Thirty Days of Making: Dinner

I’m in Day 16 of a short series: Thirty Days of Making. Every day for the next thirty days, I intend to make something, anything, that is in some way connected to school. There won’t always be pictures, and I reserve the right to credit myself for things that I help my kids make. But I’ve decided that I need thirty days of maker success and maker failure under my belt to be a better designer.

I’ve decided that artwork counts, but not writing (unless it’s part of the art, like calligraphy). Digital work counts, but it has to be useful or publishable.

Some days there will be pictures, some days there won’t be. Each blog entry will contain a list of some of the materials and tools, a quick review of the success or failure of the Making, and a reflection on what I think I learned from the endeavor.  (My friend Alicia is beginning a new series along these lines, 12 weeks of the Artist’s Way — I wish her well in her process, go check her out!).

 Reason for the Project: Casual Dinner

There are some parents of a couple of students that I’ve developed a pretty good bond with. They have similar intellectual interests and background, and we have had a number of good conversations with over the last few years.  I finally decided to invite them to dinner.

Process and Results:

Thirty days of making: dinner party
I need napkins. And glasses.

There were three steps to this particular making.  I needed to extend the invitation last week; I needed to do the grocery shopping this week; and then actually get home from work in time to do the cooking and set the table and so on.

I set up the chicken in the oven and then set the dinner table.  From there, I proceeded to set up the bamboo steamer to cook the vegetables (yellow crookneck squash, which I’m sad to say was very much underdone. These things never quite turn out as you wish them to).

From there, it was pretty easy to make a salad, and finish getting the dressing made.  And then I had a little bit of time to clean up around the house before my guests arrived with dessert and themselves to eat this lovely little meal.

This isn’t the first dinner party I’ve thrown in my house, but it’s the first one in almost a year, and the first serious guests I’ve had in the house this school year at all.  It’s been a complicated start to the school year; a lot of my friends have changed domiciles and other friends are getting married; it was time to open up my house in general.

Thirty days of making: dinner party
The alchemist’s oven becomes a regular stove again

We had a good time, I think.  Although my kitchen wall is this very strange yellow color, we ate in the kitchen, and our conversation verged from the ongoing stalemate in Washington (which may have had a breakthrough while we chatted), to the state of the school (excellent), to the books we’ve read and the history we’ve been thinking about lately.  Neal Stephenson came up at length, as did design thinking, and other aspects of my teaching.  Apparently the new computer class I’m teaching is a big hit; so is the Debate Club’s new public speaking manual.

I prepped a salad before the dinner guests arrived. I realize that I’m flipping back and forth in time as I explain this process, but prepping for a dinner party is not a linear thing.  You plan things in the afternoon, you chat over food in the late evening, and you cook in the early evening, but it’s hard to separate out the cooking of the food from the chatting over it, from the planning.  Time gets wibbly-wobbley around food and at dinner parties.  The Doctor taught me that.

Thirty days of making: dinner party And it’s almost impossible to avoid. Nor would you want to. The salad dressing arrives on the table before the salad, of course, but the food goes to the table in the order in which it’s going to be served. Salad first, in American style, then veggies and chicken together.

The chicken came out perfectly from the oven, and it was flavorful and lime-y, and went nicely with the semi-hot salsa I found.  I need to learn how to make my own salsa some day, but I think I need access to better ingredients first.

When we finished dinner, I cleared the plates and we had apple crisp because apples are in season right now.  Before we finished dinner, the chicken and the bones went into the pot.  Everyone planned on having less chicken than a full serving, I think, but it was so flavorful that there was nothing left but bones.  All the bones of the table went into the stock pot — already filled partially with some chopped onion, garlic, ginger, salt, and vinegar and butter.  That will be some good stock when it’s all done tomorrow.

Thirty days of making: dinner party
stuff the chicken with a couple of cut-up limes

Reflection on my Learning

Usually when I’m cooking, I’m cooking precisely in order to have leftovers.  I didn’t have many leftovers this time, but I wound up with great conversation and the beginnings of some nice renewed connections among the parents of my school.  I need to do this a few times a month, I think — because I need, and my colleagues need, the deeper connections to our community.  And they’re fun people to hang out with, I think.

The bigger issue is, does creating a process or an event like this count as Making?  I’m going to argue that it does, because it’s an element of design:  without the human factor, design goes nowhere. We, the designers, need to communicate with the people we’re designing for, because there will be times when we screw up.

And sometimes you get invitations back.  I think there was also an element of demystifying myself a little bit, too. By inviting some families into my house, a few at a time, I’m helping to make myself seem a little more ordinary, my achievements and my capacities a little more believable, achievable.

Reflection on General Learning

How and when do kids learn how to cook? Is it from watching Gordon Ramsay on television, or their mothers?  Are we raising a generation of kids who will put cilantro and broccoli rabe on and next to everything, whose idea of seasoning is fried chicken pre-dreded in a Cajun dry rub and steak montreal with a white wine reduction and a cress flourish?  I have no idea if anything I wrote there makes any sense at all.  Is this a place or area of life where schools should have or seek a role?  I had home economics classes in middle school, where I learned some of my cooking techniques; and we could do that again in schools today.  Do we want to? Should we? What about teaching children to throw dinner parties for small crews of people, and learn to prepare several dishes so they all come out together?


five of five stars.  Great food, great company, and a successful night overall.  I feel like this could be a great way to develop a deeper set of relationships between me and members of the community.  I think I’ll be pursuing this “make dinner for families from time to time,” on a semi-regular basis.

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  1. Planning a dinner experience is definitely Making.

    One aspect is the food. The process of build, measure and iterate will make you a better cook. And the result: you eat it. Other Making leaves scraps of wood and paper about. You get to eat your mistakes (or successes) with cooking.

    The other aspect is crafting the personal experience. Think of the occupation of wedding planners. They craft a sequence of events around a theme and provide opportunities for the participants to mingle and celebrate. Where would you start to develop your skills? By planning small dinner parties.

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