Just another dinner shift…

One of the jobs I love most at Twin Oaks is cooking, and after years of making dinners in our industrial kitchen, I’ve pretty much lost the ability to prepare meals for fewer than, say, 35 people.When I’m off the farm and cooking just for me, I’ll look up from chopping to find that I’ve diced enough carrots for an entire platter, instead of just the one or two I’ll actually eat. Same goes for how big a hunk of meat to buy, the number of sweet potatoes to roast, or how many peppers go in the salad. When I’m at Twin Oaks, the answer to almost every food quantity question is: A lot. Sure, you can over-do it here (and its a bummer when food gets composted because too much was made), but, in general, Twin Oakers tend to measure ingredients by the bucket, rather than by the cup. As you can imagine, the results of being accustomed to cooking for a hundred can be comical when you’re trying to make a romantic meal for two, and my unconventional cooking practices have left my non-Twin Oaks family more familiar with leftovers than they might like.TO kitchen

Still, despite my inability to cook for fewer than a packed room, I really appreciate my role as a Twin Oaks cook for the good things it’s brought me—a whole lot of confidence in the kitchen that I never had before, and an ability to keep my head on my shoulders when things don’t go as planned. Since dinner at Twin Oaks typically means at least two main dishes for about 100 people (with allergen-free smaller versions of each), plus around a half a dozen side dishes all prepared in only 5 hours, there’s a lot to go awry…and something usually does.


At four o’clock on my last dinner shift, things were going relatively smoothly. I had planned on a Southern inspired dinner, and there was beef stew boiling away in the pressure cooker, a vegan lentil version on the stove, the green beans and beets were already prepped, and mac and cheese, spicy grits, collard greens and two different kinds of corn bread were already in the works. While the two other folks on the dinner shift continued their tasks, I went to check on the main course—the beef stew—to make sure it was getting close to finished so I could work on something else.  As I went to unscrew the last gasket on the gigantic pressure cooker, though, I encountered a major set-back: rather than actually unscrewing the top connecty-bit on the lid from the cooker itself, the plastic knob just unscrewed itself entirely, falling off in my hand and leaving a searingly hot metal pin wedging the lid and pot firmly together. My stew was completely unreachable.

lunch cook winnie

Winnie Cooks Lunch

After banging at it with a wooden spoon for several minutes, I brought Augie, one of the other cooks, in for a strategy session. We discussed simply putting the lidded pressure cooker out on the steam-table as it was, and instructing folks to treat it like a pinata— the first person to get it open would receive the special prize of boiling hot beef instead of candy. We also talked about just whacking at it until the metal pin broke, or letting the whole pot cool down in the fridge to see if that might cause some shrinkage and allow the two pieces to separate. When none of those plans seemed workable, I decided on a new tactic: tools.

One of the many benefits of living at Twin Oaks is that you’re never far away from a working wood-shop, or from someone who knows their way around fixing almost anything. So, at the height of my dinner shift, I left the kitchen entirely and ran down to the Courtyard to raid the wood-shop for wrenches, ratchets, and hammers. Not being a particularly handy person myself, I wasn’t sure what to get, but I happened to run into Red just as I was leaving. After listening to me breathlessly explain the problem, he smiled, and recommended a couple of items that he thought would do the trick. He even walked back up to kitchen with me, where I proudly announced to Augie that I’d brought both tools and reinforcements!

Within a few minutes, we’d gotten the pin loosened with just a little adjustable wrench, and I finally managed to pull the lid off the pressure cooker and get to the stew inside. Even when it was all over, though, I still left the other tools—more  wrenches, the ratchet, and the gigantic metal mallet that looks like it means serious business–next to the stove top for the rest of the shift, just in case something else went wrong. At Twin Oaks, it’s good to expect the unexpected.


Twin Oaks Roots

Dale, my father (left) with Corb (center) and Chris (right) circa 1984

by Sky

My parents met at Twin Oaks in the late ’70’s. My mother had done stints as a forest ranger and a cross-country hitchhiker before joining the commune. My father (pictured, far left in photo) moved here shortly after her with his ex-wife and their two kids. They were divorced but still wanted to co-parent and live in community together.

I was born on May 1st, 1980, in California where both my parents grew up, and my mother promptly reapplied for Twin Oaks membership, which was granted, and we returned. I spent most of the first year of my life at Twin Oaks before my parents and I, plus my dad’s ex-wife and their two kids all moved back to California together, ultimately moving into a 3 bedroom house in Chico, California. That arrangement didn’t last long and by the time I can remember much my half-brother, half-sister and their mother lived a couple hours away.

1984 me on swing TO

The inculturation begins

Still, I am very much a child of Twin Oaks. Hierarchy, patriarchy, and capitalism have never made much sense to me. I can remember being 6 or 7 years old in public school, knowing that there was this whole other way of living, and seeing how the other kids just took it all for granted. My memories of Twin Oaks faded, but when my older half-brother, who spent 3 years of his childhood at Twin Oaks, moved back when he was 19 (I was 13), those distant memories started knocking at my consciousness again.

I visited my brother at East Wind Community, where he’d moved by the time I was 18. I was in between community college and University, having gotten out of high school two years early. I remember going for a moonlit swim with him one night, talking about college and communes, and realizing the crossroads I was at. I decided to try to finish college, but promised myself I’d live in a student housing co-op. Less than a year later it was quite obvious to me that I was learning more living in the co-op than going to school, and I just couldn’t bring myself to care about the assignments I was being given. I dropped out, went wandering just like my parents had done in the ’70’s, and in the summer of 1999 did my visitor period at Twin Oaks.

2002 me willow dale shan
Three generations of Twin Oakers: Dale (center back), Shandin, my bro (left), me on the right, and Willow as a small blob in the middle.

14 years later, I’m still here (though I did take a 5 year break), and I have an 11 year old son, Willow, with two co-parents (a polyamorous family situation). Willow is a Third Generation Twin Oaker, one of only two that I know of. The other is LeeAnn Kinkade, whose mother Josie Kinkade is the daughter of legendary Twin Oaks founder Kat Kinkade, all of whom called Twin Oaks home at some point or another. Twin Oaks is one of the few intentional communities in the US to be old enough to have been home to 3 generations of a family. And clearly the community and it’s members have not grown out of many of the eccentric lifestyle choices that typified my parents generation.