrades embarked on their 37-course (and 13 wines) meal, meticulously drawn from 17 cookbooks published between 1654 and 1823, the chef had one word of advice: “Courage.”

After five different soups, came hors d’oeuvres, with oysters and cream of Camembert on toast — the only item Harrison didn’t eat.

After calf’s brains, omelet with sea urchins, filet of sole with champagne sauce and monkfish livers, he did “pause to consider whether all these hors d’oeuvres might dampen my appetite for the main courses.”

After suckling pig stew, hare terrine with plums and poached eel, Harrison wondered if he should fax the menu to his cardiologist before proceeding with the third service.

Rest assured: Diners at the Charlotte Senior Center won’t encounter sea urchin omelet or monkfish livers. They will find good conversation while enjoying good homestyle food. For a look at the menus for Monday munches and Thursday Grab & Go meals, see the website.

It’s December, and time for “Winter Wonderland,” covered by more than 200 artists since it was written in the 1930s.