bites of life

small bites

The First Supper

It was an experiment: could we create something magical for people simply by feeding them? Margie and I were both dedicated home cooks with too-small kitchens in our city apartments. We had dreams of a long table outlined by people with interesting things to say; who laughed, argued, and transformed each other. We were both sick of eating out of our laps on couches in other people’s apartments. We were bored of restaurant meals with wonderful food and mediocre conversation. We wanted a real dinner. So, we went to the farm.

image of the barn at dusk.

image of the barn at dusk.

We both loved this farm, where we picked up weekly hauls of collards the size of couch cushions, pounds of tomatoes still warm and fragrant from the sun, carrots sweet like candy. We occasionally attended monthly events, but never before had we claimed it as our own. I wanted to settle into the postcard-picture barn, drink in the the tree-lined fields, fill up with the warm, dusty scent of the place. I wanted to share that with others, and send them back into the world refreshed and full.

On a warm Friday night in July, after the farmers had gone home and the bustle of the workday had ended, we unlocked the doors to the most beautiful kitchen, nestled behind the veggie-laden tables and the coolers of frozen pork. White walls and stainless steel counter tops lined the open room, with one wall of windows overlooking the fields. One long, blonde table stretched down the middle. This community table would be our canvas. The food and the people, our paint brushes and pigments. We were there to see what we could create. We unloaded our groceries, raided the barn’s walk-in cooler for veggies, and got to it.

We peeled a rainbow of beets: purple-red like bruises, golden yellow, striped like candy canes at Christmas. We chopped crisp red peppers, purple onion, deep green garlic scapes. They left colorful piles of confetti across our cutting boards and filled the air with spicy-sweet scents.

Our guests began to arrive (early, as the always seem to when you’re not quite ready). The guest list was small, capped at twelve. We chose few old friends, mostly new friends, people that did not know each other, a few that we did not know at all.

Harrison walked in first; he was introduced to Margie by a friend he had never actually met--the marvel of the internet. Sliding around the creaky doorway on the far side of the barn, he called a hesitant “hello?” His concerned eyes crinkled into a smile when he saw the kitchen. The rest of them trickled in by ones and twos from the city, pulling off the highway and into the dirt driveway.

Everyone brought a small block of cheese to share. The plate grew as each guest arrived--a light, salty cheddar joined a brick of softening goat. Someone jumped in with a stinky blue. The table evolved from prep area to party. A fragrant, floured loaf of sage and olive bread sat as the centerpiece, broken for communion once the full group arrived.  

salad modeling and photo courtesy of @margiedillenburg

salad modeling and photo courtesy of @margiedillenburg

Everyone wanted to stir the risotto.

We made the biggest salad I have ever seen. It came together in a bowl big enough to bathe in. Mixed greens that certainly weren’t all green, they were citron and purple and deep green like the forest and pale like moss, dotted with bits and bobs of texture and color. People began to lean towards each other across the kitchen table. The room buzzed with conversation.

No one asked, “who do you know here?” They just said, “tell me about you.’ No one shook hands, exchanged cards, or asked about connections. Someone made a plate for a stranger, guessing their favorite cheese.

We set out to make pies, but ended with galettes. Because on a farm, even pie pans feel too formal.

As the twelve sat down to dinner at a community table laden with delights of the late spring, the music felt hushed and the conversations deepened, the laughter heightened. With each bite, we filled up on more than just food.

We served dessert al fresco. The plating was slightly rushed because the sunset waits for no man. We wandered the dusky fields, trying to figure out just which plant was what, and pretending to know the names of the herbs. The light faded, obscuring faces. We moved together as one.

The kitchen air still smelled green from prep when we returned, chased in from the night by mosquitoes. Without a word, the newly formed team of twelve sprang into gear. Three people cleared plates while someone else wiped down the counter tops. Everyone moved with the same joy with which they uncorked wine and passed around bread earlier in the night, but the air was purposeful, determined. In ten minutes flat, it was as if we were never there. There were just a few heads of lettuce missing from the walk-in, and a few anonymous leftovers in the fridge, waiting for the farmers to discover for lunch the next day.

photo courtesy of @margiedillenburg

photo courtesy of @margiedillenburg

Ariel KnoebelComment