I love how Fall brings with it the return of routine and structure – the structure of daily schedules, school, ministry, and even many household tasks that honestly get lost in my need for the “lazy” days of summer. One of the places I have turned my mind back to is the practice of planning for and preparing regular meals for my family. Not only has this shift felt hard because of the preparation work it requires, but also because cooking for three rather than five still feels like a big adjustment.
It’s interesting to think back on family meals growing up – my husband’s family and mine had some similarities living in the midwestern-100-ways-to-serve-ground-beef-in some-kind-of-casserole environment. Yet the conversations that happened around our dinner tables were quite different. Mine was dominated by the weather forecast that would always play on the news at some point during our dinner – and when it began, we all understood conversation was to cease. I remember one of the early dinners I had at Chris’ home where an intense theological debate about Christian rock music unfolded. Coming from a culture where differing opinions were not welcomed, I was uncomfortable to put it mildly. However, I came to appreciate the process of expressing different ideas and opinions while still anchored in the respect and love that were present in the family gathered around the table.
As Chris and I sought to create our own unique family culture, we placed a high value early on of sharing consistent meals together, which often meant guarding that time in each day from other commitments that would easily encroach. As our kids grew older, we started a practice we called “high-low.” Each person had the opportunity to share a high and low experience from that day. Often the telling would provoke questions or further conversation about the experience. Not only was it fun to get a glimpse into each person’s day based on what they shared, but their unique personalities came across as well. I remember our creative daughter Katie saying, “My low is I don’t have a high, and my high is I don’t have a low”, Matthew saying, “Do I have to pick just one, there are so many!”
These days, family dinner looks different. Our two boys are gone at college, and Katie is a busy high school junior who currently has either golf practice or a match every day that hinders a “normal” dinnertime. So we flex, eating dinner some nights as late as 7:30 or 8:00, because we highly value those precious minutes together where we stop the busy pace, sit and savor and enjoy and converse.
Last year at this time, I learned much about the value of sitting, savoring, enjoying, and conversing as we traveled through Tuscany, Italy. The region where we stayed is known for “slow food.” Meals are not “instant” or “ready to serve”, they are prepared slowly with fresh ingredients, and savored around a table with free flowing wine and animated conversation. The highlight of our week long stay with friends at a Tuscan villa was the day we had a local chef come in and spend the day teaching and cooking several Italian specialties together. Rita not only shared techniques for preparing the food, but shared stories from her fascinating experiences as well. By the end of the four hours together we had heard about the different countries she’d lived in, her hard work as a business owner/chef/innkeeper, the necessity of starting over after being left by her husband, and much more. I will forever hold an impression in my heart of Rita and the unique role she played in creating a spectacular anniversary celebration for us. After she left that evening, the 8 of us gathered there enjoyed the fruits of our labor with a sumptuous meal. While we certainly savored the flavors of good food and good wine, even more we savored the richness of the relationships gathered around the table, the shared memories and words of blessing. I will never forget the beauty of that night.
No matter how large or small the circle is gathered around my table, that is a vision and commitment to a way of intentional living together that I will hold strongly to.
RITA’S ZUPPA DI FARRO
1 SMALL ONION
1 STICK CELERY
1 CLOVE GARLIC
3 SLICES OF BACON
3 CANS OF BORLOTTI BEANS (ROMAN BEANS OR CANNELLINI BEANS)
1 1/3 C. BARLEY (FARRO)
8-12 C. WATER
SALT, PEPPER TO TASTE
2 BEEF STOCK CUBES
FRESH ROSEMARY- 2 WHOLE STALKS, OR 1-2 TSP. DRIED ROSEMARY LEAVES
1 T. OF TOMATO PUREE
3 POTATOES CUT INTO SMALL CUBES (OPTIONAL)
CHOP ALL VEGGIES IN FOOD PROCESSOR. SAUTE, ALONG WITH BACON IN 5 TABLESPOONS OF OLIVE OIL. DRAIN BEANS, PUREE 1 CAN USING FOOD MILL OR PROCESSOR, AND 2 DIRECTLY INTO SOUP. ADD FARRO INTO POT WITH 8-12 C. OF WATER (DEPENDING ON DESIRED THICKNESS). ADD SALT, PEPPER TO TASTE, STOCK CUBES, FRESH ROSEMARY, TOMATO PUREE. BRING TO BOIL, THEN SIMMER FOR 1 HOUR. HALF WAY THROUGH COOKING TIME, ADD POTATOES IF DESIRED FOR HEARTIER SOUP. REMOVE ROSEMARY STALKS PRIOR TO SERVING, OR PARTWAY THROUGH TO DECREASE INTENSITY OF FLAVOR. SERVES 8-10.
Janet Stark is a woman learning to embrace her depth and sensitivity. Inspired by Mary pondering things in her heart, Janet writes about her experiences here. She is grateful for the deep love she shares with her husband of 25 years, as well as her 4 children and 2 grandchildren. She is a life-long lover of words and looks forward to reading and sharing at Red Tent Living.