When I started this back-to-the-table “project” nine months ago, I knew there would be times that would try my patience, fortitude and resolve to get a nice meal prepared for my family at least once a week. This is one of those times. Over the course of the past two weeks I’ve weathered my spouse being out of town in the midst of having our roof replaced, resulting in a shattered light fixture, being yelled at by a neighbor at 6 o’clock in the morning, a loss of three and a half pounds, and a near nervous breakdown. This was quickly followed by two successive rounds of illness that blazed through our household, felling both mother and daughter. Although I managed to throw a somewhat involved dinner party for a friend in the middle of all of this, a date set on the calendar long before the chaos erupted, I was too sick and exhausted to remember to take any photos of my efforts, which is fine, because it’s not really representative of my life these days.
The truth is, the last two weeks have left me wanting me bury my head under the covers, and cooking has been far from my mind. Instead, here’s what we’ve been eating for family dinners: Trader Joe’s ravioli, boxed macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, Lipton noodle soup, cereal, frozen pizza and veggie burgers, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. In other words, I’ve been eating like an American toddler. Last Sunday evening, I was making myself a slice of cinnamon toast for dinner. My throat was beyond sore, and I knew that the toast would likely go down like sandpaper against my esophagus. But it was the only thing that sounded good that evening, I think because, as a little girl, my mother used to prepare me cinnamon toast on a regular basis. She even kept a little ramekin filled with the proper proportion of cinnamon-sugar at the ready, a ratio I found myself puzzling over that night. As predicted, the toast went down my gullet roughly, but it also tasted so comforting and satisfying that I wondered why I didn’t eat like a toddler more often.
I’ve thought about my mother a lot the past few weeks as I’ve struggled to serve even the simplest of dinners. I maintain far fewer commitments than she ever did, and I often marvel at how she “did it all.” But the truth is she didn’t. Although my mother was an incredibly talented cook and baker who could make just about anything in the kitchen, we ate semi-homemade food as often as we did from-scratch fare. But my mom managed to get dinner on the table almost every night, which provided the space for our family to come together over a meal – whether it was homemade hamburgers or Hamburger Helper – which seems the more important factor. Perhaps someone out there has figured out how to do it all, but none of us can do all of it all of the time. Sometimes the roof leaks. Sometimes we get sick. Sometimes we feel like eating toast for dinner. Sometimes we have to let something go. Things will get back on track soon, I’m sure of it. But until then I’m reminded of the spirit of this project: creating togetherness around the dinner table.
I think I’ll go make myself a slice of cinnamon toast.