“Tell us about food: what you ate today, your perfect meal, your favorite seasonal foods.
You can talk about junk food or health food. You can rant and rave or even apologize for over-indulging at dinner last night.
You can confess an addiction to sweets or a nasty drinking habit. Of course, this isn’t about just what we imbibe and consume; it’s about life and conversation and the people we meet around the table.
Don’t just tickle our taste buds; invite us into the experience.”
The table is set: white lace tablecloths that belonged to my grandmother’s grandmother, the scarlet, gold, and pine green plaid cloth napkins folded with precision, the crystal glasses, and beautiful, off-white, China plates with plaid around the border to match the napkins. A centerpiece of white poinsettias sits in the center of the table. Enough place settings for my immediate family, my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. We started the evening with the usual round of appetizers: scallops wrapped in bacon, mini spanakopita bites, nuts, bread, all sorts of goodies. I had handwritten the menu that night: stuffed pork tenderloin, fresh green beans, hot rolls, a decadent salad, and on and on and on.
My mother came up with the idea with it being a couple of nights before Christmas that we would go around the neighborhood caroling. In her mind, she envisioned us as a choir of angels. Instead, my father bootlegged some Jack Daniels, which my brother and I were sneaking sips of in the back of the group. Meanwhile, one of my uncles was snickering all through the caroling. My other uncle was setting his lyric sheet on fire with the candle my mother had given each of us as we went around from house-to-house to sing Christmas carols. My grandmother at the head of the caroling group was singing three verses ahead of the rest of us who were struggling to keep up with her off-tempo warbling. A few more sips of Jack Daniels, and I was no longer feeling the cold wind nip at me, instead, as my brother so aptly put it, “It’s like wearing a sweater on the inside.”
We traveled from house to house, some of our family straggling behind, and my mom singing earnestly as my grandmother struggled to keep up with the right verses. My father, brothers, and I getting tipsy off the Jack Daniels my father was giving us, and pretty soon, my mother had thrown her hands in the air in defeat. We were to go home because none of us had appreciated her sentimental idea of Christmas caroling. We trudged home, guiltily eyeing each other, trying to figure out who to blame for the catastrophic Christmas caroling experience.
We got home, and the pork tenderloin was finished, the salad pulled out of the refrigerator, and the rolls golden brown and delicious-looking. My stomach gurgled in anticipation. I locked eyes with my oldest brother and grinned; meanwhile, my mother pulled out a tomato-squash bisque to serve as the first course. Each bowl of tomato-squash bisque was topped with a dollop of crème fraîche. My brother’s face turned as white as the crème fraîche as wafts of the tomato-squash soup drifted up to his nose. With that, he ran down the stairs, and we all heard him throwing up.
So much for my mother’s pre-Christmas feast. My brother was tucked in his bed, drunk, and his head throbbing. The rest of us were in hysterics, trying not to let her catch us in our giggles. My grandma, with her head reverently bowed, waited to pray, only peeking up once and a while to ask why my brother had gotten so sick. We lied and told her he may have a touch of a stomach virus.
That was one of my most memorable meals, not for the stuffed pork tenderloin, not for the tomato-squash bisque, but for the memories we shared.