Build your village
To be successful, we need backup. No one is an island. This is the story of how I found my people and how we built a village. It's simple and deep at the same time. And it's a huge part of how I get everything else done in my life.
I cook once a week. I cook once a week for 5 families. And then we all divide up our big batches so we each have a week's worth of meals. This has changed my life. At 5pm I don't wonder what will we eat... I open my fridge and ask myself (or my kids): would you like to eat Wilson's meal, Aurelia's meal, Olive's meal or Luca's meal? We warm it up and voila... Dinner. No cooking clean up. No thinking (or very little). Not only has this created calm and relief in my day to day existence... it has brought so much gratitude and connection. I had no idea this would happen! In the course of cooking for each other we have built a village. Our battle cry: Village Up, Ladies! We are considering tattoos.
It started as survival. My best friend Katya and I had been cooking together for a while. We initially filled a chest freezer with meals before our second kids were born (cooking after bedtime in those last few weeks before our families expanded and chaos ensued). Then we did meal planning via text message, meeting up on the weekends to cook together while our partners' took the kids away from the house. It was a lot of work and we didn't always finish the meals. And we were thinking about food ALL THE TIME.
Then Katya had the brilliant idea of just cooking a big batch and sharing. We met with a third friend, Hilary, and talked about just how nervous and excited this idea made all of us. Within a week I'd invited two other women - Jenny and Adana - to join us, and then I had to be stopped, as no one wanted to cook for more than 20 people at a time. It turns out that in this case more is just marvelously more. Five families is probably the max I'd recommend but who knows...(a freezer meal focused meal co-op?). Okay, I'll stop.
we came up with a few ground rules:
- Be real, do not try to impress anyone. Have 3 meals you like to make and rotate them.. for ages (soups, stews, curries, taco ingredients, salads with dressing and components separated... you get the idea)
- Text each other at the beginning of the week with our meal idea (just to make sure we don't have a week with 5 lentil meals - oops!)
- Make enough for a hungry family (soup for a family of 4 means two large mason jars) - you don't have to include bread or rice or sausages/fried eggs to fill out the meal, but suggestions for these are appreciated in the planning text
- Put meals into large glass mason jars, over time we found that those wine bottle bags are the perfect transport device.
- Exchange meals at a convenient place - for us, this was our preschool during drop-off and pick-up
There have been so many unexpected surprises that have come out of this experiment. The gratitude, the community, the delicious food, the weeks when each of us has been sick and *have not had to cook* because the other families had our backs, the extra meals that we've all had on hand to share with a new neighbour, and the weaving together of our lives through the food we make and share together. Truly, it's been glorious. We have much more to write about it, more to come about that later.
There are a few questions that people ask us when we talk about this - and it's true that all of us talk about this whenever we can.
Here are some of the basic questions:
- Are you freaked out about cooking for that many people? Yes. Almost everyone is. Talk about it, start with a simple easy recipe, and just dive in. Don't miss out because it's scary at first. We were all freaked out (okay, maybe not pastry-chef-extraordinaire Adana).
- What if people don't like my meal? It's okay. One of the most wonderful things is having someone make you dinner. That's what you're doing. You'll be surprised by the gratitude that flows.
- How do you know you'll like the other person's meal? You don't. But it's pretty awesome to have someone make you dinner, period. Trust that others will rise to the occasion and bring their best game.
- How do you deal with dietary issues? Talk about them. We were lucky to all have similar needs. Although as time has gone on - we've now been cooking for each other for more than a year and a half, every week - we've had new dietary needs arise. It's been amazing how people adapt (almost no grains!) and how we have all learned to be more flexible and inventive.
- Will my kids eat the food? Maybe. But that's pretty true of any situation, right? It's also been impressive how exposure to new foods on a consistent basis, has changed our kids' palettes. I'm pleased to say that my lentil and chorizo soup has turned a few kids into lentil lovers. Small victories, people!
There are many people who talk about how it takes a village, many who are saddened by the lack of a village - especially for parents - and yet I wonder if building a village could be easier than we think? One thing I know: without this village I wouldn't be sitting here writing these words. The support and space to think about my life has come from this community we've formed. Our partners have been woven into this fabric of food and flexibility. This food has given me extra moments of free brain space.
And as I think about ways for working mothers and entrepreneurs to be more focused and productive.. food is actually where I begin. How can we expect to grow ourselves and our families and our businesses without food? Wouldn't it be amazing if that food could be more than last minute, stressful or just take-out? What if it could happen without intense meal planning, organization and to-dos? And instead come with connection, understanding and a crew of people who have your back? I say, yes it can.
So go! Find your people! It could be your co-worker who you know just a little but you both have kids and look a bit frazzled at lunch time, but you like how they have impressive salads most days. It could be that parent at school who laughs at the same ridiculous things your kids do... I know you're thinking now!
Recipes to get started:
What we are eating this week:
- Salad nicoise with tuna/smoked salmon
- Simmered beans and kale
- Baked chickpeas with pita chips and yogurt
- Roasted chicken legs and a grain salad
- (and one mom has the week off because of Life).
It's my jam to help working mothers find grace and space in the midst of the mess of life. Contact me to start a conversation.
photo credit: Katya Matanovic