Friday, May 13, 2011

Give Thanks: Staff Appreciation 2011

 One thoughtfully planned menu, ten lovingly decorated tables, and countless personalized letters of thanks combined to create one of the most memorable staff lunches Irving has ever seen.  I am not sure if this hardworking committee has fully digested what they pulled off today, but the result of our collective efforts was nothing short of remarkable.
Each table was individually designed to welcome our staff members and allow them to use our personal family dishes.  Teams of two committee members organized the tablescapes without telling other committee members what they had planed.  The resulting tables created a colorful tapestry and set the tone for our meal.  My new friend and fellow committee member, Virtual Farmgirl, wrote a lovely post about our tables here.

Give Thanks
The Menu

Cream of Pumpkin Soup with Cinnamon Crouton
Traditional Brined Turkey
Fig and Orange Glazed Ham
Wild Rice, Sweet Potato, and Cranberry Stuffed Onion with Orange Balsamic Sauce
Sausage, Apple and Dried Cranberry Stuffing
Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
Cranberries with Pears and Fresh Ginger
Arugula Salad with Pepita Brittle, Blue Cheese, and Orange
Fresh and Updated Green Bean Casserole
Roasted Beets with Dill Dressing
Corn Maque Choux
Skillet Cornbread & Challah Rolls
White Chocolate Cheesecake with Blueberry Swirl
Chocolate Pecan Pie
Apple Pie
Sparkling Cider

In a way this is the end of an era.  I have chaired the staff appreciation committee for nine years and my time at Irving has come to an end. In 2003, Emma was in kindergarten and I agreed to oversee this event, but I couldn't even get 10 people to sign up to help.  With each passing year our numbers increased, the event became more elaborate, and our teachers and community were more and more impressed with our efforts.  So indulge me just a little...

Irving Staff Appreciation Lunch: A Retrospective

Asian Delights
Our committee of seven wrapped salad rolls, whipped up Asian chicken salads, and fried pork and lemongrass wontons for 80, but only 30 guests attended our simple buffet lunch.  I realized two things during this first year...this event was going need a little time to overcome a bad reputation and many hands make light work.  Seven was not enough hands even though I had met three committee members (Teresa Shattuck, Stephanie Barnard, and Nancy Guarino) who would stick with me for nine years.

An All American Picnic
Fifteen people pitched in to pull off our casual picnic lunch.  We served pulled pork, fried pickles, mac n' cheese, baked beans, and Hostess products for dessert.  We hired live entertainment for the first time and the energy the banjo player provided was a huge success!  Three quarters of the staff attended our buffet lunch.  It seemed like we were on the right track!

Formal and Feed Day
Sixteen committee members joined in and truly shifted the scope of the Irving Staff Lunch.  Formal and Feed day was a funny play on Form and Fee Day at Irving.  For the first time we served passed appetizers and a plated sit down lunch.  Our committee not only cooked the food, but served as wait staff. We also used the committee to make dessert for the first time and Ron Martin's Queen of Sheba Soul Cake make it impossible not to make our desserts from scratch.  Our centerpieces contained live fish that we raffled off as classroom pets and a harpist played while staff members enjoyed their choice between salmon or chicken; nearly 100% of staff members attended our lunch.

Irving Teachers and Staff are over the Tapas
Eighteen committee members joined the committee in 2006 and surprised me during our brainstorming meeting with a Spanish inspired theme!  This was the first year that I had to do extensive research into a new culture to design the menu and I realized that this steadily growing  event was even pushing me in new directions!  We also obtained loyal cook, David Jordan, in that year and the moment I tasteed his Romesco Sauce I knew I could rely on him to help me continue to elevate this event.  We served this authentic meal family style on tables littered with homemade paper flowers as flamenco dancers twirled to entertain our staff!

When the Moon Hits Your Eye
Twenty-Five people signed up to serve the lunch in 2007. David Jordan vied for an Italian theme during our brainstorming meeting  and our committee decided to serve freshly grilled pizzas.  This was the year the committee took on a life of it's own and the addition of Gloria Quinones Gracia and her invitation making skills proved to be hugely valuable!  Committee members rolled  their grills around town, set them up in a neighboring back yard, dropped hot freshly made pizzas into boxes and ran them up to the gym for service.  We served soup and salad, but the quartet of creative pies were among the best I have ever eaten!  We also had a full cappuccino bar set up and run by the committee and staff members could take coffee to-go with their desserts!

