The morning after the 2016 election, I woke up with a hangover and a dim memory of having done something rash the night before. I checked my email and confirmed that I had, indeed, ordered a waffle maker.
I’d bought the fancy hotel-grade kind that weighs 10 pounds and features a rotating handle, internal temperature controls, and different settings for browning. I like waffles but not that much. While my wife loves waffles, she hates single-use kitchen gadgetry, especially if they require their own shelf in the cabinet. Our son, just a few months old, was too young to have any legitimate opinions on solid food.
My extravagant impulse purchase offered distraction that November as scenes of American fracture flooded the timeline. I sought a temporary retreat into a more manageable world. I needed new routines.
When the waffle maker arrived, I experimented with various recipes, always making far too many for two people to eat. Clearly, we needed more mouths to feed—and owning this ridiculous thing provided a great excuse for having people over—so we decided to open our home on Saturdays to anyone who shared our desire to bask in the good vibes of others. We circulated a sign-up spreadsheet to close friends, friends of friends, coworkers, former students at the college where I taught, far-flung pals who might be passing through New York, fond acquaintances. We promised to provide waffles and eggs and to introduce them to delightful strangers.
Get Hua Hsu’s waffle recipe
This mochi waffle recipe creates a breakfast pastry with a delightfully bouncy chew and a crisp crust that lasts way after it comes off of the iron.
That first week, just after Thanksgiving, our guests brought prosecco, fruit with whipped cream, and pastries. Besides waffles, I made a casserole of toasted croissants, sausages, Gruyère, scallions, and eggs. There were boats of syrup and preserves, platters of bacon and roasted tomatoes. Chitchat revolved around work and kids, mostly. One of the few nonparents who came to that first Waffle Saturday was a friend who worked at the music publication Pitchfork. He gamely made googly eyes at all the babies, perking up each time I came over to get his feedback on my kitchen playlist. Inevitably, conversations would turn back to the election.
Over the months people brought pies, cold noodles, brownies, chili cheese dogs, turnip cakes, and homemade hot sauce. The spreadsheet included a column for allergies, and I learned that it was possible to be allergic to vinegar. I learned that recent college grads are surprisingly sweet with newborns. I eavesdropped as journalists mingled with elementary school math teachers, human rights lawyers explained their work to intrepid noise artists. I always stayed put, manning the waffle maker, a pair of chopsticks tucked in my apron, watching this swirl of conversation and laughter from afar. It felt uplifting to see a community come into focus, if only for a couple hours. I wanted “to see all my friends at once,” as Arthur Russell sang on “Go Bang! #5,” a leftfield disco anthem that often played on those Saturdays, even if we were doing nothing more adventurous than balancing plates piled high with food.