I am sending my well-wishes from the sunny shores of the Italian coast! I am standing in the ruins of Pompeii! A tower leans (almost toppling! oh dear!) in the distance! I can hear the cries of Roman gladiators clashing and the roar of the crowd crushed into the spectators' boxes at the Colosseum! The smell of pasta wafts through the air! Somewhere pizza dough is being stretched and pulled! Salami! Mozzarella! Mio dio! Italia!
In reality, I write from the strangely warm and wet climate that has graced our little Ohio town in the last stretch of the winter months. The snow has turned to slush. The sky is always an unforgiving slate of gray or white. The semester is closely approaching and with it, the stress — and excitement? — of academic obligation.
For the past month, I have been dining in the Winter Term Italian Co-op run out of Keep Cottage, doing my best to consume enough pasta and freshly baked focaccia bread to stave away the winter blues. The Italian co-op, rather than accurately representing the entirety of Italian culture, is an approximation at best. Our meals have consisted of attempts at traditional Italian fare with traditional co-op ingredients: tofu, beans, rice, and an everchanging slew of mixed vegetables.
A snapshot of the Italian co-op's final days:
Friday lunch, handmade pasta a la Justin
Excellent, delectable, deliziosa! This meal was one for the books!
Dinner was handmade pasta, submerged in a beautifully rich and creamy pink sauce (tomatoes, tomato paste, onions, garlic, oat milk, black pepper, a dash of salt). This meal was served alongside traditional co-op protein — beans (pinto with salt, pepper, parsley, rosemary, and bay leaf) — and vegetables — carrots and onions roasted to perfection (slightly blackened, but to my liking) with paprika, cayenne, onion powder, salt, and black pepper.
The piece de resistance (or pezzo forte! — please ignore my GoogleTranslate Italian) was an impossibly fluffy yellow cake, topped with homemade chocolate frosting. We didn’t have powdered sugar so our cooks used granulated. But this substitution, rather than take away from the culinary experience, improved it, inviting an original crunch to a traditionally smooth concoction. As one of our other co-opers so aptly put it, “Lack drives beauty.” (A creative spin on the phrase “Necessity drives innovation.”)
Friday dinner! Soup, rolls, and something a little Eggs-tra Special.
(As a member of a cooperative dining space in Oberlin you are required to participate in four to five cumulative hours of cooking and cleaning a week depending on the size of your co-op. Cook shifts are generally two hours long. Traditionally, cooks show up for one of the two hours to help out. Head Cooks run the shifts, staying for the entirety of the two hours, sometimes showing up a little earlier to prep, and planning out the meal that will be cooked that afternoon or evening.)
This Friday, the 26th of the first month of 2024, I, Hanna Alwine, Head Cooked my very second meal in a co-op.
I decided to make soup (carrot, ginger, potato, lentils) and bread rolls (flour, yeast, sugar, salt, canola oil). I also decided to attempt to make an egg-muffin experiment (the bread rolls + sunny side up eggs).
For the last couple weeks there has been a running gag in Italian co-op about what a popover is meant to look like. One co-oper admitted they have believed for the past twenty-odd years that popovers are muffins with a fried egg on top. We debated the logistics and decided that the feat had to be attempted. (Pictured below.)
Not as ambitious as I’d hoped, I made a mere eighteen “popovers.” In a future attempt, I would like to add salt and pepper to the egg while it bakes as well as rosemary to the bread dough. I’m egg-static about this success!
Saturday dinner, Chicken piccata!!
"Buonasera amori della mia vita,” the email that announced Saturday dinner was lovely from the start. Co-ops generally serve less meat than traditional dining (among the reasons why are the greater risk of foodborne illness, the higher price of meat, the fact that many people join co-ops because they are having a difficult time finding consistent non-meat meals in traditional dining). Still, on occasion, a co-op will have a Meat Meal.
Though I hold nothing against the co-op tofu (ask me later and I’ll sing its praises), as someone who does eat meat this meal was an exciting shift in routine.
We ate well. Crispy chicken (chicken, bread crumbs, salt, pepper, egg, flour, olive oil, canola oil, parmesan, mozzarella!) on a bed of fluffy focaccia (yeast, flour, olive oil, sugar, salt!), smothered in an elegantly spiced red sauce (basil, salt, tomato, onion, garlic, sugar, olive oil!), with a side of creamy mashed potatoes (potato, salt, pepper, rosemary, milk, butter, paprika, garlic, egg!) and cooked-til-tender cabbage (cabbage, butter, olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic!)
To the chefs, Buonasera, amori della mia vita, vi ricambiamo!
The Italian co-op has now had their final meal. We have eaten our last spaghetti noodle. We have said our last ciao. As the Oberlin populous flocks back for Spring Semester, I am sad to let la cooperativa italiona go.
Though I had expected Winter Term in Ohio to be gray, lonely, and cold, instead I have found space to pick up new hobbies, to write and to read, to work at the coffee shop, to spend time with friends, and to devote myself academically in ways that seem hard during the regular school year when I am juggling four classes instead of just one.
But though the sleepy-slow schedule is a major factor, being a part of Italian Co-op has equally contributed to my January good mood. The more time I spend at Oberlin, the bigger proponent of co-ops I become. Eating in a co-op this Winter Term has only further cemented my appreciation for OSCA. Around campus and the country, college students are notorious for complaining about the dining halls. Bad dining hall food, yearning for home cooked meals, and processed diets have become pillars of the stereotypical American collegiate experience. Though co-ops are not perfect — it can be difficult to contribute five hours a week, especially if you are working a job outside of classes and extracurriculars — the food and community I have found there has largely been worth it.
Whether you are a prospective student visiting campus or a current student sick and tired of Stevie pizza, I would encourage you to take some time this year to pop by a co-op for a quick bite. Though I cannot promise it will be homemade spaghetti or chicken piccata, it is worth experiencing an integral part of what makes Oberlin Oberlin.
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