Made a pot of turkey sausage with onions and mushrooms last night. Nothing fancy. It sat on the stove getting cold until I finally served myself a plate and ate standing up in front of the kitchen TV. You would think I was home alone, but no. An almost 17 year old boy lives with me still. I called him to dinner several times but he was dug in deep, snuggling in his man cave playing video games. Eventually he lumbered into the kitchen, filled a plate and withdrew to his lair to eat.
School is over, and for the next few weeks until he leaves for camp to be a CIT, my manchild is working as a counselor at Improv Day Camp and doing sound and lights for the grownup shows three nights a week. I'm proud of all that. But overnight, the civil routines of the school year have evaporated. He and I actually like to cook together and have generally managed to eat a meal together several nights a week during the school year.
Last night's dinner felt like animals at the trough.
You all know what they say about "family meals" as a civilizing influence. I so believe it. And when our family was whole, the dinner table was where we flowered. I once gave a speech on that idea that made me mildly famous in Atlanta for about 15 minutes, called "Everything I Needed to Know I Learned At The Dining Room Table." I'm all about the well-set table, the banter, the catching up, the connection and the conversation.
In my favorite book about foodways, Hungering for America, anthropologist Hasia Diner explores what happened to the Irish, the Italians and the Jews, when they left the Old Country and came to America. Rural Italians rarely had meat at the weekday table, but with a knack for turning the humblest of foods -- cornmeal, dandelion greens, wheat, and tomatoes -- into filling and nutritious meals, they developed a rich and varied food culture. What we know today in America as Italian food -- lasagna, sausage, meatballs -- was festival food served only on Saints Days and major holidays. European Jews, who also lived in poverty and subsistence, saved the chicken, the challah and the puddings for the sabbath when everything was holy. With sabbath blessings and rituals for everything from lighting candles to bread, and songs for wine and ending the meal, the Jewish table was the ultimate expression of family and finery, even if the weekday table was about cabbage and potatoes. Like the Italians, American bounty turned the Jewish table into a groaning board where spepcpial sabbath foods became daily fare.
Which brings us to the Irish, and I hope I don't offend anybody here. What Hasia Diner describes about Irish foodways in the Old Sod is not pretty. She contends that there was no tradition of family meals, that open pots of potatoes sat on the stove and people sort of speared a potato when they were hungry. Communal tables were more often in the pub, not in the farmhouse kitchen. Even more amazing, when the potato crop failed and people were truly starving, the Irish seemed oblivious to the fish in their streams and the wild greens by the roadside. So they came to America hungry and found a food bounty there, but had not developed table rituals or family meal habits that could rival the lure of the pub. A generalization to be sure, but compare Irish food to Italian and Jewish food and I think you'd agree, it's dismal by comparison.
I felt impoverished last night. Sometimes standing at the stove and eating out of pots, or eating cold leftovers out of containers is just what I want to do. With a big hungry boy in the house, snorting at the trough was NOT what I wanted for dinner. Wednesday is my CSA pickup day and you can be sure there will be a real meal on my table, with cloth napkins, the Blue Willow china, a hungry mom and a big hungry boy chowing down...together.