Come Together Right Now…Over Food

“Dine alone!” That’s what I said all last year. I extolled the benefits of solitary dining to anyone who would listen, even touting the ritual as “sacred.” I encouraged everyone, women especially, to seek out a restaurant or bar and try dining solo. No phone, no work, no company—just a heaping hot plate of food and the simple companionship of self.

But this year, I’m more interested in dining with others. Food is the most powerful common denominator—we all have to eat. To feed someone is to care for and nourish them, and when people feel valued they are typically happier and more productive and will likely want to return the favor.

Perhaps one of the simplest ways we can support each other in 2017 is to host a feast—big or small, fancy or casual, planned or impromptu. Here are some ideas: Too many leftovers in the fridge? Ask friends to join you for dinner and have them bring a salad or dessert. No plans on a Saturday morning? Invite a neighbor over for a breakfast frittata and coffee. Start a monthly rotating Sunday brunch with a group of friends and set an intention to invite someone new every month. Host all of the tenants in your building for taco night. Ask a friend to teach you how to cook a family recipe.

The notion of hosting a meal or cooking with friends isn’t novel, but I think there are opportunities to expand our usual idea of sharing meals beyond the orchestrated dinner party or birthday celebration. There are 21 meals in a week—many of which we eat alone at a desk or on the run—why not attempt to see how many of those can be enjoyed with others?

This is not to say I won’t be pulling up a seat for one at my favorite neighborhood restaurant ever again. Feasting solo with a good book and a cocktail is one of my favorite pastimes. I often feel more grounded and energized after I spend quality time alone, especially after a long day of work or a week of lousy weather. And yet, I’m ultimately happier when I’m joined for a meal by friends and family. I learn more, I laugh more and I connect more—all things I’ll need a lot of this year and every year.

Super-quick baked mac & cheese for a last-minute meal with friends

1 pound pasta shells, elbows or penne
Variety of cheese you have on hand (cheddar, parmesan, gruyere, mozzarella)
Shred cheese combination until you have about 2 cups
1 cup cream or milk
2–4 tablespoons butter
Pre-made bread crumbs or sliced bread shredded in blender or Cuisinart
Salt & pepper
Nutmeg, lemon zest or cayenne (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Cook pasta and drain, reserving one cup of pasta cooking liquid.
In separate pot, melt butter and add cream or milk until steaming. Add cheese, salt and pepper and stir until melted.
In separate bowl, mix pasta with cheese sauce until covered. If too thick, add some reserved pasta cooking liquid. If not thick enough, shred more cheese and add to bowl to combine.
Grease a 9-inch baking dish (or fill two smaller baking dishes) with butter or cooking spray. Fill with an even layer of pasta mixture.
In separate bowl, add bread crumbs, salt and pepper, grated parmesan, and your choice of seasoning (grated nutmeg, lemon zest or cayenne). Once bread crumb mixture is combined, layer on top of pasta.
Cover with aluminum foil and place in oven for 20-30 minutes, or until bubbling.
For the last three minutes, uncover baking dish and place under broiler to brown the top.

Claire Jeffers is a freelance writer living in Portland. She’s worked as a cook, server, recipe tester, barista, bar reviewer, cheesemonger and personal chef. These days, she’s a home cook, but only when she can fight off the temptation to dine out.

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