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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Foodie Sunday. Why Sunday Dinner?

By Beth

This first “Foodie Sunday” post is dedicated to my mother Barbara Lowenstern Schreibman, who still whispers in my ear and tells me what to do. After all of these years mom, I’m truly grateful .....And to you Marina, Mistress of this lovely blog, thank you for the opportunity to write in a way that continues to expand my soul and challenges me to grow.

Why Sunday Dinner?
One of the most wonderful things to re-emerge in the last few years is what I consider to be a long overdue return to the family dinner table. When I was growing up we had dinner at home every night, my mother insisted upon it. She worked full time with my father, building the wonderful business that sustained us all for so many years and dinner with candlelight every night and wine and a full accompaniment of gorgeous tableware was her sanity. She was the master of preparation, quite often having the evenings meal ready before she left for work and when I got home from school she’d call me and I’d put the final touches on it, pop everything into the oven and set the table to her very precise instructions. This was how I learned to cook and she was an excellent teacher.

Sometimes there’d be a red wine, sometimes a white and always candles! The amount of plates would vary and so would the settings. She always used linen napkins which she kept freshly washed and pressed, her secret was a brick that she kept on the laundry table and when she took her napkins out of the dryer she would immediately fold them and put them under the brick to press them smooth. What I remember the most was the civility and the conversations and the time just being with my parents who were mostly so busy that dinnertime was the only time that we all could reconnect.

My mother was a fabulous cook though and Sundays were when she pulled out all of the stops. Her kitchen was a symphony of scents; curry, garlic and onions, simmering sauces, roses for the table, melting chocolate. We always had dessert because my father required it in the same way that most of us require air , but on Sundays she made it herself . It was always something wonderfully old fashioned, like a chocolate cake filled with whipped cream and ganache or an espresso coffee mousse with ladyfingers or a layered trifle or Floating Island pudding served in the gorgeous cut crystal bowl that I now own. Out came the Baccarat crystal , the antique Haviland porcelain and her grandmothers monogrammed sterling silver.

The sterling well and trees were polished for the evening’s leg of lamb or roast beef and the gold service plates that she loved were set out on the table with the salt cellars and the monogrammed silver napkin rings that she’d used as a child. Later on she got some lucite ones that she loved that had little holes in them for water and flowers. I can remember my youngest niece playing with them and building towers out of the little blocks. That was the best thing about my mother. As formal as she was, I never saw her get upset whenever anything got broken. “What do you think this stuff is for anyhow? ” she’d say. “They rebuild entire civilizations out of fragments of old china so it can’t be too terribly fragile! ”

My mother had blatant disdain for anyone who saved their good things for company only, a sentiment that I completely share. She also felt as I do that even if you didn’t own gorgeous things that this wasn’t the point. Truthfully, who deserves your attention more, certainly not the strangers in your lives. Children that grow up sitting down to eat at a beautifully set table (even if it’s set with paper and plastic!) learn to interact with adults in a much different fashion then kids who eat their evening meal at the drive through. When I asked my son of his memories from his grandmothers table he sighed and said “ The beautiful tureen that was always on the table , the candles and the smells from her kitchen, the fact that my place at her table was always my place, it never changed. “ For him, it was the continuity of his experience that made it so valuable, the fact that he had a place in the world that never changed.

When she died several years ago, it left a hole in the heart of my family that has taken me all of this time to relearn how to fill. My son was hit hard by her absence, running away first to Honduras and then to California in an effort to recover his life which dramatically changed the day that she died. The two of them being Leos understood each other in a way that I was never privileged to and she was his rock. My sister and I throw parties together and they’re wonderful and when we’re all together in California we eat and laugh and really enjoy each other’s company, but in my gut I’ve known that there was still something missing.

