Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Cooking and Playlists

This last week, we've hosted a couple of dinners over at the house. Got me to thinking hard about technology, food, and changes in community rules over the last ten years.

On Saturday, we cooked for a couple of friends whose kitchen we helped demolish 2 weekends ago. Tangentially, I highly recommend this to anyone who has not done this before - sledgehammers should be wielded at least once in one's life. They are without said kitchen right now and are at the mercy of friends or strange dining establishments for their sustenance. As is my want, I test prepped a dish of Albondigas (Mexican meatball stew) earlier in the week. Our timing was still off the night of the actual event and they showed up early, so we stuffed the four of us in the kitchen for conversation lasting about an hour before eating. Christina is a professional firefighter and has a circadian rhythm that must march goosestep inside her body. Lillian had noticed her "sleep eye" (as opposed to "stink" or "evil eye") about 9:15. Jeannie is an electrician and weekend skier.

We spent some of dinner talking about how confusing it was to deal with friends that would together last minute get togethers via eVite or some other such service. "Why not pick up the phone?" They check their email every couple of days. I probably check mine 2-3 times per day. They often missed these invitations, and had no real reason to be online everyday like Lil and I did for work. On some level creating these blogs, emailing, or IMing has allowed us greater intimacy with friends who live out of state or even out of the country than with folks in town. It's so hard to see people physically any more. We don't have anyone within 15 blocks that I know on a personal level. Maybe this was the somewhat the same for my folks, but it's utterly different from my childhood, where there were always kids next door that we saw every day. Is that just adulthood, American adulthood or Urban American Adulthood?

We spent the dinner listening to a mix I created from music I had ripped on my laptop and quickly assembled and burned before their arrival (a great mix including Dixie Cups, Paul Rucker, Spoon, Eddie Bo, Mirah, and Gene Ammons) . My idea was that they would get to take the disc at the end of night. Indeed Christina, the resident MP3 fiend of the pair, was excited. Maybe this kind of technology was possible 5 years ago, but it was nowhere near usable for me until a year or so ago. Metadata and improvements in user interfaces have finally made it easy for my short attention span music obsession to find tangible results (with a half hour turnaround).

Same thing last night - our old buddy Richard stopped by for a dinner of beef stew and asparagus. God I love cooking for people! Whooda thought. Probably one of the first inklings I had of this was actually at Richard's place two or three Thanksgivings ago. Richard would yearly invite a dozen or more people over, and cook the whole damn thing in one of the smallest kitchens I've ever been in. Traditional turkey, stuffing from scratch, brussel sprouts, two or three decadent desserts. I was shocked at the level of thankfulness I felt in the company of non-blood relatives. Some of it was conversation, music, wine, and some tryptophan and carb overload. We used to stuff ourselves at Grandma's house, but never like that (particularly since she and Pawpaw were teetotalers). And at the end of this meal, there was no TV to escape into, just more good talking or dogs to play with. I was utterly envious of Richard's ability to draw these people into his home for a nice Taz session, and utterly thankful I could be one of those people. He poured so much love into his food and it permeated the room like an aroma.

I liked doing the same thing with my music mixes or simply deejaying when folks were around the house. Music's tough though, real-time deejaying only works when you're doing it and NOT being particularly social. Handing off mixtapes also has a way of feeling like throwing a hand into quicksand. Richard would finish prepping these meals and collapse with a grin in the middle of the room after dinner. Tangible and time-finite. So the 30-minute compilation-burn turnaround was a godsend. Now, "my creation" doesn't require any work during said conversation and cavorting. I lose the real-time reaction aspect, but that's turned out to be more of a blessing than a curse.

Meanwhile, Lillian and I are compiling a menu of things we're good at cooking (upon the suggestion of director Robert Rodriguez on a DVD special feature). That way, we can have staples around the house, and make food for friends on command. We've got quite a few meat dishes, but I'd love to get some ideas for vegetarian entrees. Not vegetables and not tofu (I know vegetarians with soybean allergies). Main dishes, but vegetarian without hippie [read: bland] anywhere in the description. Anyone got any ideas?

Anyway, what a lovely thing to have people over for dinner. One of the last excuses for being in the physical presence of known intimates.


Pam said...

Chickpeas. You will find your salvation through chickpeas. Chickpeas make a fine topping to cous cous if they are sauteed in onions and carrots and some saffron. And spinach if you have it.

Also, Chinese noodles, the fat kind you can get in the fridge section at Uwajimaya, that you then stirfry with fresh vegetables. Tofu is good for those non-soybean allergy people. Black bean sauce on tofu will break down many tofu-resistant humans. Especially if before doing anything else, you marinate with what little time you have.

Veggie chile and cornbread, because cornbread takes, like, 10 mintues to make and if you are smart you have a can of jalenpeno peppers around for the cornbread emergency. Plus, leftover chili is the way to heaven.

Don't underestimate the charm of a nice frittata for the lacto-ovo crowd. Good with a green salad. Eggs. you have eggs and a tiny bit of parm in the fridge, do you not?

And, of course, especially in winter, soup, soup, soup. Mushroom barley. Minestrone.

Finally, do not underestimate what can be frozen. Nearly everything. A freezer full of home made leftovers and a microwave can feed many a drive by friend.

FYI, here in the snowglobe we know that virtual interaction is no substitute for the company of friends. It's only a placebo that makes you feel better in the interim.

Jason B said...

Thanks Pam.