Monday, March 13, 2017

The Falafel Fail

Being volunteered for random tasks is an occupational hazard of parenthood. The ability to say "no" is a critically important skill to possess, particularly when you've been granted the luxury of deciding whether or not to accept the gift of having been involuntarily volunteered. Unfortunately, it is not a word of which My Lovely Wife and I avail ourselves frequently enough.

We have served on numerous church committees, band committees, school booster and PTA committees. We have volunteered in school classrooms, Sunday school classrooms, chaperoned field trips, overseen finances, orchestrated parental support, planned and implemented fundraisers, and provided more meals than we care to recall. In almost all these situations, we had the chance to say "no." However, faced with the knowledge no other parents were stepping forward, we stepped up to take part or take charge.

The positive take aways from these experiences are immeasurable. The most significant is a rewarding sense of fulfillment knowing we helped enhance the lives of our children, and hundreds of other children, throughout the last two decades. The only negative is having seen the wizards behind the curtains at many different institutions and events that have lost their magical luster as a result. People are flawed, I get that, but sometimes flawed people are so content to remain flawed that they've no interest in receiving constructive criticism and no ability to learn from it when it's offered. It can be disheartening, causing you to back away from volunteering to regain your naive faith in humanity. It's at times like these -- when you start thinking you're doing too much in too many places and alienating too many people by offering your opinion too often -- your children volunteer you for a simple task you simply can't refuse. 

It's been years since I've been able to help with math or science homework. I've forgotten all formal education back to kindergarten, it seems, so when the twins told us they volunteered to bring homemade falafel to school as part of a Human Geography project, I was excited. Cooking might not be my calling, but I love it, and I had never before made falafel. Here was a challenge I could face with a smile, my boys by my side, as we mastered making this Middle Eastern meal. 

Perhaps mastered isn't the correct word...

We started off on the wrong foot by using canned chick peas instead of dried chick peas and soaking them for twenty-four hours like the recipe instructed. When you have only 48 hours notice, you can't sit around waiting for a garbanzo bean to rehydrate. You take the ones packed in water and chuck them in the food processor.

Next we added the brief list of spices that, despite the brevity of the list, infused such a toxic pungency of Mediterranean aromatics that tasting the raw batter was an exercise in self abuse. It's nearly impossible to determine the proper quantities of cumin and cayenne when your tastebuds have been carpet-bombed into oblivion.

The canola oil I found to deep fry our fiendishly fiercesome falafel batter wasn't much help. The only canola oil in the house had been used once already for frying donuts. Our falafel would set your mouth ablaze and scorch your throat like a barbed jet-fueled ghost pepper, but at least you'll enjoy the subtle hint of cinnamon apple while rolling on the ground scraping your tongue with a cheese grater. 

Fortunately, we never found out. Possibly because our batter was too wet from having used mushy canned chick peas, or possibly because the donut oil wasn't quite hot enough -- or most likely because we're from the Mid-Atlantic and not the Middle East -- our batter entered the oil in tablespoon-size dollops and rapidly dissolved amidst greasy cinnamon apple splatters into thousands of quickly burned falafel particles. We tried a few to similar effect, only to discard the remaining batter and reach the conclusion that hummus and pita chips are a reasonable substitute for a school project, especially since someone else would be making the hummus. 

2017 Mark Feggeler

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