Monday, August 19, 2013
When I started graduate school in community and regional planning, one of my first assignments in our communications studio was to write about my family name, its origins, its meaning, its story. We were asked to share the story of our name with the person sitting next to us. Luckily, I was sitting next to Andrew - lucky because I had a big crush on him at the time (it was before we started dating) and lucky because it was the first time I realized how much we are on the same page.
We both focused on food and told the stories of our names through our culinary experiences shared with family. He told me about the barbecue he ate in Memphis when they visited his grandmother and the barbecue he ate in Texas when they visited his dad’s family. Two families that take barbecue very seriously. He told me about the strict Southern rules of etiquette they followed at the table growing up. He told me about the Zabar’s dinners with excellent cheese and charcuterie his family likes to eat even though they haven’t lived in New York in over thirty years.
I told him about the buttered noodles my grandmother fed us and the cookie drawer she stocked for the grandkids. The pantries she kept full of canned goods and the hoarded sugar packets slyly taken from the table at Perkins or Baker’s Square and arranged in little stacks on the kitchen table. A freezer full of various uneaten meals - a handful of peas wrapped in plastic or a half eaten pork chop saved for a future time. She had a fear of lack so strong that was born out of a time when her family had nothing to eat. Despite this deep rooted fear, she also had a full hearted sense of abundance for the grandkids. She fed us whatever we wanted whenever we wanted, and if we didn’t eat our food, she’d finish it for us while we foraged through the cookie drawer. On my dad’s side there was the minced meat pie at Christmas, and my dad’s stories of liver and onions every Tuesday night growing up. When we were kids we were often reminded how lucky we had it to be able to eat spaghetti instead of liver and onions.
For both of us, growing up, cooking, eating and spending time at the table was how we knew our families, and it’s how we both chose to tell the stories of our family names. I remember feeling a little mortified at the time that he would think I wasn’t very serious if I framed my story with food as the backdrop, but once he started telling me his story, my heart leapt a little.
Our history with food and our stories are very different, but for both of us, so much of how we were raised manifests itself in our choices now about food - not just what we eat but how we prepare it and how we eat it.
A couple of years ago, a female friend remarked to me how impressed she was with Andrew because he had a barbecue at our house while I was out of town, and he set the table beautifully with a tablecloth and everything. She told me this as if I should be proud that my influence on him is so strong that he even sets the table when I’m out of town. The truth is that his influence and his family’s influence are why we set the table so nicely each night - nothing fancy but thoughtful and respectful of the experience of our nightly ritual.
One time I was telling my mother-in-law a story about Andrew and how thoughtful he is when it comes to food, and she turned to me and said, “That doesn’t surprise me one bit. It is one of our family values. Our boys learned to like and appreciate good food from a young age.”
This is a value that Andrew and I have cultivated for our family, and I feel lucky to be on such the same page about this, among many other things. I really don’t think I could share my life with someone who wasn’t as excited and passionate about good eating as I am.
Good, high quality ingredients, prepared thoughtfully, eaten with great joy, and shared with dear ones is pretty much my perfect experience and one that is so enriched by sharing it with my husband.