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After four years of monthly gatherings, we all agree that it was a bad decision to name our monthly supper club Dinner Divas. However, at the time of its inception, I was eager to start a supper club and simply reused a name of a previous dinner group that had fizzled out. Thus the subject of the first invite was, regrettably, Dinner Divas.

Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon was selected as the inaugural dinner and on that cold November afternoon my home was engulfed by the rich and buttery flavors of slowly braised beef, onions, mushrooms and hearty red wine. It was the perfect way to welcome new and old friends through a classic meal that’s both comforting and memorable. My anticipation for my guests matched my anticipation for dinner. It was on this night that a ritual of dining and sharing commenced. The evening proved to be just as memorable as the quintessential dish. It was the first of many gatherings.

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It was a mix of ladies who first came to eat dinner at my house four years ago– some were strangers, some were best friends, some were acquaintances. Since that first evening, we have continually had dinner once a month for four years. What has kept us together, and what drives us every month to set a date to dine, is that we have come to need one another. We have developed into a group of eight women who experience life together.

For us though, the food isn’t the highlight of our gatherings. Whether the meal is homemade or take-out; or we are at a home or restaurant, our gatherings are meaningful because we want to be there. By breaking bread together we have made ourselves vulnerable and open with one another. With every dish eaten– nachos, tapas, pizza, soup, flatbreads– we create a stronger bond. These dinners have seen us celebrate new jobs, pregnancies and personal successes. They have also witnessed tears over the loss of loved ones, miscarriages, impending medical procedures and heartache. We have become a group of women, all very different, who need one another, who pray for one another, who rely on one another.

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There is no end in sight for the Dinner Divas. Our monthly get-togethers only get better.

Relationships that form around food and the consumption of food are powerful. It is the kinesthetic, sense arousing, body nourishing process of eating that makes this true. When eating, the body is engaged to be nourished and so is the soul. Our culture, unfortunately, misses out on this opportunity for enrichment because we seek instant gratification, quick meals and isolated friendships.

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Relationships take time and so should meals. Let the moments spent around a table with strangers or loved ones be powerful. Engage yourself to not only benefit from the gathering, but also be willing to enrich others. Make yourself vulnerable and dine with expectation that you will walk away having gained a nourished relationship and a nourished body.

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imageHosting a Fourth of July celebration is something new for me. I’ve always wanted to throw an Independence Day celebration and decided that this was the year to attempt it.

Our celebration was not the standard American hot dog and hamburger grill-out, where the hosts do all the work and the guests simply arrive and eat. Instead, it was a time to gather with dear friends to spend time and cook together.

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The menu was planned about three days before the gathering. It takes time to peruse recipes and make the final decisions on what dishes pair well together. I wanted the food for this get-together to not only have an American spirit, but also to embody non-traditional flavors. Also, my goal was to use only new recipes. I find that there is no better time to try new recipes than on dinner guests. It makes me feel like I’m living on the edge.

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There was some work to do before the festivities could begin. We tried to make the preparations, as much as we could, a family affair. Little paws helped where they could, like grocery shopping and baking a cake. For the most part though, Randy and I split responsibilities and tackled them individually, but side by side.

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By the time our friends arrived at 3:30 pm everything for the dinner was done; the pork shoulder was smoking and the drinks frozen. However, the beauty of this gathering was that there was no last minute rush because Patrizia and I were cooking a portion of the items on the menu.

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The afternoon easily rolled into evening. There was more an air of leisure in the kitchen than an air of focused attention, because there was no set dinnertime. We started the evening with our brandy slushes and pisto manchego crostini. Once we finished cooking the Eggs Louisiana, the husbands and children came in and grabbed a bite. When the tomato salad and pesto was finished, everyone also nibbled on that. We would talk some and eat some and then move on to the next tasks. It made the evening fly by and it was delightful.

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When it was time to eat the main course of smoked pork shoulder and grilled corn on the cob with pesto, the sun was setting and the temperature was dropping. We took our dinner outside, toasted with wine and ate while the children splashed in the kiddie pool. The night ended with strawberry refrigerator cake, homemade vanilla ice cream and cold sparkling wine.

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As we walked our guests out to their car and waved goodbye, I felt the fullness that comes from gathering with loved ones. It didn’t matter that it was the fourth of July because this feeling is not limited to holidays. What mattered was that it was an evening spent together with friends, free from time constraints and full of conversation and food.

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The memories created inside a house make it a home. The presence, conversation and laughter of others is a blessing that helps to make a happy home. May my house always be open to others and may my kitchen always be full. Open up your home to your friends, feed them and delight in the fullness that ensues.

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some of the pictures showcased on this post was photographed by Patrizia Montanari; photographer, author and the brains behind [on the square] blog.

The result of an evening spent cooking with Randy-- pulled pork and goat cheese pizza.

The result of an evening spent cooking with Randy– pulled pork and goat cheese pizza.

I’ve been told that the tips of my fingers constantly smell like garlic. I wear this as a badge of honor. I haven’t always had fingers of garlic, it has been something that I’ve acquired the more time I spend in the kitchen.

Cooking together was not a part of my childhood. My family enjoyed eating together, but the tasks of preparation was never delegated to others. Regardless, my interest in food was always piqued because of the memorable family gatherings around food.

I started off making apple pies that used a horrible blend of flour and water for the crust, chunks of apple pieces (that probably had bits of seed scattered about) and an insane amount of cinnamon. My parents ate it with a smile. “A good try, but not quite like Granny’s apple pie”. Later on, I developed a slight obsession with chicken and dumplings and my dedicated mother helped me to create a dish that I felt inclined to make twice a week for six months.

Throughout college I would occasionally cook for my roommates, but the attraction of take-out food was far too appealing. It wasn’t until I started to date my future spouse that I began to cook with someone.

We spent our evenings preparing meals in his cramped apartment kitchen. I guess this is where my garlic finger tips began to develop. The food isn’t what I remember the most about those early days of cooking. It was the feeling of being with a loved one, working side-by-side to create something enjoyable together.

Here I am cutting cucumbers while Randy took the picture. The pickling process was a two-day venture and It was important that the inaugural pickling session was done together.

Here I am cutting cucumbers while Randy took the picture. The pickling process was a two-day venture and It was important that the inaugural pickling session was done together.

By the time we were married and into our first year of cooking, we had developed a rhythm in the kitchen. Music playing and wine poured, we would attempt cookery with what we thought was precision and poise. We learned a great deal and over time, cooking with Randy became a part of our marriage. Date nights at home are spent opening a bottle of wine, eating cheese and prosciutto and preparing meals.

Now that we have children, we also pursue with them the art of cooking together. The kitchen is the perfect environment to work side-by-side and see what can be created as a family, while all pursuing the same purpose. It’s my intention to pass the scented garlic finger tips as an inheritance to my children and grandchildren.

Little Katherine paws hard at work, stirring with one while holding her treasured lemon in the other. She is my salt pincher, pot stirrer and garlic peeler.

Little Katherine paws hard at work, stirring with one while holding her treasured lemon in the other. She is my salt pincher, pot stirrer and garlic peeler.

It is time to gather again in the kitchen. Cook with others. Invite family and friends into your home — spend a leisurely dinner together free from time constraints and cook. Give your guests a gift of hospitality: time, conversation and homemade food.

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