Too many cooks 'make' the stew

After college, my cooking expertise consisted of boiling water for Ramen noodles and making hot chicken salad with crushed potato chips (don't ask).

The only decent cooking I did was with friends. We'd gather on a Friday night to make spaghetti sauce (helped by Ragu) and bemoan life as grad students or interns or whatever. Commiseration was more important than the food. And few of us had money enough to eat out.

One memorable meal was shared with a friend in Washington on a hot summer evening. We ripped through Georgetown on his motorcycle, a grocery bag full of fresh basil, Parmesan cheese, garlic, and salad greens wedged carefully between us.

In my friend's tiny kitchen we made pesto in a blender, gossiped about college friends, and mused meaningfully about our futures.

Food gatherings, like the one in our cover story (right), are more memorable when everybody pitches in. Preparation is part of a shared experience. Food is tactile, soothing, evocative - and a link to our mother's kitchen.

Why else do people at parties end up in the kitchen? From the first time we taste fresh-baked cookies at our mother's elbow, we have a primal urge to be warmed by association with food.

I eventually learned to cook a few elaborate dishes, and even went through a phase of trying to impress dinner guests. A dessert of sponge cake filled with cranberry curd (don't ask) once took me two days to make. No more.

Give me communal dinners where everyone stirs the pot and adds his own stories to the mix.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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