When I was a sophomore in college, I started cooking dinners with my boyfriend and his three housemates. It was our way to save money, and strike a little independence from the dining hall drill.
None of us had any experience with cooking. My mother was never an adventurous cook, nor was she one to encourage me into the kitchen to cook alongside her. The boys were the same way. But we were ready for the challenge. We had a few tools – most notably, The Better Homes and Garden Cookbook, The Moosewood Cookbook, and The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. There was no Internet to look up recipes, but there was Mr. Food on the local tv station. I remember that I copied down his Chicken Tetrazini recipe one day while I watched him cook, rather than do my studying. Sometimes we would get a family recipe during the weekly call home, or via the letters that came into our mailboxes.
There were mishaps. Some of the more notorious were the home shucked clams to be placed in the homemade clam chowder (picture clam juice and sand strewn around an already not immaculate, college student apartment kitchen), and the ten pound noodle kugel. But the success was that for three years, we were family. We planned our meals, shopped, cooked, and ate together. If someone was working or had something going on, the schedule would be adjusted or there would be leftovers saved. We sat down each night and ate and talked and laughed and argued. Sometimes friends would join us –bringing fizzy wine and $1.99/six pack beer. Through our cooking and sharing meals, we discovered our community.
At graduation, we all began to scatter. The boyfriend and I got married. We moved to a new state. We grew up some more. We made our own family.
The change from a couple to a family was sweet. Our two babies came close together and grew up well. They were cute and smart and funny. When Dan was traveling a great deal, I remember sitting with both of them at the dinner table one night and realizing what good company they were. It is memory that cannot be matched.
The whole idea of sharing food as comfort and community has become a part of who we are and what we love. For years after the kids were born, we invited two adored couples to our house for an annual Twelfth Night celebration. Beyond getting a chance to cook a great meal, we wanted to show them how fun life with kids could be, because we knew what great parents they would be. They watched our kids grow from elementary school children to college graduates, and we got to celebrate their children as they arrived. It became a ritual, and they are great parents.
I can’t imagine our life without the food and meals that we often get to share — with each other, the people we love, and the people that we want to get to know better. Our daughter is at the ready to discuss the random gathering that has become our Thanksgiving table, but it never is without laughter and good feeling.
A few months ago, we were talking with some friends about our college day cooking and we all recounted Moosewood Cookbook meals. We decided that we would have a meal where each of us would bring one of our favorite recipes from the cookbook. The years have certainly refined our cooking skills and tools since the days when we first opened that book – which is now showing quite the worse for its wear.
However, the specialness of cooking for friends, knowing that the result would be an opportunity to spend time over a meal together, was a fresh as ever.