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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Dinners at the Delt Lodge, 1984-85

by Laura A. Plummer ’85

Long before the Food Network and Martha Stewart, a small group of friends and I decided our senior year to take matters—and tongs—into our own hands and start a supper club. Harvey Stephens, Kate Fonyo, Tim Stautberg, Chris Pisano, and I met once a month, on a Thursday evening, in the Delta Tau Delta Lodge to make and to share a meal together.

Cooking at the Delt Lodge required a bit of patience—an understanding of the rickety stove and forgiveness of the grungy floor—but the freedom to prepare our own menu and share a bottle of wine far outweighed any inconvenience. We acquitted ourselves quite admirably: for each gathering, one member was responsible for the menu and for the procurement of groceries. Cooking was collaborative only to a point: we were well versed in being served our dinner, thanks to Peirce Hall, and often the majority of us sat indolently in the main room awaiting our victuals (or “wittles,” to steal from Charles Dickens). With little fanfare, and absolutely no kitchen fires, we produced over the course of a year many memorable meals: pasta alla carbonara (in honor of a sister newly returned from Italy); stuffed trout (with the heads on, bien sur!); steaks on the carbonized charcoal grill; cream puffs, even. Most meals ended with a bout of Irish coffee, and cigars for the men, although we dismissed the Victorian tradition of ladies excusing themselves to the parlor.

No menu could compete, however, with our lobsterfest. Kate arrived from a brief trip east with a cumbersome Styrofoam box full of clicking crustaceans and damp seaweed from Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Tucked inside her L.L. Bean tote, a fresh raspberry pie from Schoolhouse Farms waited quietly. The feasting that ensued was as voracious—though not as ribald—as the inn scene from Tony Richardson’s Tom Jones. Any meal that involved hammers and nutcrackers trumped the goings-on in Peirce Hall, but wrestling lobsters and dripping butter were just part of the fun. Perhaps there was some dancing—perhaps with lobster-claw castanets. Perhaps I’m misremembering.

Those shells were not simply musical accompaniment, however. Once our bibbed banquet was finished, what seemed to me a big mess—bowls of shells and sea-gunk and butter—was an opportunity to Kate: where I saw raw material for Ridley Scott’s special effects in Alien, she saw the makings for lobster butter.

Lobster butter was a revelation, much like figuring out that Reed Browning really could enact the Battle of Hastings singlehandedly. Who knew such wonders existed? And although the noble gastronome might use this concoction to enrich a chowder or to sauté another fish, Kate had a much more collegial impulse—to flavor popcorn. Such a decadent yet simple concept: to dress a humble, Midwestern dormitory snack in silken finery. Oscar Wilde would have approved.

Even the greatest of cooks must rest (or acknowledge the limitations of a kitchen stocked mostly with bottle openers). We left the preparation of our club’s culminating meal to the then relatively new Buxton Inn in Granville; the accompanying photo was taken by Susan Berger ’85 before we left.

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