The other night, I finally began to understand. Alex has moved home and I decided to cook a wonderful dinner especially for him and his friends. I spent the day trying to decided what to cook and suddenly my mothers voice rang through my head with absolute clarity, telling me to make a veal stew. Now you have to understand, I haven’t made a veal stew in years as I’m generally opposed to it. However I found myself at the Whole Foods in search of free range veal and I brought it home and began the process of flouring it and braising the whole thing slowly in marsala, onions and cream just like she used to. When Alex came home that night, the kitchen was filled with the smells of his childhood; simmering stew, risotto with peas , roasting potatoes and fruity red wines. The effect was instantaneous and astonishing. He stopped in the doorway , closed his eyes and took a deep and satisfied breath. “Mom, the house smells amazing, I love it that I’m home and you’re cooking such a meal”. Now, most of you know that I’m always cooking something, but this was entirely different and I knew it. I asked him if he recognized the smell and he smiled. At that moment, I understood what had been missing for the last three years. You see, in a effort to reclaim what was left of the pieces of my heart, I too ran away and in an attempt to reinvent myself , I forgot entirely how important it is to hold tightly to the beautiful memories , tastes and scents that can warm us in those scary cold moments when we are sure that we’re orphaned and all alone.

Tonight , I’m having Sunday dinner for the first time in many years. Jim and Alex will be there, his lovely girlfriend and several of his best friends. I’ll light the candles, pour the wine and I’m even planning to make one of her desserts which I’ll serve in her gorgeous bowl . The table will be set with her dishes and sterling and there will be roses in the soup tureen. There will be a curried soup , cocktails and an appetizer or two. I’m planning to make one of her favorite dishes, a chicken breast baked with bacon, fried beef and a marsala wine and mushroom sauce. We’ll have mashed potatoes and I will take the skins off, just as she did and I will save the beaters for my son.

I will be wearing Shalimar and her pearls.

All of those sights, scents and beloved flavors connect the dots of our souls in a way that nothing else can ever do. Thinking beings that we are, we sometimes just get in our own way because we forget about the simplest things. We run for cover when life gets too raw, forgetting that there are others to care for, who need the reassurance of the stories and memories that we hold. So please for me and in honor of my mother or yours, wherever you are tonight sit down, light a candle, pour some wine and take a moment to gather around the table with someone who’s important to you. Don’t let another day go by without letting the ones you love know just what they mean to you and if you’re ever in Cleveland on a Sunday night please give me a shout. There’s always a place for you at my table.

All my love,
Beth

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19 Comments:

Blogger Jarvis said...

What a lovely inauguration to the Foodie Sunday posts. Thanks for sharing these memories with us, Beth.

1:16 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beth, I began my day reading your touching and very well written post. Thanks for that and I hope you will have a wonderful gourmet Sunday night!

3:31 AM EST  
Blogger Undina said...

Beth, thank you for the wonderfully warm and sincere story. May that Sunday dinner be a beginning of your own great tradition that your kids and grandkids will love and cherish.

4:19 AM EST  
Anonymous mocards said...

This was a beautifully written post that particularly touched my heart. Thank you for sharing this little bit of your life with us. I know your Sunday dinner will be loved and appreciated by all.

6:48 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautifully written words, gorgeous imagery that will linger in my mind. Your mom was/is a lovely person, and what an accomplishment, making sure there was a beautifully set table with delicious food every night. Thank you for sharing this tribute to her. I've no doubt she whispers in your ears all the time.

9:54 AM EST  
Blogger Josephine said...

Beth, this is a beautiful post that really warmed my heart. My own mother died recently and I so connect with what you said about running away, and returning again to renew the connections that mean so much and make us feel less 'orphaned.' Thank you for sharing this story. I will take your advice tonight.

10:04 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a lovely post. I'm one of those people who shares your mother's style. I brought my daughter up with cloth napkins, a well set table and candles. As a result, she's comfortable in any social sitation and enjoys good food.
I think it's so important to teach your children by example.
Oh, I also wear Shalimar and pearls!

10:21 AM EST  
Blogger Marina Geigert said...

