Blend Ministry

Recently I was asked to come in to work to help with a project that hoped to launch on the following day. Ordinarily, I am off on Mondays, working longer days the remainder of the week to compensate. But on this particular occasion the need is great, and so I rode the train with an unusually tired and grumpy crowd, no doubt exhausted from the festivities.

I must admit, the weekend seemed awfully short to me, accustomed as I am to luxurious three-day weekends. I squandered much of Saturday playing a new computer game that Kathy bought me for Father’s Day, and then the Burts came to stay with us for games and pizza (which was a lot of fun, even if I didn’t win Settlers of Catan. I did manage to sneak in an hour or two of building shelves in the garage, which pleases Kathy.

Several Sundays ago was our church picnic, at which I had planned to provide smoothies; it was a busy day. Our church rented a nearby elementary school field and had the entire service (and subsequent picnic) outside. It was a fun event … the skies were cloudy and temperatures cool until almost the exact best moment … once the service was over and lunch began, the clouds burned off like magic. I was reminded of the famous hymn It Is Well With My Soul, which refers to the return of our Lord, in which the line “… the clouds are rolled back like a scroll.” All my worries that my blends would not be wanted evaporated like the morning mist; by the time we had our tables and blenders set up, a crowd had already formed, and we were off. I estimate we served between 350 and 400 blends to our church family (some were repeat customers) over the course of the following three hours … Greg and Tina joined in like old professionals and Kathy (who usually eschews mass-production) even got in on the fun, running one of the Mocha Granita production lines in her own cheerful style.

I had to nip out twice (once for more ice and the second time for more milk) as the demand outpaced my supplies. I have never before provided smoothies for more than 120 people … this event really stretched my capacity to the limit. The next day my legs were aching from standing behind that table and from walking (and sometimes running) back and forth to the car with supplies … but I must say that it was all very much worth it. For one reason or another God has wired me so that I enjoy making blends for other people, even strangers; it turns out that I really enjoy making blends for large numbers of other people.

For those who could not attend this gala celebration, or who somehow missed the smoothie table, I offer this consolation: it isn’t too late to go buy a smoothie machine and carry on this important blend ministry your home town. Here’s what you’ll need:

  1. A smoothie machine. I recommend the Smoothie Elite manufactured by Back to Basics … on sale for about $37 at your local Wal-Mart, Target or Costco. The key thing is for your blender to have a spigot so that you don’t have to pour out the smoothie … for mass-production, the spigot is critical. These machines also have a stir stick that is carefully designed to reach nearly to the bottom without actually hitting the blades. It is very helpful in producing a smooth, even consistency across the entire blend, so you don’t get customers comparing their blends unfavorably.
  2. Choose one (or at most two) recipes. I generally do a Mocha Granita and a Strawberry-Lemonade Blend, recipes below. It can be nice to have a separate blender for each recipe, unless you want to do a lot of washing when you could be blending.
  3. Purchase an ample amount of the proper supplies. You’ll need:
    • Ice (and probably a cooler, unless you plan to use it all quickly)
    • Power (these babies don’t run on batteries)
    • Water or milk, depending on your recipe
    • Dry (and frozen) ingredients
    • Cups
    • Lids (or you can always hire a carpet cleaner)
    • Straws
    • Flavorings
    • Optional: cardboard drink carriers for ease in delivery
  4. Find some customers … you’ll want to set up in a well-trafficked place but where the noise of your blender(s) won’t annoy. The Smoothie Elite machines are surprisingly loud when initially crushing the ice.
  5. A marketing strategy. I have rigidly adhered to the “Smoothies Should Be Free” slogan (and philosophy) for my blend ministry, but you may wish to place a “Donations” cup at your Blend Booth if you want to defray the cost of ingredients or raise support for some other worthy cause. As soon as you charge money, I suspect you cross the line into requiring a business license and certification by your local food safety health inspector types. Don’t look here for actual legal advice, though.

I estimate that it costs between $0.25 and $0.35 (not counting labor) to make a 12-ounce blend or smoothie, when you factor in the cost of the cups, lids, straws and ingredients (not to mention the occasional blender that dies). Considering that most people would pay at least a dollar for one of these blends, this means that for every blend you create you are tripling or quadrupling the utility of your money (in Micro-Economics terms). On a hot day you may see this factor double or even triple … I have been told by many that my Mocha Granitas are comparable to Espresso-booth products purchased for $2 and $3. For some reason, even though I never charge money, I get a lot of vicarious enjoyment out of all those people who drink my blends.

Smoothie Recipes:

Mocha Granita

Fill the blender up about half way (between 24 and 32 oz, depending on your blender model) with milk. I use skim milk when I make these for myself, and 1% or 2% when I am making them for other people. I’ve never had anyone complain about this.

Add three scoops of Nestle Quik mixture using the large scoop provided in the Costco-sized Quik container.

Add three large scoops of Frappe Freeze Mocha mix (available at Costco, usually near the coffee) using the same scoop you used for the Quik.

Add ice until the blender is full (but not overflowing).

