Since the last issue of RH, my grandmother Rose passed away. What a wonderful life she led during her 100 years on the planet. I'm going to miss her, not just because she was a great lady, but because she represented a way of life that has sadly faded in this country.
In my youth, Sunday dinner was always at her house, and it was no mere meal; it was an event. In the kitchen was an army of women preparing enough food to feed 20 or so family members who had no intention of budging from the dinner table for several hours. In fact, Sunday dinner was really two meals, because after all the hours of talking, arguing and laughing, we were hungry again.
In our case, it was an Italian thing. But all around the country, a first generation of immigrants from everywhere was likely doing the same thing: coming together for hours at the dinner table to celebrate their new lives in a strange new land.
And, like most immigrants, my family started their lives in this country dirt poor. But you'd never know it from the look of our Sunday dinner table. It was a multi-course banquet of amazing dishes that began as Sicilian food and, over the years, morphed into Sicilian-American food. Veal and beef became bigger players in our meals as the years wore on, a sure sign of our growing success in the New World.
Back in the old days, when Catholics did not eat meat on Fridays, dinner at my grandmother's house would revert to its peasant roots. A jug of red wine (which my grandfather made with a press in the basement), loaves of crusty bread, wedges of fontina cheese and bowls of green and black Sicilian olives. That was it, and the family couldn't be happier.
There was never a meal without wine. It was as vital an ingredient as olive oil or pasta. And I can't remember anyone ever drinking wine without food. It was so important to the family ritual, in fact, that all the kids, long before they were of legal drinking age, were given a shot glass of wine. "Drink it," my grandmother would say, "it makes your blood red."
Wine is food and it is good, she was saying. And food is better when it's shared slowly with the people you love. She could never understand the insanity of not eating a loaf of hand-crafted bread or a bowl of sensual pasta because it contains carbohydrates. Food, any food, eaten sensibly and with respect, should not be feared. Fear, instead, your enemies and those who would steal the joy from your life.
I'm sad my grandmother is gone, and I'm sad that dinner now arrives all too often at the home dinner table in a bag filled with plastic containers of food from a restaurant. Your to-go meals (the subject of a feature on page 49) are filling a void created by a society that's running too fast to cook or sit down for a long, lingering meal. Thanks to you, customers can still fulfill the desire to eat lasagna at home, even if it's not their grandmother's legendary lasagna.
Nevertheless, there's too much worry these days about what we eat, and too little about how we eat. Rose had it right: Slow down; enjoy yourself and those who break bread with you. And drink wine, it's good for you. It makes your blood red.