I was a little girl of no more than 4 years old when I began paying attention to the constant bustle in our family’s kitchen and the delightful scents that wafted to my always hungry nostrils.
Trying not to be underfoot of my mother’s moving feet, I would stay in a corner and watch with curiosity as fresh meats were washed, seasoned to perfection and set aside, coconuts were cracked, husked, grated and squeezed to get the best milk for the kidney beans that were soaked overnight for the big pot of rice and peas, and cabbages were shredded with carrots for what would become our vegetable. Another adult would go outside to one of the many fruit trees, pick what was available and made the dinner juice with them.
As my mommy would dice and slice and add touches of fresh herbs and spices to her meats, and while rice simmered in the now tender pot of beans with coconut milk to make rice and peas, two things happened — I was determined to learn how to make meals that way, and I wanted to be so good at it so that people would be happily sated.
I would also volunteer to go to the open fruit and produce market, where all kinds of bartering would happen between the vendors and consumers. Mommy had her favorites, and would be seen inspecting, tapping and bartering the costs of her provisions for the week. Sometimes, when Daddy would drive to visit family in one of the parishes, he would bring back loads of provisions which we would share with neighbors and friends. Food intrigued me, and my determination grew to master making a great meal.
I accomplished both when I made my first pot of chicken at the age of 9, and my first full-course meal at the age of 10 under the careful tutelage of our housekeeper, who had more time to guide my eager hands.
When my father tasted that first meal I made and declared that it was really good, I never looked back.
I cooked and continued to learn until I had my own unique way of making certain dishes, and today I host Sunday dinners in my home inviting people who would not otherwise spend appreciable amounts of time sitting still to break bread and open hearts with each other.
My husband and I have one caveat — people must be allowed to freely express themselves without judgement, while what happens in our home, stays there.
If that rule is violated on any level, the invitation to dine with us ceases, because the needs of the many outweighs the needs of the few.
As autumn approaches, I have begun planning my soups, stews and everything in between that will fill bellies, and conversations that will edify souls.
I learned from the adults when I was a child, as I watched them create magic with their cooking spoons, that fresh herbs and spices heal different parts of the body, even as it makes the food come alive.
As an adult, I still prepare meals that way and taught my children the same way of creating their own.
Sunday dinners are a long held tradition that need to make a serious return in a society where we are often too busy to bring our families together and bond over meals and ideas.
These dinners are where we strategize, analyze situations, pray for, and encourage each other.
Those table conversations often give the weary strength to greet another week and reminds the attendees that they are loved at the end of a long evening.
If you have never had such a tradition in your family, I encourage you to start one and to ask everyone attending to bring a specialty dish unique to them; some Sundays it may be Chinese food. The premise is to keep people authentically connected at a time when we can be so removed from each other with assumptions and judgements.
Think about it, and help to shift this waning trend in so many families by hosting a meal in your home, even if you only do it once a month.
The connection to others will help you to listen more, worry less, and create an environment that leads to feeding not just the belly, but the soul.
Disclaimer: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the article belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, The Philadelphia Sunday SUN, the author’s organization, committee or other group or individual.