Let’s blame it on good friend and partner in crime Natasha. She put me up to it.
I was organising our monthly craft night, when Natasha dropped one of her typical, quiet, by-the-by bombshells. “If you want to do something similar with food,” she said, “I would be keen”.
There are plenty who know of my fondness for food and cooking. A quick look at my figure and a guinea pig could work it out. But fewer know about my mania for organisation. Natasha is one of them. So, if you think about it, it was downright irresponsible. Roughly the equivalent of telling a convicted arsonist that someone should build some bonfires for Guy Fawkes Night or taking a kleptomaniac shopping in a coat with deep pockets. You didn’t make them do it, but you knew darn well what would happen.
Over the years, I’ve met others who share my obsessions. Take my former lecturer and friend Margaret. (The black and white images and salsa picture are hers). Margaret and I shared some adventures years ago when she was researching and I studying at the same German university. I already had a cookbook problem, but Margaret made me feel it was OK. She suggested new titles, pointed out the possibilities for posting books home cheaply via the Bundespostsack. We cooked together. We ate out. She facilitated. Or perhaps we were simply co-dependent.
I met Stacey when she started seeing an old university friend about 15 years ago. We hit it off immediately. Something about the way she followed me out to the kitchen where we talked about this and that and family. I knew she was one of us when she showed up at the annual New Year’s Eve party with a great slab of Kikorangi blue and Falswater crackers. Over the years there have been countless dinners, birthdays and holiday celebrations, one helping the other with the cooking. Often my favourite part of the evening is in the kitchen with Stacey, working amiably side by side on the menu of the day.
My sister Victoria is 12 years my junior. We’re very different people, but at the end of the day, fruit of the same tree. She may not take it to the same lengths (yet), but she’s been bitten by the same bug. How many people do you know who will walk from one end of the CBD to the other just to find the better sushi place for lunch?
As for Natasha, she and I bonded over countless lunches, morning teas, piroshki making sessions and other fundraisers for the local Russian Orthodox parish. If you’re going to put on a ball with a 5 course supper for 110 in a hall with one domestic stove and an indifferent water heater, you want Natasha with you from the planning through to the bitter end. She is a voice of reason, yet where others will reach straight for the too hard basket, Natasha never discounts a concept until we’ve worked through the possibilities. In a world full of naysayers, this is a rare quality in a friend, and a brilliant one in a fellow foodie.
These women form the hard core of Food Night.
Top: Natasha and Victoria with the Paella, Above: Later at the table Stacey and Victoria
It was not as easy to arrive at a formula for Food Night as it was for Craft Night. Craft Night cohesion comes simply from togetherness. If you don’t feel like making anything you can just hang out for the conversation. It really doesn’t matter.
Run your foodie group without more planning and you run the risk of it turning into one of those pot luck dinners where there are 7 pasta salads, 2 rice salads and a garlic bread. You might not starve, but without some co-ordination, you’re unlikely to come away with a transcendent experience.
For now we’re doing it this way:
- We meet once a month at one of our houses to cook and eat a meal together.
- We have a theme for each month. This can be a particular cuisine, ingredient, course, festival – whatever you are all interested in. This month our theme was tapas. The last time it was Vietnamese food.
- You agree a menu for the night – say everyone picks a dish. The host buys the ingredients for the meal and we split the bill. Then only one person needs to go shopping and you avoid ending up with 4 bunches of coriander and 3 bottles of fish sauce.
- As an optional activity to provide some inspiration (OK, so it’s an excuse), we meet for a meal earlier in the month, sharing all the dishes and thus tasting as much as we can. Dinner didn’t work for us, but we have adapted remarkably well to being ladies who lunch.
It’s a real treat to have friends from different compartments of your life together at once. Being with people who share your interest is plain liberating, then there’s another kind of familiarity that comes with doing, rather than just talking together.
We’ve started to talk about other things we might do under the Food Night umbrella as time goes on, for example a weekend away or a dinner for our closest family and friends. Who knows where this adventure will take us.
Our last tapas inspired food night menu: above left, seafood paella – not a tapas dish, but we wanted to give it another go anyway; above centre, potato and baby spinach tortilla; above right, the salsa to go with our cerviche (not pictured); below left, choux puffs with a goats cheese filling and drizzled with honey; below right, garbanzo beans (chic peas) with choritzo.