Living in Fairfield County, CT., we are blessed to have properties that are often zoned with a couple of acres of land. It’s very peaceful but can be a little isolating if you want to connect with your neighbors.
Sometimes we mistakenly imagine that once our kids no longer need friends to ride bikes with “on the block”, we don’t need our neighbors much anymore either.
Eight years ago, a couple of friends gathered to celebrate a dear friend’s joy as she was expecting her first grandchild.Our small group of neighbors was so happy to take a break to enjoy tea and good company that someone suggested we form a neighborhood book group.
There were some new neighbors who had recently moved in but we hadn’t welcomed them yet. We began to throw out suggestions for how to gather the group, who to include, and what we wanted to gain from gathering to discuss great reads each month.
Inevitably, the topic of food popped up almost immediately. Did we want to meet over lunch, tea, dinner, wine? So many of us were deeply involved in work, volunteering, hobbies and travel.
We wondered of we were too busy to commit to regular gatherings?
In retrospect, it amazes me that we landed on meeting for a late lunch, every six weeks, to discuss challenging reads.
Our group is wonderfully and accidentally diverse.
We have a a few empty nesters, a couple of world travelers, two-three writers, a local politician and political activist, an elegant ex-fashion model (she has def raised the bar about how we dress for our meetings), two family therapists (who lend great insights and help us navigate through rough waters when we disagree too vehemently), and a couple of lawyers who have taken a break or changed courses.
We have my neighbor from directly across the street, a renowned documentary film maker. She confesses to being an octogenarian. I suspect she may have passed that decade already, although her sharp mind, regular attendance and creative wit would have you thinking she is a young septuagenarian.
We are from diverse backgrounds. Our group of “Bookies” includes a foreign born American, a couple of ladies born to immigrant parents, and a few of us who are married to foreign born men.
Our discussions are rich because of the many lenses through which we view issues.
But what do we eat when we gather?
We discovered that four or five of us are Kosher Like Me, two are vegetarians, and the rest are omnivores and healthy eaters.
To accommodate our preferences and to ensure that everyone would feel comfortable eating together, we committed to serving only vegetarian (actually pescatarian) fare.
At our recent holiday lunch at Mary’s, we brought together our first pot luck meal.
Mary is the consummate hostess, with a hugely welcoming spirit and a dependably sumptuous buffet surrounded by magnificent decorations all around as she welcomes us to her Christmas wonderland.
This year we thought it would be interesting to see what dishes we would each chose to contribute to the celebration. As we brought our dishes into Mary’s home last week, I marveled at the creativity we each expressed in our preparation, choices, and presentation.
The celebration was like us, varied and fascinating, with each dish being a reflection of the cook’s preferences.
More than that, each dish was a reflection of our respect for finding common ground for eating together as we consider endless food choices from our blessed and abundant kitchens.
I contributed poached pears adapted from one of the “BOOKIES” absent from our celebration.
I keep it parave (non-dairy) by making a crumble topping from ginger cookies I find at Whole Foods. They are from a company called Sha Sha Co. and they are certified Kosher and Parave. I throw a couple of hands full into my food processor with another handful of spicy and sweetened pecans.
Elise suggests a few other toppings in the recipe below.
As the calendar year ends, raise a glass and toast the dear ones you surround yourself with.