friday night co-op dinner: jazz improvisation in two parts

Soundtrack in my head: Deee-Lite—Runaway
Restaurant People Eating
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Cooking a co-op dinner for a dozen people or so is one of the most stressful duties a house member here has to do, and every one has to take a turn. Given that six out of the twelve people here in the house are new, it was not hard to see the how the challenge and chaos of bringing new cooks up to speed might overwhelm us. So we instituted a system in which the new cooks, during their first two dinners, would be paired with an experienced cook.

I was paired up with this one woman and our first effort—a stir-fry—went pretty well. Friday night was our turn again to cook a co-op dinner and it would be a challenge because both of us kept odd hours—I had to leave the house at 7 a.m. and return a little after 5 p.m., while the young woman had the morning free, but would have to work until 9 p.m. So Thursday night, I picked out a recipe that looked relatively easy but creative—a tofu eggplant casserole. She agreed it would be worthwhile recipe to try, and we arranged it so that she would purchase the necessary groceries from Mifflin Street Co-op and pre-prepare things, and I would cook things right when I got home at 5:15.

When I got home, I found her boyfriend (also a house member here) and a long note from her waiting for me.  She said that she tried to purchase everything we needed for the co-op dinner’s eggplant tofu casserole, but it just would not fit in our budget, so she told us that we would be having vegetarian fajitas instead.  Her boyfriend gave me the tour of what she had done until now. There was this big huge-o pot of some kind of marinara sauce cooking, with a bit of spice added to it.  We both realized that it was more fajita sauce than we’d ever need and so we decided that we were going to add spaghetti, to this Mexican dinner.  Why not? Works for me. Until third grade I thought that pizza was a Mexican dish, so this can’t be that much of a stretch, right?

The boyfriend went out and got more tortillas and cheese. I tasted the sauce and decided it needed more bite if it was going to be fajita sauce and not just spaghetti sauce, so I added some cayenne and chili powder. That did the trick. And in the next forty-five minutes we rushed and got things together and had everything on the table by 6:00, remarkably.

The food at the co-op dinner was well received.  But Friday night dinners aren’t always very well attended and we had a LOT of leftovers. I told the boyfriend that I’d take care of the cleanup since he’d already done more than his share of work–it wasn’t even his turn to cook.

As I started to put the leftovers into containers and label them, I found myself get a little giddy with the labels.

For the sauce, I wrote, “9-15-06: Fajitagheddi sauce. It’s for fajitas! It’s for spaghetti! It’s two—two great tastes in one.”  The spaghetti was labeled “9-15: Mexican noodles. Really. I know the package says s-p-a-g-h-e-t-t-i, but really, it’s Mexican noodles. Honest.”  Refried beans I labelled as being “for re-re-frying.”  For the salad, I said “Lettuce consume this fine salad while the going’s good.” And finally, for the last Tupperware container, I said, “They’re tortillas. What more can I say?”

What would move me to put a James Joyce twist on labels for co-op dinner leftovers? Was it inspiration that compelled me to be such a muse of the magic marker and masking tape? Um, I imagine that Joyce must be spinning in his grave. Punch-drunkeness, the fact that it was Friday and I was ready to do anything but work? Perhaps.

It was probably the same muse that in 1989 inspired my college roommates and I to compose an elaborate David Letterman-style answering machine message entitled “Top Ten Reasons Why We Can’t Come To The Phone Right Now.” Which, mysteriously, may have been behind the sharp drop in messages people left us, as most callers probably hung up by the time we got to Number 4 on the list…

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