This week, what we share from our table will also be on a table next door as part of a dinner-exchange we started with some friends who live, as we like to say "one pasture over." These properties used to be connected by family ties, and the path through the pasture is much shorter than the official way around by road and driveways. It hasn't taken much to refresh that well-worn path with some neighboring including, lately, passing back and forth with food to share, a couple of nights a week.
The genesis of this weekly routine came from a point that came up on many visits and meals together: we live with small kitchens with no dishwashers, and we all make a lot of dishes. It came to a peak one night when we gathered in our small kitchen to put up some food together--a madness of chopping, shredding, and mixing to start kimchee and sauerkraut, feeding literally and figuratively off of the combined energy of two households to get us through a massive pile of produce.
We stopped for a moment in that wild pickling evening to eat dinner together before gearing up for the next step. As we looked around we had to laugh at the state of the place: cutting boards, knives, and bowls had been shuffled to the coffee table to make room to eat at the kitchen table; buckets and boxes of cabbage, onion, and carrots were piled in the corner of the room. The kitchen sink was topped over, and each work-station at the counter was carved out of a mountain range of dishes and cooking materials.
And yet, we all had to admit that while this was completely crazy, it was also just an expansion of the ebb and flow of our daily kitchen work. We cook from scratch, we cook from the garden, and we get caught up in the excitement of good food. It does make a lot of good work and good food, of course, but also a lot of dishes. We realized, as we talked, that cooking for four people makes no more cleanup than cooking for two, and we should really all take advantage of that.
We decided on an exchange where each household would, on one night of the week, cook for both and deliver extra to the other. It gives us each one evening a week of having only the dishes that we eat off of to wash. We used some guidelines we'd seen from others doing similar exchanges: no pressure to make anything fancy, no need to stay and visit if evenings were busy. If someone has other plans or is out of town on drop-off night, they use it the next day. It's simple, and yet the knowledge that a meal will be delivered and shared has inspired an occasional extra touch and elevates our own eating just a bit. It might just be taking a moment to arrange sliced tomatoes or a basil garnish across the top of the pasta or to array the red peppers on a pizza into a star instead of a random toss. At the surface it's just decoration, but underneath it's also a demonstration of caring, and that makes it special. A care that, we remind ourselves in the midst of busyness, uncertainty and stresses, needs to be both taken and received.
The exchange started because of dishes, but in a small way it is much more, too. When we deliver the pan of stuffed summer squash across the pasture, there's a pleasure in the feeling of giving and nurturing, of feeding our friends. When a dish of steaming rice, greens, and chickpeas arrives at our door at the end of a long day, we sit down to it with gratitude that goes so far beyond not needing to clean the kitchen. It's gratitude for neighbors, for friends, for caring and being cared for in some small way.