By PAT CARROLL

Of The Patriot-News

Getting together with friends is among the most mentally healthy of activities.

But as Donna Frye realized, combining it with food and drink is even better.

She founded the gourmet committee of the Lenker Manor/Paxtang Women’s Club five years ago and, ever since then, members have sat down to dinner once a month with friends, spouses — and interesting new food.

“A group of us decided we wanted to try this, and it worked, and we stuck with it,” she said. “It was a great opportunity for us to get together and know everybody, and to experience cooking and enjoying different foods, trying different things.”

Sometimes, very different things.

“I made the potatoes,” said Lynn Kipp at the Bastille Day dinner, “but I can’t even pronounce the name — it’s French.”

That didn’t keep the twice-baked potato Dauphinoise muffins from being delicious. But it’s really not about the food. It’s about the friendships.

“We’ve known each other forever,” Kipp said.

“We started out when our kids were little, coming to Women’s Club and we had baby sitters for the kids. Then a lot of us went back to work. As we’re retiring we’re coming back to Women’s Club with the gourmet group. We’ve brought new women in, younger women, but its the same core group.”

K. Warner Schaie, professor of Human Development and Psychology at Penn State, says that “any group built around a common interest is likely to be helpful in increasing people’s social network. The contents around which the group is organized rarely matters.”

His work focuses on the study of cognitive development from young adulthood to old age. Having an extended social network becomes more important as we age, he said.

“People with a positive outlook on life often tend to have healthier life styles, and because of that may live somewhat longer.”

The gourmet club works because the members like to share the cooking experience, Frye said, and try different cuisines. There are a dozen members and almost as many spouses in the group.

Each club member serves as a hostess once during the year; she decides the theme, and pulls together recipes for the planning meeting with the cooks.

“I got on the Internet and Googled ‘French cooking,'” said Harriet Metzler, who hosted the latest dinner.

“This dinner was different because of the way the French eat,” she said. “We’re used to having our appetizers, our cheese, first — then our salad, soup and the main course, but that’s going to be a little turned around. The salad is after the main course, the cheese is after the salad but before the dessert.”

She picked two menus from Recipezaar.com to develop the evening’s worth of food. “Because it’s summer, I wanted to find things that were less labor-intensive, so they wouldn’t be cooking all day.”

When people began to arrive that evening, out came the kir — creme de cassis, a blackcurrant liquor, topped with white wine — as Linda Brillinger fixed French zucchini fritters and talked about the country they originated in.

“We met the nicest people in Paris,” she said. “I took a French class, conversational French, just enough to get by on. But everywhere we went, if they didn’t speak English, they spoke Visa.”

Seared limed scallops followed the fritters, and everyone moved into the living room and dining room, where tables stretched wall to wall. Its not easy to seat 20 people in the average non-mansion, but the gourmet group does it 12 times a year.

“Our menus for this year have included Moroccan, Indian Curry, Irish Pub Fare and Pennsylvania Dutch,” Brillinger said.

There will be a fall feast with lamb, a holiday cocktail party and several themes to be named.


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Bonjour!

In culinary school and getting ready to trade the writing life for the cooking life. Or not. Might do both. At the moment I'm a feature writer for The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. My name is Pat Carroll.

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