Family Dinner: Husbands Matt and Rob entertain friends with Iowan flare

Photo by Helaina Thompson

An email from husbands Matt Van Maanen and Rob Lancaster reads, “We just finished making a huge pot of vegetable chowder that we sent home with some visiting friends this evening. Tomorrow night we have plans with our running group. We would be happy to have you over on Thursday evening.”

Van Maanen and Lancaster — or “the Van Lancasters” as they’re often called (“My mother sends mail to the Van Lancasters,” says Lancaster) — are hosting dinner for the third night in a row this week in their Cedar Rapids home.

Earlier in the week, the couple received their weekly summer Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share, including a bounty of summer squash, which prompted tonight’s main dish: a zucchini-loaded pasta primavera with just-plucked basil and balsamic drizzled on top. On the side: kale salad with sliced almonds and a lemony emulsion, garnished with decorative-yet-edible nasturtiums.

“The food was picked hours ago,” says Van Maanen. “That’s why it’s so good.”

Songs by Imogen Heap and Frou Frou and MIKA travel from speakers in the living room to the dining area, which is adjacent to the galley kitchen where Lancaster prepares our summer-inspired meal.

Photo by Helaina Thompson

Van Maanen, who works in international IT, and Lancaster, a nursing practice doctoral candidate, cleverly shape their meals around busy calendars and in-season produce. They drink kale smoothies for breakfast on summer mornings and cook mainly vegetarian recipes for lunch and dinner. They’ve learned to can and freeze food for the winter. Being members of a CSA — theirs is Local Harvest CSA located in Solon — is “like Iron Chef every week,” says Lancaster, the avowed chef of the two. “The secret ingredient is: bok choy!”

Another tactic to manage the sheer abundance of summer vegetables? Van Maanen and Lancaster share dinner with guests at least two nights a week, they say.

Van Maanen, the youngest of eight brothers, says when he hears the word family, he thinks of friends. “I know it’s a big cliché that your friends become your family, but it’s true,” he says.

“In the gay community, there’s still a lot of people that aren’t super close with their family,” Van Maanen says. “And so that’s why we have a very close-knit group of friends. And they are very much our family. We get together at least once a week.”

Sometimes their recipes don’t turn out, the husbands confess. “We have had people over and were like, ‘We are so sorry!” says Van Maanen, laughing. But Van Maanen and Lancaster agree the meal itself is secondary to coming together and cooking for family — whoever that may be.

“[Cooking] is an act of love, basically,” says Lancaster. “And maybe this comes from my grandmother and my mother, but if I can feed people, then I am showing my love for them.”

Van Maanen responds, “You are so Iowa.”

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This article was originally published in Little Village issue 226.

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