She Might have been the heroin of a '60s novel, this girl with long brown hair, sparkling eyes and a man's shirt worn above a flowing peasant skirt.

In fact, at 29, Dixie Mullineaux is no longer an itinerant pilgrim on the road to instant gratification. As chief cook for the Koinonia (pronounced coin-nuh-nee-ah) Foundation, her work is vital to the success of this 22-member educational community on the northern edge of Baltimore.

Here, hidden from the road by a wooded hillside and surrounded by rhododendrons, stands Gramarcy, a turn-of-the-century mansion constructed to house the married daughter of a railroad baron.

The 45-acre estate, complete with swimming pool, is hardly an anti-materialistic symbol of the communal-living movement. Nonetheless, since 1951, it has served as gathering place for a group dedicated to "simple living and spirituality."

"Living here fulfilled my desire to live as simple a life as possible and partake of a healthful diet," Mullineaux explains. She is well-suited for her job. Originally from Baltimore, after having received a degree in home economics from the University of Maryland, College Park, she sought a job in a health food store. The first question her employers asked was: "Can you make banana bread?"

"Unfortunately I gained experience and changed my own diet by practicing on customers," she said with a smile. This exposure led to work in a series of cafes and restaurants including Washington's Golden Temple. She came to Koinonia less than two years ago to fill an opening on the staff for a freezing and canning assistant. The foundation puts up a staggering amount of food for the winter -- 2,000 to 3,000 quarts of tomatoes and fruit line shelves of the mansion's roomy cellar, where huge bins are filled with root vegetables and dried herbs hang from the ceiling. In addition, a 22-cubic foot freezer is stocked with garden produce.

These staples form the basis of a creative, varied and primarily vegetarian diet. A recent weekend visit to Koinonia featured meals that may be considered typical, Mullineaux said. Dinner was millet and cheese-filled chard rolls with a creamy herb sauce. It was accompanied by sauteed zucchini, homemade whole wheat bread, herb teas, fruit and honey-flavored cookies. Breakfast was an informal buffet of cereal, more whole grain breads with varied toppings and homemade grape juice. The morning's fresh yogurt was rich with a creamy texture and tangy, yet almost sweet. But the highlight was the noon meal of gnocchi, spinach salad and banana nut bread. Mullineaux uses no white sugar or flour but meat or fish are served twice a week for the benefit of a few meat-eating residents and guests.

She has trouble sharing recipes. "Many dishes served at Koinonia are spontaneously born out of necessity or simply a spark of creativity. Exact proportions are difficult to pin down," Mullineaux said. "Once we re-cycled pancake crumbs into whole wheat yeast bread. Now we regularly use stale baked goods to make new bread. One day, lots of leftover pumpkin ice cream was born."

Mulineux -- like all the adult staff -- receives a monthly stipend of $125 plus free rent in one of the houses scattered around the estate, and communal meals served at Gramarcy. Some residents have families; the community ranges in age from 80 to infancy.

Its days are structured, beginning with morning meditation, followed by periods of work, play and prayer: The type of work may vary depending on the day of the week and season of the year.

Seminar weekends are particularly busy, Mullineaux said. She sometimes serves meals for hundreds and is often called upon to teach cooking or nutrition.

"We don't rely on diet as a panacea. We are not fanatics," she explains. "Our residents are people of many religious persuasions, so we practice a variety of healing techniques, taking from each philosophy what is moderate.

"I teach that food should be used in wholesome ways. When food is prepared conscientiously, it gives energy to people who eat it. And it gives me satisfaction to be involved in the process."

Many guests have not eaten "vegetarian" food before. "It's a constant challenge to make non-meat meals acceptable to meat-and-potatoes people," Mullineaux said.

The community members have always been teachers, though their goals have changed somewhat over the years. The foundation was originally formed as an ecumenical, pre-Peace Corps training center for more than 300 technically-oriented overseas missionaries.

Because self-sufficiency was important for such work, the group quickly became known for independence. Today they boast one of the oldest and largest organic gardens in the region. And even after creation of the Peace Corps, when its missionary school dwindled, residents continued to run the estate as a nondenominational religious retreat. They supported themselves through private grants and seminars on issues ranging from world peace, hunger and literacy to the spiritual problems of the nation's business leaders.

During the early '70s the foundation was accredited, making it possible for college students to "drop out" for a semester and still get credit for work at Koinonia.

Another major change came last year when residents and trustees elected Mrs. Dorothy Samuels as director. The foundation's activities have now expanded to provide workshops and classes -- ranging from cooking to healing prayer -- for non-residents and temporary guests as well. Tuition for most autumn classes and weekends was $30 to $50 plus room and board costing about $15 a day. Day students are welcome at meal prices from $1.50 for breakfast to $3.25 for dinner.

Even the merely curious can visit during an open house and "pot luck" supper held on the first Sunday of each month.

