I giggled hysterically; my hands plunged in a big colander full of lasagna noodles. “What do we do with all of these?”
Sarah Bolinger, one of my cooks, was also laughing. “We could make them into pasta fries!”
“Yeah! Let’s put some paprika and salt on them and bake them in the oven!”
At home, I would never have had this problem. Why would I accidentally cook 20 extra lasagna noodles? That’s just silly! But in a co-op, plan incorrectly and you could be swimming in pinto beans, have enough lasagna to cover a mummy, pop enough popcorn to fill a bathtub — or not prepare enough vegetables to feed a baby mouse.
During January of my first year at Oberlin, I joined Fairchild Co-op. Eating in a co-op for winter term was cheaper than cooking for myself, and I wanted to experience the strong cooperative community I had heard about. The first night, I learned about how to clean counters; the next, I discovered I was the only cook signed up to make pizza. While the first pizza-making was a sad adventure, I loved being in a co-op and wanted to do more during the school year. It was exhilarating. I was determined to do more.
Miraculously, I was elected to be a head cook for Monday dinners at Fairchild. While this worked great with my schedule, I soon found out that the produce order came in on Tuesdays. Even still, we tackled dishes like rajma (red kidney beans), samosas, Sarah Bolinger’s famous paprika-and-dill potato wedges, and my signature whole-wheat biscuits. After weeks of wondering where all the vegetables had gone, I learned how to MP (label your food with your meal and the date to save it for your meal) and borrow book (borrow ingredients from other co-ops). In a time of desperation, I became the Celery Monster, trudging to Fairchild from Pyle with celery stalks sticking out from my backpack and hands.
I learned so much from other head cooks--what worked, what didn’t work. I learned the best way to cook pancakes and the best way to bake tofu slices. I learned that my roommate is an amazing vegan baker. I learned why Fairchild chooses not to purchase bananas and sugar. My newfound passion for simple, flavorful food motivated me to pursue vegetable gardening in the outdoor classroom in Oberlin, at home, and in community gardens in St. Louis.
Sure, there was the time the rice was burned and I may or may not have cried. But there was also the time my cooks and I made three types of enchiladas: vegetarian, vegan, and soy-free. To a danceable soundtrack of bluegrass and Motown, we made the sauce, tortillas, and filling by hand. The applause from the dining room never sounded so sweet.