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What I did Saturday Night and Why You Should have Travelling Dinner
2:30 Saturday Afternoon
In 4 1/2 hours we are going to have seven strangers who happen to be our neighbours eating a course at our house, and I am standing at the Price Chopper (aka Parkdale Pusateri's) with two tetra packs of Wolfgang Puck organic chicken broth and five lbs of mushrooms, and a plastic cello container of arugula. Chris is home getting the place in decent shape, trying to dig up spare cutlery and prep the food.

On the menu for our Soup and Salad course is creamless mushroom soup with wild rice, and a salad with mixed baby greens, shaved parmesan, pear, homemade croutons, and lemon-honey-thyme vinaigrette. And wine. Shit. We forgot to get wine. Chris bikes to the liquor store.

Everything is ready and my mom and sister arrive to take Gabriel for a sleepover. Suddenly the kitchen is very crowded. I give everyone a soupcon of the soup and it’s good. The phone rings. Stacey, who is organizing the annual traveling dinner asks if we can fit  two more people at our table. A couple of households had a family emergency and had to drop out. I lift the lid of the soup skeptically and pour in a bit more broth. Sure! 11 people! Someone will have to eat their soup with a teaspoon.

We wrangle the unwilling G. into the carseat, wave solemnly as the car takes off to grandma’s house, run back to get changed, grab our itinerary and hop on our bikes. Our appetizers are on Foxley. We’re almost late, and I’m feeling giddy about the night ahead. I’ve never been to a home on that street, but in recent years our 'hood's experienced escalating popularity and the cute rowhouses have been plucked off the market and given big renovations.

5:30pm Appetizers and Cocktails
At the entrance to the open-concept main floor, we are greeted by a waft of sashimi and tamari sauce. Our smiling hosts welcome us in. Small disclosure: I don’t eat raw fish and I don’t want to be rude (you are supposed to state dietary restrictions, not preferences when you signed up) and I am getting the vibe of an awkward office party as we join the two other guests around the marble-topped kitchen island and do introductions. But after a couple of sips of my sake martini (delicious!) and some edamame, the conversation starts to flow. It gets pretty funny as our hosts - who have lived there for less than 3 years - try to describe the Wii Rockband to the older couple, a retired architect and his charming wife who works at the AGO. At a certain point I start a conversation with the architect about genetic probability of conceiving fraternal twins being matrilineal rather than patrilineal, and I realize I am being a dead bore. I swiftly change the subject.
Note: Conversations about where you are from are more interesting than what you do.

7pm Soup and Salad
With ten minutes to spare, Kiff and I head back to our place for the Soup and Salad course we are hosting. There is already a couple on the porch when we arrive and we let them in, turn on the soup and take the white wine from the fridge. Within moments, our nine guests have arrived and Chris and I are running around like mad caterers, ladling soup, tossing salad, opening wine bottles. Some conversations occur in tiny pockets. At some point a more extroverted voice tries to engage the whole table about certain row of boisterous neighbours. This briefly brings everyone in with their passionate opinions about the hood. Now the salad. Next thing you know, a woman I know slightly from up the street and I are talking about baby sleep schedules and I am pretty sure we've begun to bore. Switch topics! Diamond rings, home renos, crazy neighbours, school districts, coming from small towns…all these topics swirl like game of mad lib, and it’s occasionally awkward but it’s kind of awesome. An hour and a half and it’s off to the next course.

At this point, you could tell which people you passed on the street were participating in this event. They had huge smiles plastered on their faces, and greeted each other with “which course are you doing?”
8pm Main Course
Ah, the third course is more relaxed. Our work is done. We bike down Northcote, and at this point, I realize I’m tipsy. We’ve forgotten the camera (hence the iphone shot). I am not biking so straight. Good thing there’s no traffic. Jordan and Lisa who hosted the main course were so adorable you could have eaten them with a spoon. Our neighbours Matt and Susan – who we know and love - were there, as was the very pregnant Dale and her husband Rob. We had a rich and delicious penne al vodka and red wine. Chris and I immediately launch in on describing the interesting dynamic at our course. Soon everyone present pipes in on how awesome a social experiment it is that forces you to go just outside your comfort zone and negotiate conversation patterns and values you can’t anticipate. We’d hit a sweet spot with this course, and I was sad to have to move on for dessert. Also, I was drunk. Not messy drunk, but about a demi-tasse away from slurring.

BV Travelling Dinner: Course #3
10pm Dessert
I was so lit by the time I hit the fourth course, I forgot to take pictures. Which is a shame, cuz there were some fine folks and another home on Foxley with the main floor blasted open and a kitchen in the centre. Dessert was a light raspberry foamy confection in martini glasses and coffee. I had some white port. I don’t know why. Two couples present both had kids in their late-teens and twenties. I rambled on a bit too much about whether to have one or two kids, but they seemed forgiving and perhaps as far gone as I was. At least, that’s what I tell myself. We sat down at their banquette/dining room table to chat. There was a seventh man present who brought up the topic of Afghanistan. And while it was clear that we didn’t all meet at the same place value-wise about armed conflict or our ideas of the roles of soldiers, the conversation was respectful, insightful, and - you'll be surprised to hear given the subject at hand - unawkward. Another sweet spot.

Peter and Stacey who organized the event hosted the after party at their place, and as we all crowded into their place and had our coats checked, there was a giddy, warm vibe. I hugged the neighbours I’ve known for years now, but who I had not been placed with. “Why don’t we do this with each other?” we exclaimed. We live right across/down the street!

There was an aspect of this night that made me a bit sad. Our neighbourhood is Little Portugal. And I did not meet one Portugese family of the 150-ish people who joined in. And while it was great to see what people had done with the homes they’ve bought and renovated, I wanted to see homes people have lived in for 30 years. And to break bread with them, too. Next year, perhaps?

Word to Stacey and Peter who launched the event last year and put so much time and thought into this year, from posting flyers around the hood, to dealing with personal emergencies. They are the kind of people that form the heart and soul of a neighbourhood, and I have put them firmly on a pedestal. All hail!

Here's an article of the event in The Globe and Mail

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