Cambridge, Things I like

Meet the Progressives

Resurrecting the lost art of wandering from house to house in Cambridge.

When I was a kid, adults did cool things like grow mutton chops, wear plaid pants and drive gigantic death trap cars. They also had Progressive Dinners. The idea was that a group of grown people would wander from house to house, eating a different course at each stop while getting progressively smashed and recounting highlights from the previous night’s Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.

All in all, it was an awesome, but now largely forgotten, part of being a grownup in the 60s and 70s,

Today adults just go to restaurants, shoot iPhone photos of our food and post the pictures on Instagram. By comparison to the greatest generation, we are awful.

A group of progressive adults I’m friends with in Cambridge are resurrecting  the great generation by holding mobile dinners. As of this weekend we are up to two progressive dinners in two years, and that’s pretty good.

The idea for the dinners bubbled up fully formed at a party launching one couple’s son off to Columbia University. After a lot of good Peruvian food and several beers, we knew the idea was a good one. We decided we’ll travel by bicycle from one end of Cambridge to another. We’ll have a theme and everyone will cook around that theme. We’ll do it all the time because it will be so much fun. We then carefully selected the group by asking the people standing on the porch if they’d like to come. It was a perfect plan.

The first dinner came together almost  6 months after that initial planning burst. Turns out the greatest generation didn’t have as many things scheduled on their iPhone calendars as we do. It was too cold for the bikes. The second dinner, planned for six months later, finally happened  this weekend — about 16 months and 1,600 emails after the first one.

The scheduling was a little dicey (Betty Draper would not have allowed such a lax approach, had she been involved.)  But the food, the company, the conversation were all great. Although we had a theme, then didn’t have a theme, then chose to ignore the theme, in the end the food for the most recent dinner was all very coherent.

We ate the New England spring. A kaletastic cocktail (no one in the 60s would ever do that one), asparagus 3 ways, ramp and spring onion soup, grilled salmon, a very green salad, quinoa with mango, and strawberry rhubarb ice cream.

But more than the good food (which was very good), and the good conversation (which was very welcome at the end of a horrific week) the progressive dinner proved that adults who know one another but don’t regularly see one another are still capable of coming together for no real reason other than conviviality. Like it was several generations ago, that’s a progressive idea.

I’m looking forward to the next dinner, which may have been planned for the Cape and is penciled in for September 2013. It is lightly penciled in at this point.

Photos of the food, and a few of the progressives are  below.