Joining a co-op forced me to cook

Let me begin by saying I hate cooking. I really truly do not like to cook. Unlike most of the females in my family, I’m not wired for it. I much prefer pulling something out of the fridge and eating it with little to no prep time and little to no guilt. Even Rachel Ray’s 15 Minute Meals are too much trouble for me to follow.

I’m a lousy rule follower, which means I’m a lousy recipe follower, which means I have a hard time seeing a meal through from scratch to finish. When I was in my 20s, single and drinking alcohol every other night, my culinary hangups were a non-issue.  As a 31-year-old married mother of a wild child, I’m much more concerned about food, or as I like to think of it now: fuel. If you’re not into cooking, your family risks eating Rice-A-Roni and chocolate pudding cups for dinner. This is a problem.

I’m fairly health conscious, minus the occasional everyday peanut butter cup(s).

I’ve been a vegetarian* since I was 19 years old. I love fruits and vegetable, thus I try to stuff Henry with as many as possible. (Meat-and-Potatoes-Only Joe is a lost cause, so please refrain from sending suggestions on how to sneak nutrition into his food. And yes I’ve tried Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious and no, it did not deceive him.)

About a year ago, I joined an organic food co-op called the Hot Mamas of St. Pete. (If the group were called the Haggard Mamas of St. Pete I would not have joined.) I did this at the urging of my neighbor – a total hot mama – who needed someone with whom she could share her twice-a-month bounty. For $20 every other week, I split a laundry basket stuffed with everything from eggs to kale to baby eggplant to bok choy. Avocados and berries always go first. The greens and veggies stick around until I toss them in a stir fry, a salad, or a quiche.

Here’s my stained quiche recipe. It’s famous round these parts. In lieu of ham I add every single vegetable in the house. Henry and I feast off it for a week. No fewer than six friends have asked me for the recipe. It’s that good.

The co-op has forced me to COOK. Why? Because every other week I get a basket of fresh fruits and veggies that GO BAD if I don’t use them.

I have no control over the selection. Our superhuman co-op manager, Jessica orders the goods, then shares the week’s assortment via our Hot Mama Facebook group. She does this and 300 other tedious co-op related tasks for no pay. She’s tireless, crazy organized, easygoing and bighearted.

Every other Friday she lets us crunchies enter through the fence in her backyard, help ourselves to the baskets in her garage and the greens in her refrigerator. We leave our money in an old shoebox, let our kids run amok through her yard, then continue on our way. Sometimes we catch her on days when she’s not inside working and she’ll pop out with her preschooler for a chat. The only thing she asks of us is that we pay for our share, leave an empty basket and volunteer a couple times a year with the morning sorting.

The co-op is a beautiful thing for so many reasons.

It’s changed the way I eat and prepare food. I enjoy cooking now. I almost kind of take pride in it. Henry loves it too. It’s provided a quaint “shopping” alternative to the almighty Publix.

He loves dividing our share in the kitchen then pulling it in a wagon up the street to our neighbor/basket-mate, Kristen, with whom I’ve become better friends thanks to the co-op.

Henry eats more vegetables now because the co-op has turned vegetable-eating into an experience and not a chore.

It has NOT turned me into a gourmet chef, nor has it made me an all-organic food fanatic. It has simply spurred better eating and cooking habits and as usual, more adventures.

Here are a few photos of my recent improvised co-op meals edited to look like I cooked them in 1945.

*A few times a year, usually when there’s a full moon, I eat chicken.


  1. The other Tara says

    I’m glad you wrote about this actually because I’ve been meaning to ask you about this two babysitting gigs ago when you mentioned it. How does one get more information on this co-op. I’d love less trips to publix, fresher food and the challenge of using different foods instead of the same old, same old. Thanks!

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