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Sharing meals creates sense of community

Sharing meals creates sense of community
Sharing meals creates sense of community
Suetta Tingler

During the past few months, many of us have spent a lot of time in our kitchens. Families gathered perhaps more than the usual around tables to eat with each other, an upside to the pandemic that allowed for real communication via of old-fashioned conversation.

The question, “What’s for dinner?” is not what’s of real importance, nor is it the décor of the table, be it paper plates or grandma’s fine china. The real value of sitting down to eat together is the feeling of community, where peace settles over hearts and connections are sensed.

In many homes, including my own, the dinner table is synonymous with the kitchen table. The kitchen is the “heartbeat” of a home, the place where people feel the most comfortable; therefore, the place they choose to sit, sniff aromas, eat and talk.

Too often, the kitchen table is taken for granted, thinking of it as nothing more than a basic structure with a flat surface. I prefer to think of my table differently. Once described as the oldest form of theatre, I can easily envision my table as being a stage in the round where a cast of live characters come together with no scripts in hand but still where drama unfolds.

Characters meet at a table not only to chew but to laugh, solve problems, cry, tell stories and to say thanks. They know each other and probably share in a close bond. Dialogue likely changes with each passing meal. It’s good to welcome a “full house” to the gathering table for there’s a plus of benefits when more than a single generation pulls up. Multiple generations of different interests, as well as the music of crying babies, is the glue from which traditions are born. Traditions are important for they ground and act as a compass to guide relationships. Without time to gather and talk, relationships wither and die; hence, time shared at the dinner table during the pandemic lock-down possibly could have been a good thing for the family.

If only my table could talk. It was love at first sight, over 34 years ago, when I purchased my current kitchen table made of oak despite finding it in a shop called Cherry House. A modest piece of furniture with a honey brown finish that exudes calmness and warmth with a thick pedestal from which four ball-and-claw feet extend.

It seats eight if social distancing is not in play, but there’s always room for one more. My kitchen table reveals the wear of age, messy spills and banging ketchup bottles. It’s where boardgames were won, dominoes played and Old Maid cards shuffled. It has served as a workstation, writing desk and a place to trade secrets and swap gossip.

The chairs have provided comfort for not only my husband and me, but over the years for two sons and their families, siblings, extended family, work colleagues, a host of friends from coast to coast, including those with roots from Egypt, Nicaragua and Sweden, and embraces the memories of those we loved and lost.

It’s show time! “All Meals Served in Love Are Feasts” is playing. Sunday dinners have been my family’s personal tradition for decades and continues most weeks but with an intermission due to the virus quarantine. Food is the one thing that brings people together; thus, make it happen at your table as well.

Get ready for a standing ovation when you fix these recipes.

The most googled recipe search during the peak of the quarantine was for banana bread. Here’s an easy one. Make sure the bananas are very ripe, spotted and almost black; add chopped walnuts or chocolate chips, if you like.

BANANA BREAD

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter, room temperature

1 cup dark brown sugar, packed

2 large eggs

1/2 cup sour cream

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1-1/2 cups (3 large bananas) ripe peeled bananas

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place rack in center of oven. Grease and flour a 9×5-inch loaf pan. Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt; set aside. In another bowl, combine butter and sugar; beat with electric mixer on medium-high until light, fluffy and doubled in volume, about 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce speed of mixer, add eggs, one at a time, and scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula. Add the sour cream and vanilla all at once; beat on low until combined. Gradually add the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Add bananas, beat until evenly mixed throughout the batter, about 1 minute. Scrape down sides of bowl and beat on low for another 30 seconds. Pour batter into prepared pan; bake 60 minutes or until a toothpick when inserted into the center comes out with only a few crumbs. Cool and serve at room temperature.

CRAB RANGOON APPETIZERS

(“Delicious Developments,” Friends of Strong Hospital, Rochester, NY)

8 ounces crabmeat

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

1/2 teaspoon steak sauce

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1 package won ton skins

Peanut oil for frying

Mix together first four ingredients. Place one teaspoon of mixture onto each won ton skin. Moisten two adjacent edges with water and fold moistened corner over opposite corner. Seal edges. Place in single layer in frying pan coated with 1/2-inch peanut oil. Fry until golden brown on one side then turn over and fry other side. Place on absorbent paper-lined cookie sheet in warm oven until ready to serve. Makes 2 to 3 dozen appetizers.

TANDOORI CHICKEN

8 chicken breast halves, skinned and boned

1-1/2 teaspoons salt

1 lemon juiced

1 cup plain yogurt

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

2 teaspoons crushed coriander seed

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger root

3 large cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper sauce

Cilantro, optional

Trim the fat and tendons from chicken; rinse and pat dry. Place chicken in a shallow dish, sprinkle both sides of chicken with salt and lemon juice; set aside for 20 minutes. In a second bowl, combine the other ingredients; mix well. Add chicken breasts and turn to coat with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Preheat grill for a medium-high heat; lightly oil grate. Grill each piece for 8 to 10 minutes per side or until fully cooked. (Or, bake in a 425-degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until internal temperature of chicken reaches 165 degrees.) Garnish with cilantro. Serve immediately. Serves 4 to 6 people.

CHICKEN SPINACH AND STRAWBERRY SALAD

(“Sterling Bits: Bluegrass Equestrian Experience Cookbook”)

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon onion juice

1 cup vegetable oil

1 tablespoon poppy seeds

1 cup sliced almonds, toasted

6 cups torn fresh spinach

1 quart strawberries, sliced

3 kiwi fruits, peeled and sliced

3 cups chopped, cooked chicken

Blend the sugar, salt, mustard, vinegar and onion juice until smooth. Turn blender on high and add oil in a slow stream. Pour mixture into a serving bowl and stir in poppy seeds; chill. Spread almonds on a baking sheet and bake 3 to 5 minutes at 350 degrees. Place spinach on plates; top with chicken, strawberries, kiwi fruit and sprinkle with the toasted almonds. Gently drizzle the dressing over top and toss to coat. Serves 6 to 8.

This next recipe is kid tested and loved.

HOT DOG SOUP

(“Best of the Best from OVC” cookbook)

1 pound hot dogs

5 to 7 medium potatoes

1/2 medium onion

1 to 2 tablespoons butter

Salt and pepper to taste

8 ounces frozen corn

Cut hot dogs in 1/4-inch pieces. Peel and dice potatoes. Cut onion into small pieces. Put all into a 3-quart saucepan, cover with water and add butter, salt and pepper. Cook until potatoes are tender, about 1/2 hour. When potatoes are done, add frozen corn. Let cook 3 to 4 minutes more.

GOOD FOOD, GOOD MEMORIES

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