Oberlin Blogs

Cooperative Shenanigans

March 6, 2011

Griff Radulski ’14

It all started with one meal during interim.

No one was cooking dinner, and although I don't remember exactly how it happened, somehow or other I ended up in the kitchen with my friend Peter Fogg. He would later be elected Pizza Chef by unanimous nomination, but for now we were head cooking on short notice and what mostly mattered were our chopping skills.

One by one the cooks showed up and we churned out a beautiful Italian meal: herbed focaccia with melted mozzarella, pasta with a spicy tomato-and-veggie sauce, breaded tofu with spices and Braggs and, for the finishing touch, chocolate pudding with whipped cream prepared by the multitalented Meryl. We had the main courses out on time and followed with the pudding a moment later.

The applause seemed thunderous. I was hooked.

So when Peter knocked on my door yesterday asking if I wanted to improv cook a Special Meal, the piled-up homework and scheduled trip to Wal-Mart ceased to matter. I love cooking, and I love cooking with Peter. We went All-American, with onion rings, spaghetti with pasta sauce (Italian-American, okay?), glazed cornbread and oatmeal-raisin cookies. For tomato products, we had one half of one fresh tomato. So we made our tomato sauce tomato-free. We'd wanted to include French fries, too, but all of the potatoes had been claimed.

Yesterday I learned something I thought I'd learned long ago. Standing around the empty table ten minutes after the meal is supposed to be out, it's easy to start thinking that head cooking is much more about timing than about kitchen skills. Standing over the stove dipping onion rings ten minutes after the meal is supposed to be out, it's easy to start thinking that head cooking is all about timing, and also that everybody hates you and will never again speak your name.

The good news: that's apparently not true.

In even better news, the food was fine. The cornbread was a little underdone, it's true, but Peter's brilliant idea of glazing it with syrup made it easily the most delicious cornbread I've tasted. Thane's cookies were perfectly cooked and terribly tasty. And the onion batter - I cannot describe the onion batter. Mine, hastily made and originally vegan, yielded tasty fried onions with a thin uneven rind of egg and flour. When I asked Thane to whip up another batch of batter, the results were spectacular: perfect carnival onion rings in a puffed shell with a trace of lemon-pepper and a tangy bite.

About the timing, though - these perfect onion rings went out twenty minutes late.

Still, the meal was a success, especially considering that the three of us worked more or less unaided and with fewer ingredients than our original interim meal. In the end, everyone's just happy to have food on the table. And it turns out to be just as fun to put it there.

Did I learn my lesson from yesterday's dinner? Not at all. Peter and I are signed up to cook a legitimate Special Meal this Saturday, one of our very own. We're getting into the kitchen at 2:00 and timing everything to a T. It will be fabulous. Be there. There will probably be a parade.

Speaking of parades, Keep has created not one, but two, brand-new positions this semester. The first is CLEC - cleaning and loose ends coordinator - who, well, cleans, and coordinates loose ends.

For all you Obie-hopefuls or ResEd folk, this is how the system works: for living here, we each do an hour of work a week. It's usually cleaning, but we also have credited positions like House Masseuse (one hour credit), House Decorator (half-hour credit), and Parade Master (one million hours credit ... more on that later). It used to be that every co-oper would get a job for the semester - cleaning toilets, say, or sweeping the porch. The system wasn't working because it was hard to keep track of who was doing what when.

Last semester we changed the system and elected four CCs, three of whom ran cleaning shifts and one of whom sent emails and took care of announcements. Now we knew exactly who was showing up and who wasn't. The trouble? No one had the time or the authority to talk to those who didn't. The system was better than the old one, but not great. Thus: the CLEC was born.

The CLEC is supposed to "work with the CCs, non-foods buyer, HLECs and trash/recycling folk" - and that is essentially exactly what I'm doing. The job also involves emailing various authorities (mostly Rachel Beiser, our food-safety coordinator, who actually coordinates quite a bit more than food and will help with any issue at any time), and sending out weekly pleas and updates to the good citizens of Keep. My favorite part so far has been the categorization of all the contents of all the cleaning closets in Keep. Next step: organization! Hooray!

