A surprisingly confessional & somewhat depressing post. Hold on to your hats.

Several reasons we should have dinner together:

Veggie cashew tom yum curry, shared with friends Lindsey & Chris.

My plate, close-up.

Indian feast, shared with friends Kelly & Chris.

Sweet roasted root vegetables and bhindi masala, enjoyed with friend Dave.

Dinner plate:

When I lived in Atlanta (particularly post-undergrad) my favorite thing to do was throw a dinner party & have lots of friends over. It’s almost unreasonable how effortless it was to send out a mass text or quick e-mail and, just a few hours later, be greeted by a half dozen or more of my favorite people. So many of my best memories revolve around food: like the time I prepared a full-on Mediterranean-style mezze meal for my best friend Jina that featured hand-stuffed vegan dolmades (grape leaves; not to mention tabouli, baba ghanoush, hummus, and more). Or the time my ex & I slaved in a hot June kitchen putting together possibly the most overblown Southern meal of my life–collards, cornbreads, chick’n fried tofu smothered in gravy, skillet corn, fried okra, fried squash…the list goes on. Or the year “Christmas” to my nearest & dearest meant a lavish Indian-style meal served in courses on pillows in the gorgeous condo where I was house-sitting at the time. Not to mention the fact that more than a couple of friends chose to introduce me to their newest sig ot over a shared dinner. Preparing food together is a great way to get to know someone, and it’s always fun to gossip about a new beau’s knife-skills (or lack thereof) later.

Make no mistake: these things happened on a weekly basis. Despite being busy employees (of art magazines, non-profits, hospitals, restaurants, and major research universities; third-shift included) and grad students, we made time for one another. Sure, I was often the catalyst, providing the welcoming home and the good food, but folks showed an interest. They showed up.

I grieve for the fact that, here in Richmond, it has not been so easy. My friends are often so perennially over-scheduled that I seem to have to start checking dates or soliciting for these ridiculous doodle polls weeks in advance. We lack a culture of breezy stop-ins and drop-bys…regrettably, the few times I’ve bucked the trend and just gone for it, it’s been a little hairy. (Not that anyone’s ever been inhospitable–but the surprise showed.) Our buzzword is, tragically, “busy”–but for what? Unprogrammed time, unregimented schedules, & spontaneous fun are in perilously short supply. Why? Is anyone happier for it? I know I’m not. At the risk of being overly confessional, I recently posted several pictures from happy days/meals past on my wall to remind me of gentler times…and to give me hope that one day I’ll be having those great parties again.

And there are glimmers of hope. Recently a friend stopped by, totally unexpected, and we ended up having a joyful hour-long conversation over tea. I wasn’t even recovered yet from a recent illness, but her presence filled me with energy and life. I know that now is not, with 32 packed days left til my Master’s thesis is turned in, a particularly auspicious time to start throwing dinner parties…or even encouraging all of my friends to show up at the doorstep anytime they please. But I do plan on continuing to cultivate an open, hospitable spirit, such that when these 32 days have been conquered I can apply myself with renewed vigor to friendship-building through food. Perhaps in so doing I’ll slowly be able to loosen my vice-grip on past memories, dear as they are.

But I can’t do this without you. We’ve gotta build this together.

A necessary post-script: Thanks to those who are already doing it, who inspire me, who’ve made time for dinner and meaningful conversation. You are the reason this post has pictures. :)