Here Comes Dinner
Still, there have been some discontented rumblings. After all, if a family's hungry and then dinner is delivered and the kids or the grown-ups don't like it, it's a problem. And what if one family hated the dinner, but the others thought it was great? Should the cook get a complaint or a compliment? And just how do you tell a good friend that you never want to eat a mouthful of her bland chicken-and-pasta dinner again?
That's why Tracy came up with a plan. The families would meet every month or so for a casual dinner and the husbands and wives would vote -- anonymously -- on which meals were winners and which were not quite as popular. To keep anyone's feelings from getting hurt, she came up with three categories that she's named keepers, sweepers and golly jeepers. The keepers, obviously, are the ones everyone loved. The sweepers are the ones no one wants to eat again. The golly jeepers fall somewhere in between. Everyone marks their preferences on the ballot, and then Tracy's mother, a neutral nonmember, tallies the votes and announces the results.
So on this Friday night, the couples crowd around the table in the Johnstons' kitchen, where baby pictures and kids' artwork are displayed on the refrigerator.
When the pizza is almost gone, Tracy announces it's time to vote. "It's anonymous," she explains, "because I would be sobbing if someone told me my chicken piccata is under-seasoned and unattractive."
"So should we cover our sheets so Tracy won't see our comments and cry?" asks Julie, to much snickering.
"There will be grief counseling provided after the results," someone else pipes up.
Once the ballots are completed, the couples talk about the next month's menus. The weather is getting warmer, so Danny offers to grill ribs one night. Everyone cheers that idea except Eileen and her husband. They don't eat pork. "No problem, I'll throw on some chicken for you," he says.
"I'd like to see more fish dinners," says Julie.
"I like fish, but not three times a week," says Danny.
"What about shrimp?" she asks him.
"Shrimp doesn't count as fish. Shrimp is like steak to me," he answers.
Tracy adds, "Just make fish and tell him it's pork." Everyone laughs.
Waiting for the ballot results, the moms agree that the benefits to the co-op have been numerous and unexpected. Tracy jokes that Kendall (her 3-year-old daughter) "is cleaner. She's getting more baths because I have more time."
Michiko says she's wastes less food; Julie says she's trying new things. "I never would have made seared tuna for my family, but I did it [for the co-op]," she says.
The ballots are finally counted and the results tallied. To spare feelings, the sweepers will not be publicized, although Tracy will allow that the homemade pizza that she and her husband made got only a lukewarm reception. "It just wasn't that popular," she says.
On the other hand, her crab cakes were among the keepers, along with Eileen's pecan-crusted tilapia and Julie's seared tuna with ginger sauce.
A few weeks later, both Eileen and Tracy say the quality of the dinners has improved, thanks to the balloting. But now there's another problem: "Eileen made chicken for dinner and then the next night Michiko made chicken. We need to have another monthly menu meeting," says Tracy.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company