I live in a cohousing community, an intentional community designed with extensive common spaces to foster community interaction. It’s not a commune; we all own our own apartments and townhouses. It’s more like a condominium association with a big clubhouse that the members own and run. It should come as no surprise that my favorite part of the community is the common house kitchen and dining room, where we dine together as a community at least once/week. I love cooking for big crowds, and here I get to make large, elaborate meals I’d never be able to do at home: Cinco de Mayo, Italian Carnivale (not my meal, I just helped out), paella made in a table-sized pan over a wood fire. The photo above shows a Halloween meal I made: lamb-in-a-pumpkin stew. I love the challenge of it, but also the economies of scale. The cost of my meals rarely exceeds $4/person.
Even more, I love the effect my meals have on my neighbors. We gather to eat and drink and talk and laugh and share experiences past and present. We swap recipes, collaborate, cook together and clean together. Studies have shown that people who dine together, and in particular, those who eat the same foods together, are more likely to compromise and reach agreements (gastrodiplomacy). Meals are an integral part of society. We break bread together, we chew the fat, we kill the fattened calf to celebrate the return of the prodigal son. In some countries, it is unthinkable not to offer tea to visitors, and “tea” may range from a cup of warm liquid to a lavish dinner. No wedding is complete without a reception dinner. No holiday goes unmarked by food: the Thanksgiving turkey, the Christmas goose, the Passover seder, the Memorial Day cookout. Food binds together our society with shared experiences. It gives me no end of pleasure to provide that opportunity to my friends and family.
So it seems natural to me to write about food, because ultimately, I’m writing about people, how they interact, how they grow and develop and change together, and sharing meals is a vital part of that process. After all, writing, too, serves to bring people together. We chat about newspaper columns, join book clubs, recall the classics we were forced to read in school, perhaps with fondness, but certainly with a sense of camaraderie. Writing, too, weaves people together.
Here is one of my favorite vegetable side dishes to serve at large meals. If you’re scaling this up for 20 people or more, I recommend using a food processor or mandolin to slice the vegetables thinly for rapid roasting.
Roasted Root Vegetables
- 1 large or two medium potatoes
- 2-3 carrots
- 1 large or two small sweet potatoes
- 2-3 beets
- 1 large parsnip
- 1 turnip or rutabaga
- 1 medium onion
- ¼ c. olive or sunflower oil
- ¼ c. melted butter
- 1 tsp. salt
- fresh thyme and sage to taste
Preheat oven to 425˚F. Chop all vegetables into ½ inch cubes. Finely chop herbs. Place vegetables and herbs in a bowl and drizzle with oil, butter, and salt. Toss to coat thoroughly. Place in a single thin layer in a shallow baking pan or sheet. Roast for 20 minutes or until all vegetables are tender and slightly caramelized but not crisp. Makes 4-6 servings. Note: you don’t have to have all of these vegetables. Use whatever subset you can find. If you’re feeling adventurous, add half a celeriac. It’s a strange root vegetable and will require a lot of paring to remove the bumpy outer skin, but it’s well worth the effort for its mellow celery flavor.
For more recipes, consider preordering A Pixie’s Promise on Kickstarter. It’s chock full of recipes simple enough for a child to make with adult supervision. But you’d better hurry. The Kickstarter ends at 11:30am EDT on Wednesday, May 23rd..