I have distinct memories of being very little and be told it was time for dinner. The table was skinny and long–green Formica just off the kitchen, my two older brothers and I would sit there to eat. We were little, and I remember that table more than the actual meals eaten at it.
Mom would feed us before Daddy came home from work, and then she and dad would sit at the blond oak dining room table to eat their meal. This routine only lasted until we were all of an age to eat together, and my father’s work hours were defined by his needs and not someone else’s.
I remember setting that blond oak table for some dinners and eating in the kitchen for others. I remember fighting with my brothers over who would be cleaning up. I remember the food. I remember that we were together. My mother cooked, what she cooked, we ate. That was all, and it was all good.
The weekends brought BBQs and church on Sunday, pasta, and sometimes Grampa for Sunday dinner. While we were never close to my Father’s family, we were to my Mother’s-at least while her father was alive. Sometime’s we went to his house for Sunday dinner, and that was an event. He cooked, or the aunts and Mom cooked, and everyone (it seemed to me) family, friends, neighbors, came, sat down and ate. And argued and ate. And played cards, and ate.
There was always enough food for everyone, no matter how many showed up. It was the same at my Mother’s house as long as I can remember. It may not have been fancy food (although now someone would be sure to attach the tag line “artisan” to it) but there was plenty and there was always enough to share. My mother never minded when we brought friends who would just come over around dinner…she always had enough to share.
When I married and moved away, I brought that tradition of feeding anyone with me. I cooked and everyone ate and ate well. If there was only a pound of meat, I added more vegetables to the stew or baked another loaf of bread. Food was love, and it was the 60’s.
There was only one criteria for eating at my table. You had to sit at the table & eat. It didn’t matter ( and still doesn’t) was your politics were or sexual choices. If you made through the first 5 minutes at my table, chances are you probably would get invited back.
I carried those sentiments with me through divorces and moves from city to city. Good times and bad times. Money & Food stamps. Sometimes there were lot’s of people, and sometimes just a few.
When I moved to Berkeley, the kid and I lived with 5 guys, and a moving cast of many. There were few rules in that house, one was that they did not cook, and I did. We were all family then…some still are to this day.
There has been enough written about the subject of how why eating together as a family is important, that whatever I would add would be gilding the lily. Family meals bond and imprint in ways that I cannot even explain. My definition of family might be different than yours. It’s allowed. Family is how you define it.
Family dinners at my house, perhaps anyone’s house, are famous for arguments and jokes, breakdowns and break-ups. They have all happened at my house at one time or another. You eat, cry, yell, move on.
My birth family is small now. And no one can replace those ties ever. But my other family grows and shifts with time & circumstance. There hasn’t been much attrition in the last 2 decades, but some. Comings & goings, marriages and death, the dance of it is told in who sits at my dinner table.
I try to do family meals a few times a month. Sometimes it’s just the Daughter, her husband and me. sometimes it’s C&M, and us, sometimes it’s 6, sometimes 12, sometimes more. It’s not always on Sunday, but when we can gather and eat and catch up.
This week C toasted his “weird family” at my table as we welcomed a new member. It was the highest possible compliment. We ate pork stew and laughed and talked loud and were full.
Fall Pork Stew
This recipe for pork stew is a favorite for chilly fall nights. Rich and earthy, it may not be the prettiest dish, but it is a favorite of all. I adapted this from a Marcella Hazen recipe to my taste. The original can be found in Essentials of Italian Cooking, 1992. Last week, we ate it with soft polenta, garlic roasted fall veggies and a gingerbread pear upside-down cake.
4 lbs Pork shoulder or butt,
2 tbs olive oil
2 small onions, peeled
2 oz dried mushrooms
1 1/2 cup hot water (120° to 130°F)
1/2 tbs marjoram leaves
1 tbs oregano leaves
2 tbs rosemary
20 juniper berries
8 garlic clove, crushed
2 bay leaf, broken
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup red wine
1 cup white wine
2 tbs anchovy paste or 4-6 fresh anchovies, crushed
8 oz fresh mushrooms, porcinis or criminis
2 cups chunked pumpkin, carrots or orange squash
1. Cut the roast into “2 bite” chunks.
2. Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottom pot that you can cook all the pork in. Start browning the pork -don’t crowd it, or it won’t brown right.
3. Put the dried mushrooms in a bowl and pour the hot water over them to soak.
4. After the pork is brown remove to another pan, and hold. Repeat until all pork is browned lightly
5. Take all the spices, including garlic except the bay leaves, and coarsely grind in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.
6. Cut the onions into quarters and then slice.
7. When the pork is brown and set aside, put the onion in the pot and cook until translucent. About 5 min. Add all the spices to the onion in the pot. Stir and saute for a few minutes to cook the garlic.
8. Add the vinegar, wines and the mushrooms (including their soaking water) bring to a simmer and add the anchovy paste. Add the meat back in and any juices from it.
9. Cover the pot and put into a 300-degree oven for 2 hours or until fork-tender. Add some salt & pepper, taste and adjust seasonings. You can remove the meat and put on a platter, and keep warm. Reduce the sauce if necessary. See tips for what I do.
Let the meat air dry after cutting for 20 min to make sure it’s dry before browning.
Serve this with a soft polenta.
I cook this the day before serving to help meld the flavors. Refrigerate overnight, and then gently reheat before serving. I add the fresh mushrooms, carrots, or cut up pumpkin, sweet potato etc while re-heating. Adds color. I sometimes add a squeeze of lemon to brighten the flavor. Add a little chopped Italian parsley to the top of each dish before serving.
Feel free to comment, and if you would like, leave your email I will send a PDF of the recipe, which includes nutritional information.