We’re an odd little commune of sorts, our block in ye olde neighborhood. We share like family the major holidays, pick-up street games, pet sitting, garden harvesting (figs!) and, perhaps most of all, cooking. It is not unusual to receive a 5:30 text from a neighbor asking for cumin or to send one asking for an onion, as we know there’s at least one stocked pantry on the block at any given time and, more importantly, as our nearest grocery store is akin to one of the circles of hell at 5:30 in the afternoon.
We have, I believe, a disproportionate share of really good home cooks on our block of 20 or so families. Over the years we’ve gotten to know one another’s styles and strengths, which makes for an easy potluck Easter brunch or Labor Day cookout. We’ve also, from time to time, shared regular family night dinners, either by opening the door with an impromptu invitation or by delivering extras to a neighbor’s doorstep.
In that funny way that children are, as I was also in my childhood, my kids will eat with great enjoyment things they would ordinarily not touch, provided that the food has been prepared by one of our neighbors. They ask for, by name: Marjorie’s cheese grits, Rachel’s lentil soup, Martha’s grilled chicken pasta salad, Allison’s French toast casserole, Frank’s hamburgers, Tracy’s cupcakes, Cristina’s almond cake, and Lacy’s tuna salad. On that one I had to call Lacy and ask just exactly what secret mojo she put in that tuna salad, only to learn that she made it exactly the same way I did. The magic of other cooks should not be dismissed lightly.
A few weeks ago one neighbor and I decided to take this shared love of food to the next level and try an experiment: one night each week we’d each make enough dinner to share with the other, eliminating the burden of one night’s planning and cooking. She has Mondays; I have Wednesdays. The point is not so much to flex our creative kitchen muscle as it is to eliminate just one small weekly stress: what to have for dinner.
It’s early days just yet, but I have great hopes. It’s the next step, a happy development, in this whole weekly dinner planning thing. Remembering my original goal for family meals and also my commitment to Michael Pollan’s rule that food is to be enjoyed together, I’m looking forward to widening the circle.
Week of September 2| 2013
Pulled pork tacos are among the top five go-to dinners in our house. If we’re in a hurry, we’ll buy smoked pulled pork from The Bar-B-Q Shop. Sometimes a local band or football team is selling smoked butts for a fundraiser, and we’ll use that. This week we’re going to try a new slow cooker recipe and serve the usual way, with corn tortillas, chopped onion and tomato, cilantro, lime wedges and sour cream. We’ll also have guacamole and chips from local Las Delicias, since I finally brought enough cash to the hippie farmers’ market to buy some on my way out.
| End of Summer Vegetable Plate
I’m going to give stewed kale a shot, although I suspect my people won’t eat it. Ditto the okra greens that I’ve never cooked but couldn’t pass up at the market because they were so pretty. Will make the rest our standard: stone ground grits (with a bit of smoked gouda this week), sliced tomatoes, pickled cucumbers and peaches.
|Scrambled Egg Sandwiches
Our newest favorite breakfast for dinner option is a classic scrambled egg sandwich, eggs cooked soft and served on warm, but not toasted, bread with butter or mayo on it and a side of fresh fruit. Take that, football practice that ends at 8:00 on a school night.
|Prosciutto | Fig | Arugula Pizza
With the weird cool summer, I found beautiful young arugula at the market (unheard of in August in Memphis), and we have to enjoy the last of the figs while they’re here. I have never used a recipe to make this pizza, but here’s one that looks pretty much like how I prepare it. Hard to go wrong with these basic ingredients anyway.
| Gnocchi with Fresh Pesto
We have the mother lode of basil in our garden, so I’ve been making pesto every week. I haven’t made gnocchi in a while, though, and remember that it was both surprisingly easy and devoured by my people. Here is Mario Battali’s recipe, which is what I used last time.