Add coffee syrups (I personally prefer Hazelnut) or a healthy squirt of some Java chocolate syrup (in case it isn’t already strong or sweet enough).

Put the top back on the blender, and ensure the stir-stick is firmly centered in the hole in the top of the blender. This is a critical step unless you want to repaint your ceiling (or so I’ve heard).

Blend and stir until nearly smooth (noise of ice chopping sound should level off).

Serves 4 twelve-ounce blends with a little left over for the chef.

Strawberry Mandarin Lemonade Delight

Fill the blender about half way with water.
Add in six to eight (depending on how sweet you like it) small scoops of Smuckers Strawberry Lemonade mix, using the scoop provided in the Costco-sized container.

Add in six to eight large frozen strawberries.

Add in a half-can of Mandarin oranges (or the whole can, if you prefer).

Fill the blender with ice (but not overflowing).

Put the top back on the blender, and ensure the stir-stick is firmly centered in the hole in the top of the blender. This is a critical step unless you want to repaint your ceiling (you’d think this would be self-evident, but even master blenders make mistakes, or so I’ve heard).

Blend and stir until nearly smooth (noise of ice chopping sound should level off).

Serves 4 twelve-ounce blends with a little left over for the chef.

Tricks and Tips

Sometimes you will get a little carried away with your liquid and dry ingredients, leaving insufficient room at the top of the blender for ice. In such cases, simply bleed off a cup of the liquid from the bottom, making more room for ice at the top. Then pour the liquid in at the top once you’ve dispensed enough blend to make room for it.

Sometimes you get a little carried away with the ice, and your blend will barely ooze out of the spigot while your customers tap their feet impatiently. Simply pour an extra cup of water or milk (whichever was the base of your original blend recipe) and your smoothie will loosen up nicely.

Never try to get the last drop out of your blender until it really is your last blend. Let the last half-cup of the blender roll over into the next batch … this will save wear and tear on your blender.

If you have a large crowd, consider using eight- or nine-ounce cups instead of twelve- or sixteen-ounce cups. I haven’t found the smaller cups with lids, though, so only do this when you are outside. I use plastic cups, but you could probably go with paper without any trouble. Blends don’t store very well at room temperature, anyway.

On really hot days I tend to make my blends with more ice and water and less sweet ingredients. In cooler weather I will sometimes add a flavored yogurt, tending more toward the creamy, frothy consistency. Blends don’t move well on cold days, although I can usually find customers for the milk-based Mocha Granitas year-round.

I have never yet failed to find lots of eager hands to distribute smoothies when my customers are dispersed … kids of all ages seem to love to be the bearer of blends. It is helpful to have those cardboard drink carriers (like you get at a fast-food drive-in) … they can be had in bulk for about five cents apiece, and are reusable for several iterations, depending on the person carrying them. As far as I know, they do actually deliver the blends, although a couple of times I have wondered about this.

Ingredients are always a problem … it is very hard to estimate the amount of each that you will require, especially when making blends for large numbers of people. I try to err on the side of having too much, but sometimes I still don’t have enough. One way to insure against disaster in blend-making is to have a bunch of frozen concentrates around. Then if you run out of one ingredient or another, you can always throw in a concentrate. I really like the Raspberry Lemonade concentrates … they have saved my bacon (so to speak) more than once.

Some blend purveyors prefer to sport some form of recognizable headgear … I traditionally sport an attractive beaver cap and operate under the pseudonym “Boris Brainfreeze”. This should not be attempted, however, by those lacking my (admittedly intimidating) combination of panache, majesty, dignity, distinction, and savoir faire. It isn’t such a good idea on a really hot day, either.

Sometimes people tease me about taking blending so seriously, especially when they see me packing in all my supplies, ice, ingredients and blenders (it is not unusual for me to fill the back of my little station wagon). “It’s just a blend, dude!” they will say (as if a smoothie were not an end in itself). There are those smug seminarians who will try to tell you that smoothie-making is not really a spiritual gift. Some will decry the cost of the ingredients and will even mock the sacred “Smoothies Should Be Free” philosophy, as if blends and vulgar cash could mix. And of course, in every large crowd there will be Philistines who do not appreciate the subtle flavor of your best blend offering, who will callously leave full blends to melt forlornly on a picnic table. Do not go gently into that smoothie-less dark night. Resist such nay-sayers and keep cranking out the blends. For every jealous sidewalk detractor there will spring up ten young disciples. Admittedly, some will probably fall by the wayside, and a few may settle for being pastors, evangelists and missionaries. But in the end a few hardy souls will persevere to the lofty height of Master Blender.

It is said that when the new city of Jerusalem is established, that a river will flow out from under the throne of God, along which will grow the tree of life. This tree will bear twelve distinct fruits according to the season. It all seems tailor-made to me … you have high-quality water and heavenly fruit; all that is lacking is ice. I’m thinking that the position of God’s personal blend-maker is still open and I can set up shop along the side of the river. It reminds me of James and John, and how they asked to sit at the right and left of Jesus, when he comes into His glory. I hope the other blenders of the world don’t get mad at me.

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