Things. Stuff. Possessions. We are supposed to try hard to limit them and our attachment to them. But the recent holiday season reminded me once again how attached I am to a thing I own.
Central to getting ready for the protracted winter holiday and birthday festivities at our home is extending the dining table to its full length and giving it a nice orange oil massage. Far from feeling like a chore, it gives me great pleasure to leisurely observe the details in the rich, dark wood. I realize I love this possession. I love it because it represents in physical form what I really value. I read the scratches and the dings like a diary, reminders of a rambunctious game of dominoes, and an impulsive toddler who scraped his bowl across the table wanting more of Nonni’s spaghetti, and a new kitten who couldn’t quite make the leap.
This table is where we gather for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, adding one, then two leaves as our family has grown from five to six, seven, nine and counting. It held the food for our daughter’s wedding, and the tiramisu’ she made for my dad’s 82nd birthday and it is where he celebrated his final Christmas Eve feast of the fishes. This table is where our neighbors gather with us for games, food and wine. It’s where we plan travel adventures with our friends and family. This table is the pre-pack staging area for all our trips, including our annual trip to Italy. For a week or so, Dean and I lay out our passports, itineraries, maps, wet wipes, euros, snacks for the plane, all in this one place as we think of things, so we won’t forget anything.
We have only had this dining table for 13 years. I loved the table before it, which was my grandparents’ and which is now my daughter’s dining table. Purchased in 1926 “on time”, that is by taking $2 each week down to the store until paid, it was the heart of the home my father grew up in. After my grandparents passed, the table was the only piece of furniture that was kept, though in rather inelegant surroundings. It spent a decade or so in the basement of our house until Dean and I got married and took it for our own. The base had at least a dozen coats of that 1930’s mint green paint over the solid oak. The Italian immigrants lived in the low-lying area along the river. So until my grandfather could move his family to higher ground, the coat of mud that came with the annual flooding was scraped off and a new coat of paint applied. Once they could afford to move, they also acquired a second table for the dining room and this original one became the kitchen table, diminishing its importance not one bit because after all, breakfast, lunch, homework, bill-paying, pasta- and bread-making, coffee with the neighbor -- it all happened in the kitchen.
When we revived the table, my dad and his siblings came to dinner. I did not use a tablecloth that night. There were some misty eyes and then a torrent of memories and stories, laughter and arguments, that filled the evening. We learned some Italian history, how and why our grandparents left Italy, their importing business, feuds and neighborhood intrigue, what my grandparents were like as parents, my grandmother’s cooking, my dad as a kid, school in the 1930’s. This table has a series of round black burn marks on its veneer top. There was much discussion of their source: Pop’s pipe? the boys’ cigarettes during card games? It was not settled that night but years later when I was using an old cast iron dutch oven with nubby little legs. The legs fit the black marks perfectly! Surely Grandmom had had such a pot. She -or someone- must have brought it red hot from the stove to the table to serve, carried it around the table from spot to spot -- it made perfect sense. When our own children came along, adding their own “touches” to the table, we didn’t see it as ruining, but embellishing the story of this wonderful, creaky old table. In recent years, furniture finished in a “distressed” style has become available for those not wishing to wait several generations for it to happen naturally. But those of us who do it ourselves have the stories of each ding and dent and find warmth, laughter, longing and love in them. A table, a possession which we might without guilt treasure, is the symbol of the authenticity of family, home, life and love and a physical place that stores memories of food and friends, struggles, hopes and dreams that I cherish.
Poppop’s Birthday Tiramisu
3 egg yolks
5 T sugar
16 oz mascarpone cheese
1 c espresso
2 oz brandy (optional)( or 1t vanilla extract)
36 Savoiardi (ladyfingers)
1 T cocoa powder
Beat yolks with sugar, add cheese and beat well. In a pie dish, put espresso (and brandy/vanilla). Quickly dip ladyfingers one at a time in espresso and place around sides and on the bottom of 9” springform. Top with cheese mixture and alternate layers of ladyfingers and cheese, ending with cheese. Sprinkle with cocoa. Refrigerate at least 2 hours.
Tiramisu and other international dishes are on the menus at
Castles and Kitchens Cooking School
New location: Conifer Marketplace (Staples), upper back.