This post was written for the Friday Night Dinner blog.
Eating together is an art I learned at an early age.
And if you spend any time around me, you know that it’s a subject that I can talk about for minutes upon minutes – big hand gestures and shouts of hallelujah included.
This love of the family table helped start Friday Night Dinners. In more ways than I would have expected, it has also shaped me as a person. I owe it, largely, to dear old Dad.
This week, our dinner was a tribute to him, a Southern celebration in honor of what would have been his 69th birthday.
While I’ve spent a majority of my life in the Northwest, my dad came from deep Southern stock, born and raised in Ft. Smith, Arkansas. Late nights fighting against my bedtime, I’d beg him to tell me stories of his childhood. Some of my favorites were about the breakfasts his mom –my nana- would make on weekend mornings.
I loved this story so much because he carried on that same tradition for our family. We were a grits household and my friends loved coming over to eat foods with his Southern spin.
As I got older, I saw my dad work his magic in the kitchen for weekly dinner parties. One by one, the good old boys would arrive, bearing loaves of bread, bottles of wine, and shirt sleeves rolled up, ready to chop onions, mince garlic, or whatever tasks were needed for the culinary adventure my dad had planned. I would pause from my homework to listen to their laughter, poke my head over the railing to watch steam rise out of pots and pans filled with braised beef and rich ragu.
It was all so beautiful to me, like edible poetry.
Even though my dad is no longer on this earth, I am reminded of him when my friends and I gather around the table each week for Friday Night Dinner. It is such a blessing and I don’t take it lightly.
For this week’s dinner, from 5 p.m. to half-past midnight, I was nourished with Joy. Opening the tattered pages of my dad’s Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen cookbook, I called out the ingredients of the “poor man’s jambalaya,” the three of us chopping and dicing, a stream of 90s hits playing in the background. Everyone knows the best chefs listen to the Backstreet Boys.
We celebrated with toasts and prayers of thanksgiving. Our popovers, golden pillows rising out of muffin tins, made us scream with excitement. And as we dished up spoons of jambalaya, I couldn’t help but think that this meal would have made my dad so proud.
Hours of baking and frosting turtle pecan cupcakes was a sweet way to finish our meal, but even sweeter were the conversations, the giggles as we twirled our hair in buns for a “team bun head” photo shoot – inspired by photos of little me, sporting my infamous bun.
While our meal was delicious, the food was only a fraction of the night. That’s how it is every Friday Night Dinner. We enrich each other’s lives through our time, energy and love – turning off cellphones and tuning in to one another.
I guess that’s what my dad was after, too – that someday, those he cooked for might be inspired to do the same for someone they loved — to share in a meal, in this deep form of communion.
Thanks, Dad, for the food, for the love, for the fun. I hope we’re doing just that.