I have to start with this: I love living in cohousing. And one thing living here means is eating together when we can, and helping prepare one meal a month. I’m one of the queen bee-ish types who tends to be the “lead cook” when my turn comes around, so that I get to do the menu planning, the shopping, and take charge of the cook team in preparing dinner for the 30 – 50 who typically attend.
There’s no doubt that it’s a lot of work, but there’s so much that happens as we do it. The casual conversations over the chopping board where we get to know where people come from, find out what’s happening in each others’ lives. Watching neighbors come and go on their various ways. Learn who’s away and where and who’s coming to visit. Learning more about where people come from, where they hope to go.
Still, meal planning for this interesting and diverse group isn’t easy. We have a gluten-free neighbor, one who can’t eat any form of pepper, two who have walnut allergies, a dairy free guy and several vegetarians. When you come to dinner here you see the big trays or pots alongside single, labeled servings for these folks. But I think it’s true that none of us minds these extra steps. Offering delicious, safe food to each other is an honest expression of our appreciation for each other. You can’t help having this kind of affection for the people who babysit for you for free, who brush the snow off your car, clean the bathrooms in the common house, plant the common garden, bring your compost to the pile for you. Make some baked tofu alongside the chicken? Sure.
And I do love coming up with the menus. I wanted one that was festive and fairly opulent, but vegetarian. So what developed was:
I had a great, capable cooking team to put it all together, but we also had Melissa and Allison from the Burlington Free Press on hand to do an article on cohousing, asking questions and taking pictures, which may have made it a tad more unfocused, but definitely made it much more exciting. Whisking eggs! Crimping pastry! Giant pot of greens! All photo ops. I felt like a celebrity when I took the pies from the oven and the photographer swooped in to capture them as they emerged.
But what made me really feel like a star, as it does every time, was the thumbs-up, back-pats, and whispered compliments as I walked around the dining room that night. To have my neighbors and friends receive and return the caring we put into that meal feels like deep community. Like family. Like, well, love.
(Oh, and my kids? They picked the puff pastry off their plates, pronounced it delicious, drank two sips of milk, then ran off crying when I suggested they try something else.)
So that’s dinner here. We do it every other day, usually with as much TLC, but often with less fanfare … though we’ve been known to burst into applause at all the wanton yumminess.