As a child, family dinner was an important part of my everyday life. Each evening, at the same time, we gathered around the long benches of our kitchen table, digging into Chicken Curry Casserole or Cheesy Vegetable Chowder.
Some meals were lovely, full of catching up about our days, and stories about my parents’ many travels. Other dinners were tense, especially during my high school years, when family dinner could feel like routine drudgery. But despite my changing relationship with dinner, I always understood it as something families “just did,” and we continued to have family meals as long as I lived at home.
Years have passed, and my two siblings and I now live on our own. Even though we reside in the same Vermont town, we can easily go for weeks without seeing each other, due to their busy families and my over-full work schedule. As I get ready to move across the country this fall to attend graduate school in in California, I wanted to spend some time reconnecting with my family in the months before I go. We have always been close (and lived close!), so this will be a big change for all of us.
So we decided to institute family dinner again. It’s not every day anymore—we usually schedule it in twice a month—but everyone does their best to show up. These dinners are long, lazy affairs, complete with food, conversation, and sometimes wine. Unlike the family dinners of my childhood, these meals stretch into the later hours of the evening, as we talk about anything from my niece’s upcoming play to the books we are reading.
Most often, we end up making pizzas with whatever ingredients we have laying around: pear and Gorgonzola, pesto with chicken, goat cheese with basil and caramelized onion. Everyone helps make the meal, chopping vegetables or layering on cheese. Rather than trying to orchestrate a sit-down dinner, we make the pizzas one at a time and serve them as they are done. The result is a laid-back evening meal, filled with stories and conversation.
After chatting for half an hour, we suddenly feel like a family again. These long, slow dinners give us a chance to talk about the little things, like a funny situation at work, a weekend trip we’re planning, or even a great sale we noticed at the supermarket.
Reinventing the family dinner table to suit our new needs has been a surprisingly delightful experience. It has been a chance for me to feel connected to my family, and remember how much each of us has to offer. While I don’t know what my life will look like once I reach the other coast, I do know that I will take the memories of these slow, easy dinners, and savor the time we took to reconnect.
To create your own laid-back summer meal, check-out this excellent collection of pizza recipes on Epicurious.com. Or try the fabulous Chicken Curry Casserole that Kelley mentioned! Special thanks to her mom for providing the family recipe.
Chicken Curry Casserole
4 large whole chicken breasts
2 cans cream of chicken soup
1 cup mayo
2 pkgs frozen broccoli
1-2 Tbsp curry powder
Salt & pepper to taste
Bread crumbs or Pepperidge Farm stuffing
Cook and de-bone chicken, and chop into cubes. Chop broccoli. Place in casserole dish. Make sauce of soup, mayo, curry powder, salt & pepper. Pour over casserole. Top with grated cheese and bread crumbs/stuffing mix. Bake at 325 until bubbly (1/2 hour or so). Can be prepared ahead and kept in the freezer.