I mentioned a few of our more whimsical credited positions. (We also have superheroes, villains and warlords, but they don't get housing credit for that, just props.) Taking the prize for whimsy this semester is the Parade Master position, clocking in at a million hours of credit. Grace and Charlotte, the awesomest bros in the bro-op,* proposed that a position be created with the right and responsibility to call a Keep parade at any time for any reason. Every Keeper present has to parade! At our silly-jobs house meeting, I was elected to great fanfare and had to resist the urge to call a parade right then and there.

The first parade, instead, occurred last Friday. I say "occurred" because I didn't call it - the parade more or less formed itself behind me. We had all been playing a game of sardines when I had to pizza cook. The other sardineers trickled down to the dining room to munch on June's chocolatey oatmeal cookies; about five minutes later, I marched through the room with a knife on my way to get ice cubes. On my way back they fell into lockstep and I called for music. Our HLEC, Max, obliged with a marching step:

Da dadada DUM BUM tum bum TUM ...

We marched out onto the porch and into the grey afternoon, daBUMming and waving utensils in sync. What could be better? What could be louder? What could be more cooperative?

The only thing lacking was an audience, but as I turned to lead the parade back into Keep proper, I saw we had one after all: a single neighbor staring open-mouthed at our exuberant parade.

 - -- - -- - -- - -- - -- - -- - -- -

*This semester, Keep is affectionately known as "the bro-op" for its laid-back attitude and preponderance of good-natured co-opers who proudly claim the title "bro."

Responses to this Entry

NOO I missed the first parade?!? You have to call one again soon! :)
p.s. your cooking is AWESOME

Posted by: Paris on March 7, 2011 3:22 PM

Thanks! That made me smile.

There have, in fact, been three parades. But none of them were very long -- just very rowdy. Hopefully you'll be around for one soon :)

P.S. Your bread is wonderful and I can't wait for more!

Posted by: Griff on March 7, 2011 4:54 PM

This is a totally excellent co-op post. All the meals sound cooperatively delicious, and I LOVE THAT THERE IS A PARADE MASTER. Keep just became even more cool.

When I headcooked a bazillion years ago, I found that timing was the most nerve-wracking part of the job. I used to spend hours the night before a meal (regular co-op meals, not just special meals) doing prep and organizing myself so I would have all the time I needed the day of. Folks are usually willing to wait if the food will be delicious. It sounds like your inspired American meal (especially those onion rings) were well worth it.

Posted by: Ma'ayan on March 7, 2011 4:57 PM


I your meals are absolutely delicious!
much love (and pudding (and possibly meringues again soon))

Posted by: Meryl on March 7, 2011 5:09 PM


You definitely run the most superb parades. I can't wait till it gets warm out. TGIF parade??

Posted by: Charlotte on March 7, 2011 5:58 PM

Not to miss/ignore the point entirely--I love Keep and your menus and your parading skills (!!) very much, and I'd really like to try the pasta sauce with 1/2 tomato--but WALMART??!! Where did I go wrong?? Much gnashing of teeth.....
and congrats on new positions!
love and kisses

Posted by: mom on March 8, 2011 4:21 PM

Living at the Keep sounds like a wonderful experience! Keep cooking, parading and having a good time. You will find timing is over rated. If you feed them, they will come. I love your blog - keep writing.
Hugs & kisses,

Posted by: Betty Miller on March 8, 2011 4:43 PM

Hooray for parades--and onion rings! I had my first taste of real onion rings over Winter Term (in Keep, no less!) and I applaud all who create them.

Posted by: Tess on March 9, 2011 1:34 PM

Great, great fun to read - although, having visited Oberlin, I wonder at the fact that any Oberliner would stare open-mouthed at an exuberant parade. For Oberliners, I expect there's nothing new under the sun (I'm sure that's a great phrase in Latin). Love, Da

Posted by: Da (dadada DUM BUM tum bum TUM) on March 9, 2011 11:20 PM

Thanks for your comments, everyone! Comments are the best part of having a blog, no lie.

@ Mom: If you can suggest somewhere else within a two-mile radius of Oberlin where I can buy fancy pants, a garlic press, various groceries AND a surprise birthday present, point the way. Until then, the evil empire shall reign victorious.

@ Nana: thanks, but what about when they come before you've fed them? you're right, though. Everyone appreciated the food even so.

Posted by: Griff on March 10, 2011 7:25 PM

Rockin' writin' - and I'm sure the trip to Walmart was actually to lead a protest . . . Love, Da

Posted by: Da on March 14, 2011 11:06 PM

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