A Trip Home(s)

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

The flight in was abysmal. Normally, I don’t truly care one way or another for air travel- I usually have enough of SOMETHING to make being stuck in the same seat for hours on end manageable- reading material, writing work, podcasts, exhaustion, something to make the hours a little shorter.

For some reason, though, the red-eye out of Portland International drove me mad. I’d been tired enough to sleep, but not exhausted enough to sleep for very long. Nothing distracted me long enough that I could ignore my legs getting twitchy and anxious.

Granted, that had been my entire body and mind for the last week or so, and this plane trip was meant partially to help me relax and get ready for a new job to start the next week. What better way to relax than ten days of family and food- and what better place to do it?

Philadelphia.
Hello, you f***ed up little city. Good to see you again.

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A Song of Time and Sandwiches

Good evening, friends and neighbors!​When my mother came to visit from the East Coast this past week, her suitcase and two smallish bags had to pass under the paranoiac scrutiny of the TSA. One went unremarked, but the other immediately drew their ire- a small, heavy cooler bag with a pair of sandwiches.

According to my mother, the TSA agent removed the deli paper-wrapped logs.
“What are these?”
“A pair of subs for my son and his wife.”
Okay…. what, they don’t have Subway in Portland?”
“It’s not the same.”
… Okay. Here you go.”

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Making Time: The Need for Family Dinner

Good evening, friends and neighbors.
It has been months since I have had dinner with my family.
The last time I sat down to dinner with my family was when Emily and I were back in New Jersey for our wedding. Even with just two of us, Emily and I only get to sit down to a homecooked meal together maybe twice a week.
It’s quite a change from when I grew up, one I tend to feel often. It’s no surprise then that when I saw this early this morning, trawling through social media, it struck a chord.
I was extremely fortunate as a kid- I had both parents, one of whom (my mom) didn’t need to work. She became a librarian when my sisters and I were in high school/college- not through necessity, but because she was bored and wanted something to do.
The whole time she was a stay-at-home mom, though, my mother insisted on a family dinner every night, and that that dinner should be homemade. Of course, all stereotypes have a seed of truth to them- some dinners were hits, others misses (my father will tell you stories of black bean burgers, and nuclear-hot buffalo wings where the red color was entirely from paprika.)
Hit or miss, though, the intent was the same. Dinner was when the family talked. It was where we shared our day and our thoughts. Books were forbidden at the dinner table (quite the imposition on three exceptionally bookish kids. A common game when out to dinner was “Guess the literary work from the first line that I’m reciting from memory.”)
Comic books, toys, and any other diversion where likewise banned. It was family time.
Since moving away, I have missed those dinners more and more- not just the food, but the conversation. The experience of eating and sharing together. Living on my own has gotten me used to… well, being on my own.
I do enjoy my alone time. It’s when I do some of my best work, and when I can think most clearly. At home or out on the town though, the most enjoyable of those dinners I remember involve friends. They involve laughing, sharing stories and jokes, and just enjoying each others presence in our lives.
I talk a lot on this blog on the virtues of food as communication, as well as the economic and experiential joys of home cooking. Of all the things cooking communicates, though- the very best is love.
There is something profoundly primal about the emotional impact of sharing with, cooking for, and feeding others.
Looking after your friends and loved ones at this most basic, biologically necessary level communicates- in a way deeper than words can conjure- that you love them, care for their well-being, and want them around.

“The fact is, I love to feed other people. I love their pleasure, their comfort, their delight in being cared for. Cooking gives me the means to make other people feel better, which in a very simple equation makes me feel better. I believe that food can be a profound means of communication, allowing me to express myself in a way that seems much deeper and more sincere than words. My Gruyere cheese puffs straight from the oven say ‘I’m glad you’re here. Sit down, relax. I’ll look after everything.’

– Ann Patchett, “Dinner For One, Please, James”

Four years ago this month, my grandmother passed on- and some of my most treasured memories happened around her dinner table. Holiday dinners- when family would come from afar and gather around her huge dining table with the carved wooden legs- are some of the happiest moments of my life.
The food and drink would flow, the family would laugh and share jokes and stories. To quote Vonnegut, in those moments “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.”
In retrospect, that was one reason I became a cook and a baker- I wanted to help EVERYONE find those moments of happiness. Whether I was cooking for them, or teaching people to do it themselves, I wanted everyone to have at least one moment around their dinner table like I did.
You have a busy life, though. You have so many things demanding your time and attention. Dinners tend to be afterthoughts, and lonely ones- or when you are not alone, it is so easy to be distracted.
There’s a club for people that deal with that- it’s called “everyone.” I attend the meetings every now and then.

When I decided that I was going to get in shape, one of the challenges was finding the time. I didn’t know when was best, when I’d have the most energy, when I’d feel the most motivated- “when I’d have the chance.”

One of the biggest lessons I learned from that was “You always have time for the things you make time for.” Thirty minutes I spent dithering on the computer could be spent running. Time in front of the tv could easily be active.

The same applies to your family dinner- “you have time for the things you make time for.”

Pick a time after which you will NOT be disturbed by work or other activity. If that’s too much, pick just one night a week. Keep it open for family dinner, and keep it sacred.

That sounds dramatic, but it really is what you need to do- make that time or that night special, to yourself and the ones you love.

It can be a homecooked family dinner right out a Norman Rockwell painting- or just swinging by a friends place with Chinese take-out.

It’s not hard, or even a really big ask- but it can mean the world.
You don’t need to cook well- or even at all. You just need to BE THERE.
Be there to witness- to listen, to laugh, and to tell.
Be there to love the people you love- they will know.

It’s not that hard at all- and it’s worth it.

Stay Classy,