The town of Ashland is located in Southern Oregon about 16 miles north of the California border. In the early 1820’s early Hudson Bay Company’s hunters and trappers passed through the area via the Sisikyou trail. When gold was discovered in a tributary of one of the local creeks in the 1850’s, a town was established and rapidly expanded. Schools, churches and businesses were established, including a large employer, Ashland Woolen Mills, which produced clothing and blankets from local wool. In 1871, the Post Office dropped “Mills” from Ashland’s name and in 1872 Reverend J. H. Skidmore opened a college, Ashland Academy, a predecessor of Southern Oregon University. In the 1880’s San Francisco, California and Portland, Oregon were joined by rail through Ashland.
Today Ashland is ranked in the top 10 of “The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America,” and is a cultural hot spot, with award-winning galleries, theaters and restaurants. Ashland hosts the world-famous Shakespeare Festival, the Oregon Chocolate Festival and is located in the Rogue Valley wine region. Surrounded by the Siskiyou and Cascade, it is a prime area for hiking and outdoor activities.
My husband and I spent two weeks in Ashland in early March, but we were not there for the amenities the charming town had to offer. We were there to cater meals for a Leadership Academy hosted by Conscious Social Change (www.conscioussocialchange.com ). Eighteen University of Virginia students had arrived to learn how inner work, mindfulness, and personal transformation could drive social innovation, systemic change and make them better leaders in the future. The retreat was held at the Buckhorn Springs Resort, a rustic lodge and collection of cabins which had once been a mineral springs healing destination for native tribes including the Rogue, Klamath, Shasta and Takilma tribes, and then for white settlers beginning in the 1890’s. The students would be housed in the historically-restored cabins, surrounded by beautiful scenery, fresh air and the babbling sound of Emigrant Creek.
Although I had hosted large dinner parties in the past, I don’t think I realized what I was getting into. I must admit I have greater respect for food service workers and caterers in particular now! I never could have handled this assignment without the support and energetic assistance of my husband, Craig. We were responsible for providing three meals a day to ravenous university students. Conscious Social Change wanted the menu to be vegetarian, and the meals had to meet the dietary needs of one person who was gluten-free, two vegans, and one person with a severe nut allergy! It was quite a challenge, but also immensely satisfying to meet the goals and receive so many compliments for the food we prepared. One student commented: “Thank you for making the best vegetarian food, it made me think twice about eating meat!”
So, how did we do it? We decided to set up a buffet breakfast that consisted of hard-boiled eggs, assorted yogurts (including soy yogurt), granola (no nuts), assorted packages of instant oatmeal, regular and gluten free bread and bagels, vegan butter, regular butter, vegan cream cheese and regular cream cheese, peanut butter and jelly, bananas, oranges, coffee, tea (regular and herbal) with milk, soy milk, half and half, soy creamer, and oat creamer.
Much as I would have liked to prepare a daily quiche or gourmet muffins, this met everyone’s needs and left us free to begin prep for the rest of the day’s food. These were hungry college students! jjWe loved working in the commercial kitchen and wanted to offer hearty homemade soups for lunch each day accompanied by bread, rolls or a sandwich of some sort. Soups were Broccoli and Cheese, Vegetarian Chili, Tomato Basil Bisque, Red Potato, Leek and Corn Chowder, White Bean, Spinach and Orzo Soup with Vegetarian Meatballs, and a rich, creamy Curried Pumpkin. One girl told us she didn’t eat pumpkin, but she tried it and even came back for seconds! I think the garlic bread, grilled cheese sandwiches and the vegetarian wraps were all big hits.
Our evening meals consisted of Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna with a Tossed Salad and Vegan Cheesecake for dessert, Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burritos with Corn on the Cob and Chocolate No Bake Cookies for dessert, Mushroom Bourguignon over noodles (or gluten-free penne) with a tossed salad and Apple Cranberry Crisp for dessert, Asian Stir Fry with Broccoli, Bell Peppers, Snow Peas, Mushrooms, and Water Chestnuts over Jasmine Rice with Banana Egg Rolls for dessert, Ratatouille over Brown Rice with a tossed salad and Peach Crisp for dessert, Beyond Beef Cheeseburgers with Sweet Potato Fries and the Chocolate No Bake Cookies for dessert, and we ended with a Make Your Own Pizza night with assorted ice cream and sorbets for dessert. Bless my husband for slicing more than 20 pounds of mushrooms that week and washing mountains of dirty dishes because the commercial dishwasher was not working.
We loved interacting with the students and it was a great experience!