Tuesday, August 21, 2007

How must we then dine? Part I

When my family gets together for dinner, it is a spectacular production of spectacular proportions.

There are eleven of us in the immediate family: Poppy, Nanny, me, my husband, my brother, my sister-in-law and then the grandchildren in order of their ages: Meelyn, Kieren, Aisling, Dayden and Kiersi. Kieren and Dayden are my nephews, aged thirteen and six. Kiersi is my niece, and she is eighteen months old.

Our favorite family dinner is spaghetti. My mother is famous for her homemade sauce, and when she invites us all over for dinner, she makes enough to feed an army. She makes it in a a vat that is practically the size of an old-fashioned wash tub. She cooks the pasta in a pot in a size that is normally associated with the food service industry.

We also have garlic bread, usually two loaves. Well-buttered. We put it under the broiler so that half the pan comes out slightly blackened, the way all normal people like to eat their garlic bread. The rest of the pan is served raw, barely more than lumps of dough. Can you tell which kind I like?

Salad is also on the menu, and it isn't just any salad. It usually features homemade bleu cheese dressing, from a recipe passed down from my grandma via Julia Child. The salad has lettuce of several different varieties, plus tomatoes, cucumbers, maybe some carrot. Peripherally, shredded cheese, croutons, craisins, sunflower seeds and crumbled bacon is served. If you don't like bleu cheese, my mother usually has an assortment of three hundred other salad dressings available, including, at one noted dinner, ranch, bacon ranch, garlic ranch, peppercorn ranch, buttermilk ranch and parmesan ranch. Just in case.

Kieren and Dayden are also very fond of alfredo sauce. I have a homemade recipe for this and sometimes I make it, but sometimes my mother just opens a jar of Prego alfredo and this seems to do the trick, although I can't eat that stuff.

You may wonder if there are leftovers. Yes, there are. Enough for my parents to have a couple more meals, at least. But the point is that we, the descendants of hearty, solid Irish, English and German peasant stock, all eat with great gusto, commenting favorably about a piece of garlic bread toasted to perfection; a particularly toothsome meatball.

For dessert, there's usually something chocolate, which is our one common denominator. Although my mother has been known to break out with pies at unexpected times. Apple, pumpkin, pecan, sugar cream...she is the queen of all pie bakers, having learned the secrets of a lard-based crust from both her grandma and my father's.

Just in case, she often bakes some chocolate chip cookies. Because someone might get hungry.

And my brother has been known to bring an enormous plastic canister of Chex Party Mix along, just in case someone feels like eating something salty.

Strangely enough, my father and I are the only ones who qualify as really and truly fat. Everyone else has a certain solidness, except for Kieren, who is growing fast, and Dayden, who is so picky, he will only eat noodles with a little bit of sauce and his own boogers. And maybe a piece of bread, the crusts of which he gives to my father.

We enjoy food. We love cooking it, serving it, eating it. We sit around my parents' dining table for an hour or more, clearing away dishes and bringing in new ones, refilling drinks, halving "just one more slice" of cake with some other brave soul. Feasting is part of my family's culture and spaghetti is often the meal we gather to eat. Strange, since none of us have a single drop of Italian blood, but truthfully, we'll eat just about anything.

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