Beth,
Just ♥! What else can one say.

10:22 AM EST  
Blogger Anya said...

I loved every word and savored every scent vicariously. This is an excellent idea, Beth, and I look forward to these posts.

11:07 AM EST  
OpenID olfactoriastravels.com said...

Oh, Beth, thank you for this wonderful story. It moved me to tears. It reminds me of the Mom I want to be and the memories I want to create for my children, starting traditions worth keeping over generations. Have a wonderful Sunday Dinner!

11:23 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautiful memories. What a wonderful mother you had and I am happy for you that the healing has begun. I too use my silver and cloth napkins. The smells from my Swedish Grandmothers kitchen are still burned deeply in my memory and her Rosenthal china that I now use. This post was a wonderful tribute to you Mom.

12:32 PM EST  
Blogger ScentScelf said...

One of the joys of following somebody's writing over time is recognizing markers and cues.

I love that you will be wearing your mother's pearls.

The thing about memories...how they hold power of pleasure and pain...but yes, in the end, once they have settled to temperature, as it were...it is important to hold on to them. I am so glad you have found a way to blend memories with cooking.

And with writing.

Having had a recent family reweaving myself, I am very much aware of the power of gathering at the table. I'll think of yours as mine gather tonight.

A toast to all, including "Foodie Sunday."

12:41 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am usually just a lurker here and rarely comment on blogs, but I felt compelled to remark on this lovely post. It brought tears to my eyes as I read it. We didn't set many formal dinner tables while I was growing up aside from special occasions, but my memories of my paternal grandmother are wrapped up in the smells of her amazing cooking and baking and knowing she would always make my favourite treats. I will strive to create these memories of food, warmth, and family for my own son. Thank you for sharing, and I wish you many, many wonderful Sunday dinners.

2:12 PM EST  
Blogger JoAnne Bassett said...

Beautiful memories Beth..reminds me of my childhood and Sunday dinners with family and extended family.

You have a great writing style..I feel it with my heart. These traditions seem to be more important now then ever.

Thank you for sharing...have a wonderful fragrant dinner..the first of many more meaningful ones..

4:48 PM EST  
Anonymous Marian said...

Thanks for sharing such a beautiful story, Beth! Your love for your family is as rich and sumptuous as any dinner I could ever imagine. i wish you, your family, and future generations, many happy and memorable times together.

9:13 PM EST  
Anonymous kathleen said...

Love this! Coming from an Italian American family, the family meals have always been important. Different relatives, had their specialties, and every time I cook one of them, I am back, at their table, enjoying their company. Whenever we take a trip back to NY, there is always a big meal, that lasts for hours, with 10 or 12 of our nearest and dearest.

9:10 AM EST  
Blogger Beth Gehring said...

Thanks to all of you so much! I am so glad that my words touched you and that you enjoyed the first ever installation of Foodie Sunday! I must report that our dinner was incredible and lasted from about 7:00 in the evening until way past midnight...We had so much fun! Thank you all for sharing your thoughts and memories too. As I read them during the day, it made cooking and preparing my own meal even richer. Thank you for being a huge part of my success last night!

11:30 AM EST  
Anonymous Flora said...

Just lovely, Beth! Even though my own family could not have been more different in style than yours, we always had dinner together, three generations at the table, where we talked about anything and everything. Late nights often found us sitting around in our pajamas with bowls of cereal or other snack, solving the world's problems.

I am so happy for you that your son has come back to complete the circle once again. I am sure he will be doing the same thing you are doing with his own children one day, and you will be the grandma who is the fabulous cook! :-)

4:20 PM EST  
Anonymous Laurie Stern said...

Beth, this was the most gorgeous story! Cooking with all of your love for the people you love is true alchemy. It radiates from your heart and hands to all around and transforms the moment and seals the memory. It was passed down to you, and you continue the circle...Beautiful and magical, like you! Thanks!

XOXO~Laurie

10:16 PM EST  

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