There’s a reason why people gather around the table.
I’ve been reflecting on this idea a lot over the past few months, especially after reading Shauna Niequist’s “Bread and Wine,” which is a book that moved me to laughter and tears and intense hunger for curry and wine. If your soul sings for God, food, and community, you should read it too.
Anywho, it got me thinking about food and friends and the time I’ve spent eating with various groups of people over the years. In the end, I think the people I love the most in the world have cooked with me, baked with me, or indulged in unhealthy amounts of ice cream with me.
When I look back on my favorite times of community, I associate different foods with different people and different times of life. When I think of slice and bake cookies, I think of Audrey and middle school, and how frustrated we were when they stopped selling those cookies in the roll. And that leads me to think of Kristin, Ari, and Audrey, and all the Pringles and Slim Jims consumed during the AP Project of Doom. When I think of bacon, I think of my friend, Hannah, and then I think of making owl cupcakes from scratch in the kitchen of my college house. And that makes me think of Hannah, Kaitlyn, and Kelsey, and our spring break trip around the South, which mostly centered around eating, as all the best trips do.
When I think of Lindsay, Kelly, Erica, and Candice, I think of cold, slanted college houses (our living room floor was literally slanted enough that people would fall over while sitting or walking), monster cookies consumed in mass, and that multi-layer taco dip that Erica always made, and jalapeno poppers (which I’ve still never eaten, but I remember Lindsay loving).
When I think of ice cream, I think of Caitlin and am forever thankful that she introduced us to Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, which I then shared with Megan, who makes me think of butterfinger cake and bacon krispy bars and everything delicious from Bon Appetit. When I think of brownies, I think of my mom, and how she was the best hostess in the world whenever we had friends gather at our house because she always had some sweet treat ready to go. When I think of Madri and Carly, I think of ice cream covered in a multitude of sinful toppings, eaten with hair still soaking wet from swimming in the backyard.
When I think of marionberry anything, I think of my friend Becca, with whom I still exchange local food goodies in the mail several times a year. When I think of summer days at the lake, I think of how much thought my mother-in-law put into planning meals to feed 8 of us, and I specifically think (and drool) over Brendan’s carne asada, which made me certain that marrying into the Ringer family was the best decision I’ve ever made. And that makes me think of Laura and Becky, and that time we attempted to learn the dance to Party Rock Anthem while everyone else sat and laughed at us and our poor shuffling.
When I think of shrimp tacos, I think of meeting Brent’s then-girlfriend, now-wife, Megan, and how much I loved her right away for taking the time to make this incredible meal for people she didn’t even know. When I think of the summer we got married, I picture sharing a pepperoni and roasted red pepper Domino’s pizza with my parents, sister, Kristen, and Kelly every Sunday after church.
I think food and community started in middle school, when my small group of 6th grade girls would gather at Audrey’s house every Sunday night for dinner and Bible study. The same group of girls met every Sunday night through 12th grade. And while I’m sure we ate other things, I mostly remember breakfast for dinner and KFC. I couldn’t tell you why those are the two standouts in my mind, as I’m certain our collective group of parents sent other, healthier foods for us to eat, but that’s what I remember the most. We celebrated birthdays, talked about boys, wore our sweatpants (middle and high school are less than glamorous times of life), ate food, and shared our lives. Look out, small group friends, because I’m about to really embarrass all of us with a photo from high school.
When I went to college, community revolved less around shared meals than cookies baked during finals week. But friends gathered around the table for Canadian Thanksgiving (why? I have no idea.), birthday dinners, and disgusting college cafeteria meals before BCM events. And then there were the grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches prepared each morning on our totally unsupervised mission trip to Mexico, which turned out to be one of the most hilarious adventures of my life (not to mention a giant slumber party every night).
During a summer working at a camp near Seattle, community was formed (and approximately 10 pounds were gained) over marionberry jam, blueberry coffee cake, and biscuits stolen from the camp kitchen. We saw Mt. Rainier for the first time, and spent the weirdest summer of our lives dressing like fools, going by camp nicknames (I’m Gilmore, by the way), and avoiding swimming in the freezing lake.
After college, during our remaining year and a half in Lexington, community revolved around our magical small group. We met at Dustin and Shelly’s house every Sunday night for a meal. Our small group included so many different types of people: a nurse, a teacher, a plastic surgeon, college and grad students, an engineer, a waitress, a chef (I highly recommend living a life of eating with a chef). Everyone would bring a dish. Caitlin and I would trade off making desserts. I think it’s rare to click with a group of people so quickly, and I doubt we’ll ever find a small group like that again. But friendships were made, SNL skits were watched, games were played, and community was formed.
When we moved from Kentucky to Oregon, community was formed again around the table. We started a dinner group with some of Eric’s MBA classmates, which is how I made adult friends (I was working as a nanny, so my life consisted of talking only to small children). We’d rotate around apartments, and when we hosted, furniture was rearranged to fit as many people as possible. I don’t know if any of those friends ever saw our apartment without the couch pressed right up against the television to make room for chairs around the table. Whoever hosted made the meal, and everyone else played to their strengths. Nathaniel brought the beverages. Emily and Ryan brought the salad. Dan brought the chips (and no one is better at picking out incredible chips than Dan. I had no idea this was a skill in life, but he has it). Megan and Jordan brought the dessert, and you have not lived until you’ve eaten one of Megan’s cakes. (By the way, Megan, we haven’t eaten cake since you moved away, and we’re sad about it.)
And now we’ve moved again, and as I sit here tearing up over the food and community that has been, we’ll start over with finding that community here in Portland. And I’m going to host dinner parties in this tiny apartment. Even if it means everyone sitting on the floor because we only have two chairs. We’ll roll out the yoga mats and put pillows down if we have to. Because community is formed at the dinner table. Or the breakfast table. Or over dessert. It doesn’t matter. If you feed them, they will come.