Last week, we took the Heathens to the local library so that G-Man could select a biography for his upcoming book report. While we were there, I perused the cookbook section for some fresh ideas. I love my Kindle, but when it comes to cookbooks, I need the real thing. Why? Well, I guess it has to do with my mom. When I hijack her cookbooks, I always find the recipes I’m looking for by finding the dirtiest pages in the book. When I was looking for the brownie recipe in a cookbook that had several, I only needed to find the page that was the most stained and smudged with her fingerprints. Cookbooks in our family are a microcosm of our history, and the spotted, splattered pages are sometimes as memory-evoking as the food itself.
When it comes to new cookbooks, the library is the perfect place to “try before you buy,” so I usually grab five or six to preview for their potential. On this particular trip, I stumbled across this book:
What I didn’t know at the time was that this book is far more than a collection of recipes; it’s a virtual manifesto in support of revitalizing family dinners. It includes research, essays, games and an encyclopedic collection of information that not only supports the importance of family dinners, but also gives the reader a tool box for starting or reinstating their own family dinner traditions.
Family dinner is a subject that is near to my heart, because I grew up in a home in which we gathered around the table every night. I was blessed with a stay-at-home mom, who also happened to be a fabulous cook, and an ironic combination of southern lady and quiet liberal. We ate at the table together, which was always set with cloth placemats (though we did use paper napkins…my mom is a saint, not a masochist). Setting the table was one of my first chores as a child, and to this day, it’s my favorite part of planning a meal, because it’s one thing in life that is entirely within my control.
It wasn’t until I was moving into my first apartment that I began to realize the impact those dinners had on me. Family dinner was security, sharing and the place where we learned about manners and conversation. Even as a dirt-poor college student, my priority for my first apartment was a dinner table, which my grandmother bought for me. My husband and I used it well, even if our meal was just cooked chicken and Pasta-Roni. We hosted our classmates with regularity, always at the table we had set with our dollar-store placemats. Our friends came, we cooked and we all recaptured that sense of familial normality we often missed in our wild college days. I spent that semester driving up my mother’s phone bill with collect calls, so she could walk me through the cooking basics. My husband and I still cherish those memories, because they helped us grow as a couple, and fortify the values we wanted to develop in our future family.
Before I went back to work, I continued with the traditions my parents instilled in me. I cooked (sometimes poorly) and we ate at the table…even if dinner resembled warzone with two picky toddlers. When our house burned down, we spent more time deciding on a new kitchen table than anything else…and as soon as the insurance check cleared, my husband ordered my 20 favorite cookbooks because he knew that was the quickest way to help us feel normal.
When I became a working mom, I got a big, fat dose of reality. Getting dinner on the table after working all day, while juggling the kids, house and everything else, suddenly became a Herculean effort. We ate out more often, relied on convenience foods and somewhere along the way, I lost my joy of cooking. I very easily fell into a rut, and found our nights to be more about getting caught up on our to-do list than enjoying each other. We still had family dinners, but I think I was always in too much of a hurry to truly engage in them the way I should have.
Now that I’m back at home, I am slowly working to recapture the quality of our family dinners, even when my fussy newborn has other plans. This book definitely inspired me to get back on track, and I highly recommend it for anyone that needs a little encouragement to come back to the table as a family.