Sunday Family Dinners

(A reprint from the original The Gourmandista blog–May 15, 2006)

Yesterday was Mother’s Day and our family got together at my sister’s house for lunch. After lunch, my mom asked me to go with her to see my grandmother at the nursing home. I couldn’t go this time. I don’t know if it’s because it was a Sunday or Mother’s Day, but either way, I couldn’t bring myself to go and visit my grandmother who now, because of her Alzheimer’s, no longer has an awareness of what day it is, much less what holiday is being celebrated.

Every Sunday during my childhood we would go to my grandmother’s house after church and I would help her to make the family dinner. She would always joke with me that I must have been born in the kitchen like she claimed to have been. Abuela had around four dishes in her repertoire amongst which she alternated for each Sunday meal: piñon (a plantain and meat pie), papas rellenas (potato dough patty stuffed with meat filling), pollo asado con papas asadas (roasted chicken and potatoes), and arroz con pollo (chicken and rice). Each dish was served with habichuelas (red beans) and white rice cooked in chicken broth (unless rice was part of the dish already). On occasion, Abuela would try a new recipe venturing away from her traditional Puerto Rican fare. At these times, she would make things like lasagna or spaghetti—both were served with rice and beans and tasted very similar to her repertoire dishes because she used exactly the same seasoning for all of her entrees. Relentlessly, we teased her, but we always ate everything she made.

As we entered adulthood and started our own homes, my Dad decided that we would alternate homes for Sunday dinners. We ended up eating at Grandma’s only once a month. I went away to college and then law school and came home only occasionally—secretly hoping to hit it at a time when we would be at Abuela’s for that Sunday night dinner during my stay. Grandma noticeably started getting ill six or seven years ago. She started burning all of the food, forgetting how to make things, and leaving out ingredients from food. With Grandma’s illness, Sunday dinners started to wane and attending/hosting them became a chore.

Now we have Sunday dinners (or lunches because it’s less effort) once every few weeks, sometimes less. We still alternate homes, but none of the dinners are ever held with Abuela in attendance. Sometimes it feels like the glue that held us together as a family is gone; or perhaps it’s the joy in the coming together to break bread that has vanished. Abuela always cooked with love and an exuberance for life that is lacking from what is now looked upon with dread by many of the hosts and attendees. The glue that is missing from our family is the feeling that eating at Grandma’s gave each of us which warmed our hearts while simultaneously filling our bellies. I would pay any amount of money or give anything to have just one more Sunday dinner at Abuela’s the way it used to be. Since I know that’s not possible, when I cook I try to infuse my food with love, in hopes that dinners at our house will be ones that would make Abuela proud.

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