Every week, it is the turn of two of the novices to cook dinner for everyone else in the household. We are given a budget and a small wad of cash and sent off to the supermarket to buy the necessary ingredients.
The roots of this tradition are very much in the days when novices would come fresh from school and/or fresh from their mother and so may not have any experience of cooking or indeed shopping. Changed days indeed! For most of us, however, we have seen the inside of an Tesco or Asda before and have managed to cook something, even if it was mainly in a microwave.
The big challenge, at least as I’ve found it, has been portion control. On the previous occasions when I’ve played a part in cooking, I’ve produced way too much food, giving us left over dessert for 3 further nights on one occasion. I was used to cooking only for myself in days gone past, or at most for a group of 4 or maybe 6, rather than 14 or 16.
There is a great camaraderie to the cooking. We usually spend Saturday afternoon, while everyone else is out on their ‘villa day’ (noviciate speak for ‘day off’), chopping and preparing, with the meal set for 7 o’clock on Saturday evening. We’ve had a good mix of cooking styles from across the continents – from Eastern European schnitzels to Chinese sweet and sour, via pizza, lasagna and thai red and green curry. People put in a lot of thought and effort.
Most recently, I cooked with Vinny, who is an American of Italian origin. He took the lead with the actual creative cooking, thankfully. So we had a recipe straight from Naples – ‘egg plant parmesan’ (or aubergine with parmesan in ‘English’ translation). My job was to help with the preparation – mainly slicing with a little bit of frying. The meal was a great success, I can report with only a touch of bias!
Another Saturday night tradition is that we all gather to watch a movie. Each week a different novice chooses the movie and so we get a real mix of film-types. Some good, some bad and, yes, very occasionally, some ugly . . .
Our weeks tend to be full and sometimes can be emotionally stretching, as we strive to identify and respond most effectively to God’s calling. There are also occasional challenges simply coming to terms with a new way of life. So having a Saturday that is a little bit different helps create a break in the usual pattern – it is a change of pace that is positive and much-welcomed.
We are now in the final few weeks of this particular period of noviciate life, where we are based mainly in the house. So the pattern will change and things like ‘villa day’ and Saturday night cooking will be put on the back burner. Instead, we will be spending most of the first 3 months of the new year away from Birmingham, including for the first years the Spiritual Exercises and for the second years long experiments in places ranging from Nairobi and Johannesburg to Belfast. Whether that means people will come back with new, exotic recipe ideas, I’m not sure. But we will come back with different perspectives, enriched by our experiences I hope.