from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Sunday, April 19, 2009
On the Menu: Share the cooking to save money, build relationships
By China Millman
Tough economic times often inspire creative solutions. As one example, a growing number of people are turning to communal cooking as a way not only to save money, but also to turn what some see as a chore into a social activity.
“It makes so much sense for efficiency and cost, but it also has this incredible intangible benefit of giving you time to hang out with your friend,” said Shannon Henry of Madison, Wis.
In fact, Ms. Henry and her business partner, Alison Bermack of Montclair, N.J., believe so strongly in the tangible and intangible benefits of this lifestyle that in 2006 they started “Cooking With Friends,” an interactive online community that provides information, cooking tips and recipes for like-minded cooks (www.cookingwithfriendsclub.com).
“Our concept of cooking with friends started before the economic downturn, but now that people are looking to save money, it makes even more sense,” Ms. Henry said.
While this type of social cooking might once have appealed primarily to the coupon-cutting, play-date juggling set, these days it’s a lifestyle as likely to be embraced by young singles rethinking their ability or desire to eat out at restaurants every night of the week.
Sharing cooking responsibilities with a friend may even have more benefits for those who are cooking for just one or two people. Jennifer Maiser, the San Francisco-based founder and editor of the “Eat Local Challenge” Web site (www.eatlocalchallenge.com), thought that cooking with a friend would help cut down on food costs, and she’s sharing her experiences on Serious Eats, the blog and community about all things edible.
Ms. Maiser is not alone in growing frustrated with the wasted food and lack of variety that can result when most recipes are designed to feed groups and you’d rather not eat the same dinner four nights in a row.
Each week she and her friend plan the menu and divvy up shopping responsibilities via e-mail. Because eating local, sustainable foods is extremely important to Ms. Maiser but can take extra effort, she shops for produce and meat while her partner picks up pantry goods. Some dishes, such as cassoulet and lentil soup, they cook completely, while others, such as wheat berry salad, they might prep in individual containers to finish at the last minute. So far it sounds as if they’re eating extremely well, and both are saving money — so far they’ve spent an average of $40 each per week.
Like Ms. Henry and Ms. Bermack, Ms. Maiser emphasizes the social value of the arrangement as well as the financial. “A month into cooking together, we are falling into a happy pattern of preparing meals. There’s a lot less discussion about where to find a measuring cup or which pan to use, and a lot more social catching up and chit-chatting about the week’s events,” she wrote this week.
Not everyone is lucky enough to have a close friend who lives in the same building, has the same food requirements and is a good cooking partner. But finding a compatible cook doesn’t have to be an insurmountable burden. The “Cooking With Friends” Web site has resources to help people figure out what they should look for in a possible partner. There’s even a cooking compatibility quiz in the “How-to” section.
But what if you like cooking alone? If cooking with someone else isn’t in the cards, there are other ways to reap the benefits of collective cooking.
Joan Elenita Tan is the organizer of an online food-related meet-up group in Chicago with more than 1,000 members — www.meetup.com/whatscookinchicago. Activities include a monthly “Brunch and Barter,” a brunch followed by a food swap.
“I started food swaps as a way to have friends get their creative juices flowing,” explained Ms. Tan. “It started out where we would all prepare a specific type of dish, whether it was brownies, cupcakes, breads, soups, etc. It soon evolved into preparing large-batch dishes that we could share.”
The event listing gives detailed instructions to participants from what size Tupperware to use to exactly when to start trading food.
Starting a food swap of your own isn’t complicated either.
“Four to six [people] would be a good start, since a majority of recipes usually make this amount in one batch,” suggested Ms. Tan. “I definitely think it’s a great way to save money and time.”
And who couldn’t use more of those?
China Millman can be reached at 412-263-1198 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow China on Twitter at http://twitter.com/chinamillman.
First published on April 19, 2009 at 12:00 am