In addition to eating, however, visitors may want to attend one of the seminars or prayer groups, stroll through gardens or meditate by candlelight in a tiny woodland cottage specifically designed for solitude. It features a fireplace, cozy rocking chair, prayer rug and window framing the forest setting. Even more important is the opportunity to observe, first-hand, a functional commune of long standing.

And food is the key to understanding the communal-living experiment, according to Robert Hourier, author of "Coming Back Together," a full-scale study of communes. Not all communes, he said -- indeed, few -- insisted that members share property, beliefs, drug use or radical politics. But group cooking was the central fact in virtually all.

Another researcher found that almost half the working day of residents in communes were occupied with food-related activities.

To members of the Koinonia community at least, well-being is achieved by performing th simple rituals of daily living. Food and its preparation, especially, has a religious significance in that it nourishes the soul.

In the words of Glenn Harding, a founder, "All shared the daily tasks of living together from top to bottom: whether preparing food, spiritual sharing, doing dishes, gardening ... All were servants, none were masters.

"We soon learned that such living and sharing was the best preparation that existed for anyone planning to live in other cultures ... If we couldn't make it here at Gramarcy, we surely weren't ready to serve elsewhere. cNo one came seeking such community life," he wrote. "All had to accept it if they stayed."

(For more information call the foundation at 301-486-6262 or write for their monthly newsletter. The address is: 1400 Greenspring Valley Rd., Stevenson, Md. 21153) TOFU WITH ONION SAUCE

Slice a mound of onions in half moons. Saute in butter in a large skillet until they begin to soften. Then turn down the heat, put a lid on and let them simmer in their own juices. It is even alright if they brown and stick a little -- this makes the gravy even sweeter. After they have cooked into a nice thick heap, add some tamari or soy sauce, a little pepper, thyme and garlic powder. Now, dissolve some arrowroot in cold water (how much depends on how thick you want it) and add it to the skillet. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens. Pour over tofu slices that have been placed in a buttered casserole and bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes, or until bubbly. This dish can be served alone, or accompanied by rice or noodles. YAMS WITH PEANUT SAUCE

To make peanut sauce, puree either peanut butter or unsalted roasted peanuts in a blender with some liquid (water, stock or milk). Adjust the thickness of the sauce to your taste. Add tamari, soy sauce, garlic and ginger powder. Heat gently in a double boiler. Serve hot, over fresh, baked yams that have been split open to expose the flesh. CARROT NUTLOAF (4 servings) 1 large onion, minced 2 cloves garlic, minced 1 tablespoon butter or margarine 2 cup fine, dry whole wheat breadcrumbs 2 cups finely grated carrots 1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or cashews, preferably) 2 beaten eggs 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg 1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste

Saute onion and garlic in butter or margarine until golden.

Combine with remaining ingredients and turn into a well-buttered 9-by-5-by-4-inch loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and loosen loaf from sides of pan. Turn onto a platter and serve. STUFFED CHARD LEAVES WITH SUNSHINE SAUCE (8 servings) 2 1/2 cup millet or bulghur wheat, cooked 1 onion, chopped 1/4 cup vegetable oil 1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese 1 egg 1/2 cup parsley 1 teaspoon dill weed 1 teaspoon crushed rosemary leaves 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 1 large chard Sauce: 2 green onion with tops, chopped 1/4 cup stock (vegetable cooking water) 1 tablespoon freshly chopped coriander or 1 teaspoon dry coriander powder 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour 1 cup buttermilk 1/2 teaspoon turmeric 1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese, optional

Cook millet or bulghur until tender. Saute onion in oil until soft. Mix with remaining ingredients except chard and those to be used for the sauce.

Wash and dry chard. Separate the leaves and remove the tough stems. Place 2 tablespoons of filling on the underside of each leaf, roll up into a square packet. Place seam-side down in a greased casserole. Cover and bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or steam over boiling water until the chard leaves are tender, about 20 minutes.

To make sauce: Simmer onion and coriander in stock until tender, about 10 minutes.

Combine oil and flour over low heat in a small saucepan. Slowly add buttermilk, stirring constantly until thick and smooth. Add softened herbs, turmeric and cheese if desired. Pour half the sauce over the chard leaves, serve remaining sauce as an accompaniment. RISING SUN SOUP 4 carrots, sliced into thin rounds 1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes 3 onions, chopped 1/2 cabbage, shredded 2 tablespoons butter or margarine 2 cups cooked garbanzo beans 2 quarts stock (vegetable cooking water) or water 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

In a large kettle saute carrots, squash, onions and cabbage in butter until soft. Add remaining ingredients, simmer for about 1 hour or until squash is tender.

Note: The natural sweetness of the vegetables make this soup delicious. Mullineaux suggests making it a day ahead -- it is even better when the flavors have had a chance to mingle. The carrot rounds swimming in the broth look like rising suns.