Sunday, April 29, 2012

Bring Back Sunday Dinner!

Slow-Cooked Country Ribs, Mashed Potatoes, Green Beans & Corn Bread
Sunday reminds me of several memories from my childhood: trying to stay in bed as long as possible to avoid going to church, Redskins games, and family dinners. Of the three, at least Sundays always ended on a good note. There's something to be said for taking the extra time and attention to prepare Sunday dinner and more importantly, sit down with your family to enjoy it together. In my household, my dad usually did most of the cooking on the weekends when we were all home (my mom prepared meals during the week, and eventually that shifted to me as I learned how to cook.) Dinner on Sundays typically meant traditional southern fare like fried or baked chicken, pork chops, slow-cooked ribs, rice and beans, mashed potatoes and gravy, baked sweet potatoes, collard greens, braised cabbage, corn on the cob, etc. In the summers my dad spent the afternoon grilling barbecue chicken, burgers, steaks, sausages or fish, and my mom would take care of side dishes like garden salads, macaroni and cheese, pasta salads, and vegetables. It wasn't uncommon for us kids to be asked to set the table and get out the condiments while my parents made finishing touches, warmed fresh rolls or biscuits, and poured glasses of sweetened ice tea that had been brewed the old-fashioned way, in a large glass jug out in the sun all day. Sunday wasn't about being fancy or having an over the top spread of food, in fact we rarely used the formal dining room or silverware. It was just about sitting down together for dinner, which allowed as much time for discussing family matters, work and school as it did for cracking jokes and playful jabs between one another (standard conversational fare in my house.)

Moroccan Turkey, Couscous wtih Roasted Carrots & Fennel, Minted Yogurt Sauce
My sister, brother and I have since moved out as adults so my immediate family is scattered across several states, and in the case of my sister, another continent! I now have my own family, and even though that's just me and my son I've been pretty consistent with keeping the tradition alive in our house.  As a single parent, my weekdays can get hectic and Saturdays are unpredictable, so Sunday evenings are the main night of the week we devote to quality family dinner time. Whether we have company or not, I still take the time to prepare Sunday dinner in the same manner I grew up loving. Because it's just the two of us I can be a little more creative with the type of cuisine, so I do stray away from traditional southern food these days. Regardless, it's not uncommon for me to spend two to three hours in the kitchen preparing a meal on a Sunday afternoon, if not longer. Yes, you read that right. No country for Rachel Ray's thirty minute meals over here. Cooking big meals by myself can be a bit of a challenge at times, but I wouldn't dream of trying to cheat my way through the time and effort it takes to make wholesome Sunday dinners from scratch. I put on an old t-shirt, some soulful R&B music (another habit I picked up from my dad), and get to work.

Fried Catfish, Hush Puppies, Roasted Green Beans & Peppers, Potato Salad
What happened to the days of home-cooked meals and genuine, uninterrupted conversation? We live in fast-paced and disconnected world today, in which we often find ourselves in the habit of  "catching up" with friends and family via online social networks rather than face to face time. Family dinners, if they happen at all, are often spent at a noisy restaurant or in front of the television. Fortunately, you don't need to have a spouse, 2.5 children and a white picket fence to uphold family traditions in your own household.  If the Jersey Shore crew can recover from their hangovers in time to pull off Sunday dinner, so too can you. If you live alone, reach out to nearby relatives, friends or even neighbors who may also be in need of some company. If you have kids, involve them in the process even if they aren't old enough to cook yet. Have them help out with easy prep work or setting the table. Plan your menu and shop ahead of time so that Sunday afternoon is as stress free as possible. Take the time to consider a couple side dishes that compliment your main  entrĂ©e, and don't forget things like salads, bread, beverages and dessert, that help to make Sunday dinner a "special" meal for you and your guests. Most importantly, when it's time to sit down and eat, turn off the television, put away your cell phones and connect with the people in front of you. Savor the food, engage in genuine conversation, and create your own memories.

Happy Cooking!
--Angela


P.S. Check out Kitchenista Diaries blog posts labeled "Sunday Dinner" for great recipe ideas. Also be sure to follow me on twitter and tune in on Sunday nights for live #SundayDinner recipes.