Sunday Supper 1972

Sunday Supper 1972

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, to tug 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 watch him cook his favorite breakfast -- and watch my mother grimace at the mess -- the oily spatula smears, the egg shell drips, the pile of dishes 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.

My dad eagerly spreads open his Sunday newspaper, riveted, as he has been for months, with the breaking Watergate Scandal. He reads it hungrily while voraciously digging into his chicken livers. The smell of chicken liver and sweet onions imprints on me permanently, mixed with the counterpoint of history unfolding. I get to work with a bamboo-handled grapefruit spoon, digging into a precious grapefruit that was shipped from Florida in a box of citrus. One of our favorite winter treats.

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 Georgetown brick sidewalks. Baskin Robbins is the new thing. Butter Brick Road is everyone’s favorite flavor after the trip to the pool. Dirty, bare, calloused feet; long, tangled hair. Hamburger Hamlet for family night out, Coca cola all summer long for the whole family, and beloved pop tarts with sweet strawberry filling burning your tongue before school. For dessert, we dissect our Hostess Ho-Hos, peeling the chocolate from the surface before unrolling the creamy cake. Unstitching the Ho-ho architecture is half the joy. And of course, as a backdrop, the war, the protests, the lines for gas going round the block…

It’s Sunday dinner time now. There is no newspaper at dinnertime, no fast food or 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 it is about to speak. You can almost count the taste buds, glistening under the chandelier.

My dad picks up the carving knife, ready to slice.

OK, let’s screech away from the confusing thought of that tongue, and go for Plan B.

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 the recipe my mom still uses to make this dish, if you need some comfort, or want to cook a Sunday Supper for your friends or family, to set on your favorite platter in the middle of the dining table.

The worn recipe page.

My mother and daughter, Roast Beef underway.

Hannah, my daughter, prepping the Yorkshire Pudding.

This is the same dining table and chairs from my childhood.  The same Sunday Supper. Food is identity and family -- it's the glue, the comfort, the memories...