Last week I had my family for dinner, including my absolutely engaging, never-can-do-wrong 10-year old grandson Brandon (who loves broccoli). I have a rule at my table: there are no screens of any kind. Nobody pulls their phone out, for any reason (which is much harder for my husband than anybody else!). Dinner is family time.
My husband, having recently lost his father, was talking about uncovering letters his father had written between 1943 and 1945 when he was in World War II. Bundles of them. He was in the process of reading and scanning them, and he was sharing some of his discoveries, things he had never known about his father. Brandon picked up his plate and started to leave the table. Where are you going? I asked. I’m going to play video games! He responded.
Suddenly, The Matriarch appeared. I was channeling my elders, my mother, my grandmother, my great aunt. I beg your pardon? I replied with precision. Brandon stopped in his tracks.
At my house and at my table, we don’t leave unless we ask to be excused, I continued. We don’t watch video games during dinner. I want you back at the table, because we are not finished eating. You are finished eating, but your grandfather is telling a story, and we are listening to him.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a quiet smile on my lovely daughter-in-law’s face, and heard perhaps a very quiet sigh of relief. The grandmother is speaking. The word has come down from on high.
I explained to Brandon that some of my most amazing memories come from sitting at Sunday dinners as a child. My whole family was there: my grandparents, the aunts and the uncles. As children we had to work our way up to the big table from the kiddie table. Once we made it, we had to listen. And because there were no distractions, I listened to some of the most memorable stories of my life! And I do remember.
Fast forward back to 2017. Here is my husband Gregg talking about a part of his father he never knew. In that moment, it struck me profoundly about the importance of the table. Eating together, listening respectfully to one another, practicing skillful, positive discourse. In our household we do this once a week, and on that evening, I held this experience with deep gratitude.
It’s more than just the food. It’s the opportunity to share parts of ourselves maybe we wouldn’t otherwise. There’s something about the communal table, and breaking bread together. This experience goes back centuries! It doesn’t matter if you are young or old; it’s a time to listen to one another. A tall order for a 10-year old, granted! But — not really. 10-year olds can rise to the occasion. It’s an opportunity to be conscious of the choices we are making, the values we are teaching, the character we are cultivating. And to be the voice that speaks up when your kid gets up, or your teenager is flipping through their phone.
I explained this to Brandon, not in a scolding way, but clearly. In my house this is the playbook. Of course, he was over at my side of the table and begging me to tickle him in like 10 minutes. Not scarred for life!
I relayed this story to my mother. She said to me, “You get a star! You stepped into your matriarchal role. This is your job now. Good for you!” She actually clapped (over the phone).
Nobody tells you that it’s your turn to hold the matriarchal flame now in the family — you just feel it when it comes! I was suddenly channeling all my ancestors, and it felt… right.
Recipes sure to please
The culinary key to successful family dinners is, of course, to cook what pleases! I always check with Brandon before family dinners and ask what he would like, so I’m certain to make him happy. It turns out turns out that everyone else is happy, too :)
Here’s a menu he loves:
All I can say is get out your camera, cause when you make this dish, you’re going to want to take a picture of it before you serve it. It’s just that pretty, with the peach of the salmon, the ruby red jewels of the pomegranate seeds, the vibrant green of the parsley. The taste is no less sensational, the citrus and herbs playing wonderfully off the salmon’s healthy blend of omega-3 rich fats. This one will energize all your senses.
This is certainly a case for visuals drawing you to the plate. Served with salmon, this rice—an indigo delight—pops like a painting, beckoning you to come closer, closer . . . and that first bite seals the deal. The rice and bell pepper play delightfully against the creaminess of the avocado, while the mint and cilantro roll all around your mouth like pinballs, blasting taste here, there, and everywhere. This salad enchants all the senses—and the rice is a whole grain as well, feeding the mind in more ways than one.
One more Brandon story from his doting grandmother. This is what he eats every day for lunch, exquisite Bento Boxes lovingly made by his mother. No wonder he has a discriminating palate! Not surprisingly, his friends are always trying to trade with him at school.