The "Sol" of our Esquela
Thirty people worked together to serve up our buffet style Mexican lunch.  Once again I was blind sided by my committee on the theme, but the buffet was festive and the event was enhanced by Teresa Shattuck's artfully plated pre-set ceviche course.  The invitations had set the tone, the food was becoming more artful, and Talley Hann joined the club and introduced us to making favors for the teachers.  She helped our committee make burlap sacks and we filled them with the ingredients and a recipe to make fresh salsa at home.  I knew we'd never have a lunch without a party favor again.  This was also the year the "party" feel of the committee reached it's peak and our cooking and craft night ended at 2am!  This was also the year we started bringing a bottle of aspirin and gallons of coffee to the lunch for committee members who needed it!  The district super intendent came to our little luncheon, too!

John's Diner: Comfort Foods of the 1950's
When thirty people signed up to help with the lunch in 2009, I was worried once again I would be blindsided by my enthusiastic committee and end up preparing a menu on a surprise theme.  So, I put my foot down and begged them to let me have my way.  Thanks goodness they did because John's Diner (named for our principal) is still my favorite of all nine lunches.  We provided an actual menu and allowed guests to select their entree in advance; we coded them with pins so we could deliver their meal.  We put loyal committee member, Lynn Brown, on roller skates and she served up diner fare and well wishes instead of bills.  Teachers took away ketchup and mustard bottles filled with Lemon Heads and Atomic Fireballs as a favor and our female Elvis impersonator stole the show.  This was also the year we "greened" the luncheon and began using china dishes instead of disposable plates; even a thoughtful descion based on caring for our earth served to enhance the quality of our event.  Of course, lots of dish washing was added to the task list.

The Big Easy
We had been sitting on our New Orleans theme for several years and finally in 2010 our committee of about 35 pulled off the theme.  After Hurricane Katrina, none of us felt comfortable with suggesting anything was "easy" about being in New Orleans, but as the city began to rebuild and come back to life we all returned to this concept.  Once again we offered up passed appetizers, entree choices and table side service.  Teachers enjoyed everything from po'boys to bread pudding.  Beads, masks,  and feathers were not in short supply and the addition of Gloria Cockerill to our crew brought a new level of artistry.  Without my knowledge she painted an life sized jazz band to cover the walls!  Our favor was a home-made Irving Cajun spice blend. 

Give Thanks
Thanksgiving is my favorite day of the year and I thought it was only fitting to finish out my run with such a simple message and hosting a real holiday would ensure we had enough tasks to keep our committee of nearly 45 busy.  Turkey and family tables set the tone and allowed me to honor the school and teachers who have become part of my family over the years.  More so than any other year this lunch served to celebrate the individual talents that make this event incredible and the ease with which they will be able to continue this tradition for years to come.  Thank you to Talley Hann for agreeing to take the reins!
This lunch honestly grew from nothing and over the year about 80 people in different combinations have planned an excecuted this event. I have no doubt in my mind it will continue to grow and evolve in the years to come. All of the dedicated people who work on this event care too deeply about our teachers to let it falter. This lunch is a simple event that celebrates the power of a strong community; I have never been so proud of something I've started in my life and the fact honoring Irving teachers in this grand fashion will continue on after I have moved onto middle school and highschool volunteer maddness makes parting ways with this extraordinary school community just a little easier to take.

At the end of it all my committee members and Irving staff turned our thanksgiving theme around on me!  I left with more flowers than Miss America has ever seen and incredibly moving letters of thanks!  To say this was an emotional day would be an understatement and I was overwhelmed by the out pouring of love people showed me today.  It was a perfect ending to nine memorable years...and for that I give thanks.


Angela said...

Wow. It looks absolutely amazing! What a great day. Thanks for chairing for the past nine years. It sure is a special community.

Virtual Farmgirl said...

Ha ha! Love the turkey leg shot. What a great event. My straw hat is off to you dear, amazing, Melissa.

Bronwyn said...

Wow, Mel! I looked back at the menus and remembered the ones I participated in with all of you and got a little choked up. It is truly an event like no other, and I don't know of any other school in Oak Park or elsewhere that brings this level of talent, creativity and commitment to a teacher's lunch. Of all the things I miss about Irving, this event is one of the biggest. I loved working with all of you on it and I'm just amazed at everything you guys have done!!I wish I could have been there!

Penny said...

This was so much fun! I am so thankful that I was able to finally experience this event with you ....but I know things will not be the same without you, you are the master Chef Mel!! (wished Ang could have been there!)

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