PHILADELPHIA, PA | August 30, 2019
Most nights, we guzzled party platters of sushi for just the two of us and ate 40 pieces of dim sum ourselves. But on Tuesdays, we cooked dinner with Germaine.
For all our incessant eating and almost carnivorous college-student palates, these dinners went against our very being. We made vegan burgers and eggplant parmesan. Our dinner omelets were full of mushrooms, broccoli, and other green stuff that Anna (McGee ’22) and I would never purposely choose for our meals. And the kicker? We made it all from scratch.
Our hummus was not of the perfectly creamy store-bought variety; rather, it was of the chickpeas-tahini-butter-poured-into-a-food-processor-kind that’s more crunchy than creamy. Our whipped cream was made by me whisking heavy cream and sugar together. We used ingredients from Germaine’s garden in the back of her Philadelphia rowhome, and the pile of dishes left at the end of the night meant that I didn’t leave Germaine’s Airbnb until 10:30 p.m. every Tuesday.
Our nights together were inspired by Germaine’s philosophy — a belief in the journey of a dish from procurement to plate that meant eating sustainably and without waste, and an even greater belief that cooking with friends is better than cooking alone.
In practice, this meant we cooked without a microwave — because there was not a microwave in the kitchen — and we went without paper towels — because those are not sustainable. We cut off the florets of broccoli, which I ignorantly thought were the only edible parts of broccoli, and kept the stems to use for stock the next day.
We were an odd bunch. Anna and I are two college students from Kentucky and Illinois, respectively, who were planning on eating our way through Philly. And Germaine is an older woman, a holistic nurse who lives eclectically in a home of mango-colored walls and turquoise doors, a Greenpeace sticker on the back of her Prius.
In hindsight, I wonder about the twists of fate that brought us all together. The mishap with Anna’s first Airbnb that led her to seek out another one. My bragging about the neighborhood around my Airbnb that led Anna to South Philly. Germaine’s kindness to welcome Anna into her Airbnb under short notice. Germaine’s warmth to invite the friend of her Airbnb guest to dinner one Tuesday — which led to multiple Tuesdays.
Before the summer began, I had many ideas about what a summer in Philadelphia would entail, even though I had already broken many expectations when I accepted my internship. I was a Slavic major working at an affordable housing developer, and perhaps I was just looking for a way to make sure that every other element of the summer would be clearcut and predictable. I would be the stereotypical tourist who would stumble through Old City and Independence Hall. I would take a photo with the Rocky statue and try to have the stamina to run up the Rocky steps. My vision of a “good summer” was measured by the quantity of experiences that I wanted to have, and I had wanted to conquer Philadelphia in its entirety.
Ultimately, I didn’t do any of the options that those travel-advice sites told me, through numbered lists, that I should’ve done before I left Philadelphia. I didn’t go to Independence Hall (I went last year). I didn’t take a picture with the Rocky statue (the line was too long), and, perhaps most shockingly, I didn’t eat a Philly cheesesteak (it’s just meat and cheese!).
But I eventually realized that those wouldn’t have been the memories to stay with me anyway. Rather, the times when I knew we were all in together, doing stuff for and with each other, would. That first Tuesday we cooked. The Fourth of July in the office. That night we danced while doing dishes. That night “we” (mostly Anna) cooked without Germaine. That time we tried to find a suitable eggplant for half an hour and failed. That night we never ever thought would happen. The morning after.
I wish I was more conscious of those moments when I had them. I want to make dinner at Germaine’s with Anna again. I want to wander through a Mexican corner market as a clueless Slavic major looking for ingredients. I want to make whipped cream by hand in that kitchen and watch for the peaks in the cream.
Every week, when we finished cooking and setting the table and lighting candles to add to the ambience, we said grace. The first time I said grace, Germaine said I had too much “nervous energy” emanating off me — fair enough, I didn’t know what to say.
Now I do. I’m thankful for those fleeting moments where different journeys came together and where the food was good, and the company even better.
Follow Ivy on Twitter @itruong21.
Editor’s Note: The Prospect is thrilled to debut a new series, “Dispatches,” in which ‘Prince’ staffers reflect on their travel and work experiences over the summer. Whether close to campus or across the globe, our staff are gaining new perspectives and insights, and we are delighted to share some of them with you.