cooking for company
i’ll be humming today. most of the day. for i have one main mission: i’m cooking for company.
oh, no one’s ringing the bell till tomorrow night. and when the bell rings it will be old, dear friends. friends we grew up with, all of us with jewish-catholic kids, all of us finding our way. among the crowd will be the woman who took my breath away long, long ago, when we sat down to a table at the very first meeting of our little interfaith school, and she looked up and down both sides of that table and announced: “we’re here, because one or both of you (among the pairs learning their way in the raising of jewish and catholic children) is passionate about your religion.” a finer reason to be at a table, i’d not encountered, not lately.
that particular woman, and her particular husband, rose to hero status in my mind, when one rosh hashanah we sat down at their table, a whole ring of good souls seated there, and the doorbell rang. and a disheveled but beautiful woman stepped into the room. her name was “lovie,” and she was homeless. but she knew, because she’d been ushered in so many times, that if she climbed the steps of the front stoop on berwyn avenue, she would always find a place at the table, and endless plates of food. but more than that, she would find the richest, most curious company.
no wonder i call this crowd my lights along the way.
our children are grown now, the ones who together reached for the crayons and drew pictures of God, the ones who traced the histories of judaism and catholicism. who read the stories of clashes and wars and injustice, sometimes, heartbreakingly sadly, under the banner of God.
each one of the couples who will come to my table tomorrow, we’ve all just deposited a child — or in one case, three children — far away at a college — or colleges, in the case of the triplets. where the growing goes on, far far away from all of us.
and because i love each and every one of these someones, i am cooking my heart out.
for a minute or two, i considered ordering in. calling up the middle eastern place with the fabulous kifta and shawarma and baba ganoush, reeling off my plea for oversized aluminum pans filled to the brim with deliciousness.
but i changed my mind.
these are great good souls i want to cook for. i want to chop and stir and saute. i want to hear the red wine glugging into the pot. want to hear the chicken sizzle when it hits the olive oil, the garlic.
i want the house to fill with the savory song of coq au vin cooking.
i want to put a bit of my heart in that pot. i want to have labored.
because, call me crazy, i think you can taste it.
i think when you cook for company, when you cook for people you love, it always comes out in the broth, in the essence. could that be the reason we sometimes lick plates?
it’s the same with setting a table. it’s as if you wedge open a space in your heart. you lay down forks and butter knives and old chipped china with a mix of charm and occasion. you lay down layers of story: those plates found in the cupboard when you moved into the house you bought from the two guys who took the time to find out you loved blue, and figured you were a wiser option than the resale store, where those old willow plates would have been headed had you not fallen in love, with the house, yes, but, too, with the guys who were selling it.
it’s why i’ll be out in the chilly cold garden today, clippers in hand, bringing in heads of hydrangea and rosehips to tuck in a vase, to make it all beautiful. layers of beauty, i’ve found, gild conversation. make words sparkle. stories tumble and spill, like jewels from a bag.
it’s all part of the alchemy, the gift and the joy of inviting in company. of taking the time to clear out a date, to anticipate, to imagine the words and the faces crowded there in the kitchen.
there is nothing i love quite so much as a crowd in my kitchen. i love the snippets of words, of one someone’s story mixed with another’s. sometimes, i step off to the side. i soak it all in. i memorize the moment.
and then, when everyone’s deeply absorbed, i might lift the lid on my old red dutch oven. the hint of the wine and the garlic will rise.
deep down, someone might notice, might realize, might get it: she cooked for the whole of us. she didn’t take short cuts.
in a world of instant and virtual, she did the real thing. she cooked from her heart. she pulled out a table of beautiful somethings.
she set the stage. and company came.
xoxo from my house to yours. what’s your go-to company recipe? and what fuss do you make in setting the stage? i am utterly taken by the fine art of hospitality, of those good-hearted, generous souls who understand the magic of gathering company and making it last long after the last of the sparkling cleaned dishes is tucked back on the shelf. spill your dinner party secrets and stories, if you please….
BAM, please give our love and news to the JCFN gang of old. They were irreplaceable when we moved to DC. Have a wonderful tasty time and we’ll raise a glass to all of you and the memories!
One more thing…taking out grandma’s china and wiping it down is almost a religious ritual before gatherings. And that is book-ended by washing it late at night after the guests have left and all have gone to bed. It is my quiet moment to reflect on the stories heard and appreciate this created family of international friends. (No one will forget the Indian woman and the Chinese woman teaching Jewish husband the proper way to make rice for the Christmas meal!) Grandma’s kolachi cookies are appreciated by every nationality.
ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh bless your heart. you would be here, too, darlin, if you hadn’t slipped out in the dark. you are soo soo right about the bookending quiet moments, one of anticipation, one of winding up yet another skein of memories, and stories. you know who my heroes are. and you were there at the start of that great adventure. much love from our coq au vin to yours. xoxox
…..just hoping you share the coq au vin recipe as you have shared your heart and joys with us.
I am awestruck by being the recipient of someone else’s comfort food. My mom has entered my kitchen and has marked her territory on every flat space available. As I sit on the couch in hopeful expectation of the birth of our little one, my mom is trying to love me in the best way she knows how, when she can’t make the waiting time go any faster. With coolers and boxes full of “Minnesota ingredients,” my parents arrived at our doorstep two days ago and my mom has been in the kitchen ever since filling our freezers with minnesota wild rice soup, lasagna, squash soup, and even the forbidden childhood favorite sloppy joes (I think I was in my preteens the last time I tasted this crock pot wonder), scones, muffins, banana bread, quiche and homemade spaghetti sauce. It’s not so easy to defer and let someone else mix, bake, stir and saute in my kitchen, but I know my mom is mothering me in the best way she knows how, so I in turn can begin this calling of being a mother myself.
oh, daer darling, you might have posted anonymously, but i see straight through those minnesota references (and the 3:46 a.m. posting, written just like a mama on the verge of something so big it steals us of sleep–and i guess that is both literal and metaphoric). yes, yes, what is it about the cookpot being turned, and suddenly it’s SO much harder to receive? we so easily wield the spoon when we are the one stirring in the loving. but to turn over our kitchen, not so easy. you are SO blessed and i know you know it, to have both your parents there for the waiting, and hopefully, gosh darn it, the birth. my babies only know their grandpa gene through stories. and that’s not nearly the half of it. bless you for finding us in your waiting. and yes, i will put up the recipe. what i love best, is most of the cooking was yesterday. and all night it’s all been swimming there in the red wine in the fridge, and today a couple hours in the oven, and this place will be humming. all i need to do is putz around the house and the garden, making things sparkle in anticipation. sort of like waiting for that baby to come…..xoxoxoxo
My mom would have agreed with every word you wrote here. At her Passover table there were at least 5 kinds of haroset: with dates because that’s how my uncle liked it, traditional to make sure nobody was disappointed, without extra sugar or juice for diabetics, usually some kind of extra fancy kind dreamt up to wow and impress, and a small bowl of super pureed haroset set down quietly next to my aunt with denture troubles. It got to the point where meals started with a 10 minute preamble because each version of each dish had to be explained to make sure each guest got exactly what he or she liked most. As a teenager it used to annoy me a little, but now just thinking about it makes me miss her so!!