Washington DC, 1972
The smell of Sunday morning sizzling chicken livers -- and I’ve fallen into that time tunnel. The scent is curling up the stairs, down the long hallway, and into my childhood bedroom, tugging me awake -- no, I don’t want to eat the chicken livers, but I love the smell -- and the lure of watching my father create havoc in the kitchen is too hard to resist. So I slip out of bed, and traipse down to the kitchen in my flannel nightgown to find him cooking his favorite breakfast -- while my mother grimaces at the mess -- the oily spatula smears, the egg shell drips, the pile of dirty pots and pans tottering in the sink.
I’m calling my little brother Peter to come down for breakfast, and soon he shuffles down the steps carrying his "Baba" blue blanket with his thumb in his mouth and sleep in his eyes.
We sit down to our breakfast and my dad eagerly spreads open his Sunday Washington Post, riveted, as he has been for months. He disappears behind the newsprint curtain of Watergate Scandal headlines, while voraciously digging into his chicken livers, "SLJ", Sweet Little Jennifer, out of sight. The smell of chicken liver and sweet onions imprints on me permanently, mixed with a tinge of grief, and the counterpoint of history unfolding. I get to work with a bamboo-handled grapefruit spoon, digging into a precious grapefruit half, chosen from a mid-winter box of citrus shipped from Florida. The luxury of citrus on a cold winter morning in DC.
It’s the early 70’s, and outside our house, hippies and Hare Krishna roam the streets of our neighborhood. Barefoot from Memorial Day to Labor Day, our feet grow callouses on the hot brick sidewalks. Baskin Robbins is the new thing. Butter Brick Road is your best friend’s favorite flavor after the trip to the local pool. Sticky hot summer in DC. Dirty, bare, calloused feet; long, tangled hair. Hamburger Hamlet for family night out, Coca cola all summer long (my mom's been hooked since college), and whenever I go with my mom to Safeway, I get to pick out one treat for myself. Hostess pop tarts with sweet strawberry filling burning my tongue before school. Or Ho-Hos, so I can peel off the chocolate before unrolling the creamy cake. Unstitching the Ho-Ho architecture is half the joy. Ho Ho's and the vietnam war, pop tarts and protests, coca cola while you're in a line for gas so long it goes round the block…
It’s Sunday dinner time now. There is no newspaper at dinnertime, no fast food or Libbyland TV dinners for Sunday Supper. My mom places a large scandinavian wooden platter in the middle of the dining table. Sometimes it holds a roast beef and Yorkshire pudding (my favorite), but this Sunday it’s a giant tongue, resting there in a fleshy arch as if about to speak. You can almost count the taste buds, glistening under the chandelier.
My dad picks up the carving knife, ready to slice.
On second thought: let’s screech away from the confusing thought of that tongue, and remember a different Sunday.
Let’s take comfort in the Sunday standing rib roast beef. The king of the Sunday Supper. The raison d’être for the Yorkshire Pudding. The supper my mother still makes for me when I visit her. The survivor from my childhood. Roasted to a perfect medium rare, with a line of browned potatoes, salted and geometrically laid out on the platter. Yes, roast beef will always be a source of comfort.
Here’s a photo of the recipe my mom still uses to make this dish. If you need some comfort, find that meal that brings you joy. Cook your favorite Sunday Supper for your friends or family, and give it pride of place on your favorite platter in the middle of the dining table.
The worn recipe page.
This food has been with me for decades, part of the fabric of my identity and family -- food's the glue, the comfort, the memories...