Note: this is a slightly re-edited version of what was posted a few months ago on Bayart.org.
When I was growing up, the dinner table was an important part of our daily routine. It was as regular and expected as church on Sunday. You just did it. Nothing teaches patience and tolerance like being forced to sit across from the sibling that just stole your favorite baby doll and tore its head off. Yes, there were glowering, glares of hatred and threatening nods of “just wait…” while grace was being said and everyone else had their eyes closed. But somehow, by the end of dinner, all was well with the world. And life went on.
My mother, God love her, was a tolerable cook, and was still learning when I was growing up. I was pretty much on my own to learn things like a cup of sugar was not just whatever coffee mug we had in the cabinet. In fact, if it weren’t for my Home Economics teacher in Junior High School, I most likely would have followed in my mothers’ awkward footsteps regarding kitchen knowledge. Thankfully, though, I did have Mrs. M. She taught me the difference between liquid and solid measuring cups, how to decipher recipes, and even how to set a table ‘properly’ (which I have only used twice in my life, but hey, I know what fork to use and when!).
By the age of 14, I was a decent cook. On the weekends, when the whim hit me, I would raid the cabinets and fridge for ideas. Throughout the afternoon, I would throw together chopped beef, or chicken, or even ground beef into burgoo-like stews with whatever vegetables I had around. Herbs and spices were added by smell alone. I rarely looked at the labels, I would just get a good whiff of my boiling concoction of vegetables and meat and start opening bottles and sniffing them. Along with a batch of homemade drop biscuits, I would treat my family to a nice Saturday evening dinner.
When my husband and I had our first child, I carried on the tradition. Dinner is a mainstay in our home. And it is required. We even have a Sunday Brunch that my husband cooks (the only day I really get to sleep in…).
Despite all of my parents’ flaws, this is the one GOOD thing that I can pass on to my children. And I am thankful that as dysfunctional as a family can be, given the right parameters, a simple thing like family dinner gave, and still gives, a normalcy to otherwise crazy events.
As far as my cooking skills, they’re pretty good, though I am nowhere near Chef Status. And I have noticed that I am a little braver than I used to be… I still cook by smell, but now I have begun cooking by Color.
To Add Tomatoes or Not To Add Tomatoes…? Yes, of course!
These are purple, red, and russet potatoes with butternut squash. I toss them with olive oil and herbs and spices and roast them in the oven. I’ve recently discovered that, yes, you can put garlic powder, cinnamon, and basil in the olive oil and it gives a sweet, tangy flavor to the vegetables.
We had this with cabbage sautéed in olive oil, flavored with just salt and pepper:
I hope this gives you some ideas and inspiration. Dinnertime is such an important and necessary routine to maintain communication (and humor) in a household. If you don’t do it, I hope you will consider it. It doesn’t have to be dinner either. Just get together with your family, once per day, across the table from one another, with some good, healthy food to share.