Food and Friends

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(HOST) Sharing a meal with family and friends is a holiday tradition, and commentator Marialisa Calta says it’s also a nearly fool-proof way to enrich your life.

(CALTA) You probably heard the news item: A study conducted by researchers at several prestigious universities concluded that American adults have fewer close friends and confidantes than ever before.

The accounts I read suggested several cures: less Internet surfing, more community engagement, less TV watching, more political involvement. I suggest another course of action: less microwaving…and more cooking.

Dale Carnegie’s theories aside, learning to cook is quite possibility the easiest way to make new friends and influence people. Just try being the person at the pot luck who shows up with the stuffed pork roast when everyone else brought salsa and chips, and see what kind of attention you get. Give out homemade fudge at Halloween, and the entire neighborhood — including the grown-ups — will be trick-or-treating at your door. Bring your signature brownies to work and you’ll be the toast of your office.

If you bake it, they will come. Ditto if you broil it. Or barbecue it. Or braise it.

Because, when you get right down to it, few people can fail to appreciate a home-cooked meal. I mean, just what part of chicken and dumplings don’t we all understand?

MFK Fisher, who wrote remarkable books about food, once defended her craft by saying: “It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it…and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied…and it is all one.”

In other words, we crave sustenance, safety and connection. Cooking is the bridge. Make a pot of soup, a plate of cookies, or a whole meal for someone and you are saying: “I care about you. You’re worth the time I spent on this.” Of course, it’s a nice thing to do when someone is ill or in distress. But it’s a lovely gesture of friendship any time.

If you can read, you can cook, someone famously said. If you can cook, you can make a friend. If you can make a friend, you’ll give those university researchers nothing to study. What we’ll have then is a bunch of lonely researchers. Dinner, anyone?

Marialisa Calta is a free-lance writer and cookbook author.


When I made these for my daughter’s soccer team, I received thank you notes. Don’t make them if you don’t like really fudgy brownies. And don’t even think about adding nuts.

12 tablespoons (1 and 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
8 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, cut into chunks
2 and 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

Center a rack in the oven. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour a 9-by-13 inch baking pan.

In large pot set over medium-low heat, melt the butter and chocolate, stirring occasionally. Remove the pot from the heat, and stir in the remaining ingredients, in order, mixing well.

Spoon into the prepared pan and bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the middle comes out with just a few crumbs. (They will be slightly under baked).

Allow to cool on a rack. Cut into 2-inch squares and serve from the pan.

Yield: 24 2-inch square brownies

FREEZE: Up to 1 month. (These are delicious right out of the freezer).

From Barbarians at the Plate: Taming and Feeding the Modern American Family, by Marialisa Calta (Penguin/Perigee, 2005)

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