Monday Meal: A History Lesson

Last Monday, life felt a little hectic.  My house was a mess and I was tired from work, and I knew we had about ten people coming for dinner.  Then, my friend Andrea stopped by with her husband and daughter to return a table they’d borrowed from us.  Chef and I haven’t really seen or hung out with these friends for years, and I had never met their daughter, who is now 15 months old!  We had a great time catching up with them, and they stayed for dinner and got to know or reconnect with other friends who showed up as well.

So what I’m saying here is that I was having so much fun, I totally forgot about my camera and about writing up what Chef was preparing.  (He made potato pockets — potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, and squash with butter and salt, baked in foil — and some venison tenderloin, sliced thin and fried in butter, and peach pie… YUM!)

Sorry, no food photos or recipes this week.  But I was talking to my friend Heather a while back, and she suggested that I explain where Monday dinners got started.  This week, since I slacked off in my food-blogginess, it feels like the perfect week to do just that.

Years and years ago, before we were married, Chef lived in an apartment building along with a number of friends.  Some of the guys decided it would be great to have a weekly men’s Bible study every Tuesday.  (Yes, it was a Tuesday.  I’ll explain later how it got moved to Monday.)  Chef offered to prepare a meal each week before the study.  Well, the Bible study plans ended up falling through, but Chef kept making the meals.  Instead of just inviting the guys, he invited all his friends in the apartment building.  And their friends.  This became known as Tuesday Night Dinner.  Some weeks, as many as thirty people would cram into his tiny one-bedroom apartment to enjoy his amazing meals.

Chef did TND (as it was later abbreviated) for a number of years while he was working in computer support.  Computer support wasn’t ever what he really wanted to do with his life, but it was a job and it paid pretty well, and he wasn’t sure what he really wanted to do anyway.  But then he realized that as he was staring at his computer screen each day, he was daydreaming about what he was going to prepare for TND.  He decided to go to culinary school and really earn the nickname he’d had since college.

We were engaged during his first year of school and married the following summer.  Since school was in Michigan, TND had to carry on without Chef.  People took turns hosting and preparing meals, and it became a traveling dinner.  There was a large email list that told everyone where the meal was going to be held each week.  After another year of school, Chef and I returned to this area and joined in on the rotation.  We agreed to have the meal at our house once a month.

But then for a while, it wasn’t fun anymore.  A lot of people came for a free meal but didn’t stick around to fellowship and didn’t help out by contributing money or bringing food or even helping to clean up afterward.  We got really disillusioned and called off our participation.  And TND fizzled out after that.

A few years went by, and many things happened in our lives.  Finally, we talked about starting up the dinners again.  Chef wanted to do it every week because he felt that if it were only once a month, people would forget.  He wanted a regular thing we could offer to our friends and community — something they could count on.  I wanted to know that we weren’t going to be the ones always doing all the work and spending all the money and getting no assistance or fellowship out of it.  So we made an announcement to the old TND crowd.  Bring a food item when you come each week — maybe something nonperishable like pasta or rice or canned tomatoes, maybe something we can freeze like meat, or maybe something we use each week like milk or butter or sour cream.  Or maybe something unusual that you’ve never prepared before, and you want to know what Chef will do with it.  (Perhaps a squash you saw at the Farmer’s Market, or an unusual fruit you came across at the grocery store.)  The food is your contribution, and we’ll do the cooking.

Oh, and we moved it to Mondays because our favorite TV show was on Tuesdays.  Silly, but there it is.

Monday Meals (or Monday Night Dinners) have been going strong for a couple of years now.  There are times when I get off work and I don’t really want people to come invade my house, but almost always I end up appreciating that they are there.  The group we host now is a lot different than the group that was involved ten or twelve years ago.  Then it was singles and college students.  Now it’s Chef’s family, and friends with spouses and kids, or neighbors who are around our age, and sometimes friends who moved away from the area and are back for a visit and want to reconnect with a lot of people all at once.  And people really respect and appreciate what we do.  They bring food, and they help clean up, and they ask how they can contribute.

And we love doing it.

Chef really enjoys cooking.  That’s why he went to culinary school, after all, and since his job is as an ice sculptor and not working in a commercial kitchen, this is his outlet to cook for a lot of people.  He thrives on it.

We both really like the fellowship.  I’m a homebody, so to me it’s great that these people come over and I don’t have to go anywhere to hang out with them!  Sometimes we get into deep discussions about life or God or the world.  Often there are bad jokes and banter.  Usually it’s just a good time of connecting with other people.

Our guests have told us that they really appreciate what we do as a ministry — reaching out to others, offering hospitality.  I guess it is, but I don’t often consciously think about it that way.

It’s something we enjoy.  And if it is a ministry, then I couldn’t pick one that I like more, I think.

There’s a photo of the old Tuesday Night Dinner crowd.

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Rita
    Dec 14, 2009 @ 10:42:07

    It was fun to enlarge the photo and recognize the younger versions of almost everyone!
    I am so grateful for this comprehensive, well-written historic review of MNM. One more thing I remembered: for a while, a couple of more years maybe, we hosted the TND at our place every fifth T. If the weather permitted, it was a cookout.
    Thank you, again. I’m often asked about this unusual tradition, and I try to go into the whole story. Now I will just send them to this post!
    I know the feeling of dread before the crowd arrives, and then joy and fulfillment during and after the event.
    We’ll be there tonight with Jessica and Bethany.

  2. Tracy
    Dec 14, 2009 @ 15:59:22

    I’m so glad you shared the history of your Monday Night Dinners! I’ve been enjoying the posts about all the food and fellowship, so I’m glad you explained what it’s all about. It sounds like fun! We also host a small group at our house – we don’t usually have dinner, but take turns bringing a snack or dessert each week – and I really enjoy it. 🙂

  3. Rachel
    Dec 14, 2009 @ 23:57:55

    What a fun photo. I recognize a few folks there who I didn’t know came to TND! I came to dinner off and on in the year before I left Muncie for grad school. I think Nikki may have, too? It was always a lovely time–a friendship fellowship. Community is powerful.

    (Also, I have those apple dishes!)

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