With the recent spike in warm weather, I’m sitting here writing with the breeze from outside flitting through my house. At a restaurant, with a seasonal change typically comes a recalibration of the menu, and a whole different set of inspirations from which to work. I’ve got a couple of ideas up my sleeve.

At work, when I’m selling someone a cut of meat, the weather plays a huge part in what I choose to sell them. There are the customers who have the idea that only a boneless skinless chicken breast will do, and I can see them coming a mile away. I don’t bother with them, as I’ve dressed down that topic many posts ago. However, if I look out the front windows to the store, a football field away, and see that the skies are overcast and full of rain, I’m going to lean toward the chuck roasts and lamb shanks. When the weather is cold outside, food cooked low and slow serves to comfort you when you can’t make it out to brush the grilltop off with your windshield scraper.

However, it’s 70 degrees outside. It’s still March. Global consequences notwithstanding, it’s excellent outside. Last night, we had a dinner with new friends that was a lightly cured gravlax with asparagus, potatoes, tiny pickled mushrooms, and cupcakes. We ate with the doors open. We laughed and shared bottles of wine, and even caught a whiff of a neighbor opening up their grill for the first time that year. It did feel like spring.

When we were in Seattle and it was nice out, we had a patio on the roof. We’d take our food upstairs, look out over the bay, and enjoy something from the grill, or just have a simple salad and some mussels. It didn’t matter what the food was, as eating outside gave an added dimension to the overall enjoyment of the meal that we were sharing. Nice weather puts a smile on your face.

Over the last couple of months, since our dinner at CRUX in the middle of a snowstorm, we’ve thought of ways to enjoy our dinners with friends. What would be the total experience?

People don’t have potlucks in the city. We know one couple who does, and it’s always great. They bring out the long table, usually have a crockpot, a big pot on the stove and some chicken or a pan of italian beef warming in the oven. When they have guests over, there’s anywhere from ten to thirty people, centered around the table, some off watching football or hanging out at the picnic table at the backyard, but everyone’s talking.

I get frustrated when I think that in the outer reaches of climate difference, (Upper Midwest for cold, Southwest for hot), people open their garage door, drive their cars in, and you don’t see them until the weather reaches a more manageable point. You miss an entire season. We’ve had our neighbors over during the winter, and enjoyed intimate indoor dinners, but I want to think bigger.

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Our home has a strange set-up. We have a shared patio with three other neighbors on the second floor of a building. Essentially, it’s a converted warehouse where you walk across the roof to get to your front door. While strange, it’s also sheltered from most of the elements by two stories of brick on three sides, and a view of our downstairs cobbled courtyard on the fourth. This is the perfect place for setting up a community table.

We’ve wanted to get together with friends and have a large scale dinner for a while. The idea sprang from CRUX, where you sit down with ten people you may or may not know, share food, wine, ideas, etc. over the course of an evening. This doesn’t happen anymore. I want to bring it back.

With our set up, this would make it extremely convenient. Access to the seating area is given by our front doors, and we can move out of the elements if it begins to rain. Our doors will be open to friends, as each one of our apartments is filled with wild and esoteric works of art.

Art in Our House

Moreover, with the collective agreement of those who choose to participate, this also gives us access to multiple kitchens, ranges, ovens,  prep surfaces, and different methods of cooking. Each invited party would be responsible for a dish, perhaps centered around a theme, and it would be a great topic of conversation, in addition to the setting. Most of the people I work with have some background in cooking, or at least like to cook, and would bring something new to the table.

I don’t just want to do it for my own personal benefit. The idea itself is not new,  but the concept has so many possibilities. You get to know your neighbors, and know their friends. You open up your homes to one another, and get to see how they live. We are in the “Pilsen Arts Corridor”, set among galleries and independent shops, where color and invention merge. Who would think that tucked back in a corner of a nondescript brick building, you could find an event like this, with such limitless potential?

In the Neighbor's House

I envision a bounty of food with the sonic overload of knives on plates and the white noise of chatter through forkfuls of food. I think of a lively cocktail hour, and an evening discussing the artwork that appears on the plates and walls of our homes.
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As a sidenote, I’m also inspired to do this because of my dad. One of his pet projects of installing Little Free Libraries in the community recently received major exposure on both All Things Considered and the NBC Nightly News. All the feedback I’ve read about this has been effusive, and I think that it can only serve as a positive thing for your neighbors to engage them with a small gesture of sharing something that you love.

I want to engage. I want to feel as though I belong to a collective of people who care about their food, and show interest in their neighbors and friends. I want to charge others with doing that as well.

If you read this, and you feel inspired to share it, go ahead. Take the idea of a community potluck and go with it. Have a backyard barbecue. Find a central location where you can enjoy a meal with many of your friends, and try something new. Open up your kitchen, your dining table, and put the shared fate of the dinner in the hands of your guests. Everyone brings something. You make the experience your own over the conversations you have and the connections you make over the food that you create together. You leave with the satisfaction of an evening well spent with new friends and faces, and return home with new ideas for your kitchen.

A Toast to Art and Food

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