It started on vacation at the agriturismo. I ask the owner for an outdoor table. We carry it over to the shadiest part of the yard. I pull up a chair in the half-burnt grass surrounding the stone building (classic homes of a time past, of a borgo that once existed in the place where I sat) and I sit in silence, overcome with emotion as I gaze at the table; the empty table and the many empty tables since the first lockdown in Italy.
“The dead sit at our tables long after they have gone.” –Mitch Albom
The leaves of the trees move in the wind and whisper. I’m immediately flooded with memories of the past, images of the present, and dreams of what is to come. And memories of the table, well actually tables…
And just like that I’m at the kitchen table of my childhood home. It’s dark, wooden and square when closed (when open it seats an army which is handy when the troops arrive for Christmas Eve, see table pictured above). On ordinary days it has just the right amount of space for our family of four. Our two English setters lay happily on the floor. We take our regular seats. At the center of the table is Nancy’s (mom’s) chicken, simply breaded and baked.
I fight to scrape every bit of crispy coating from the bottom of the stainless steel pan because it would be ludicrous to leave even a morsel. The salad is dressed in EVOO and red wine vinegar and there is crusty Italian bread from LaCascia’s bakery. The food is nourishing and delicious as is this snapshot of time. My heart overruns with gratitude, happiness, sadness, melancholy, and every emotion under the sun. It’s been nearly two years since I’ve sat at the table with my parents and sister. The pups are long gone (sigh).
We sit at the table outside at the agriturismo, my little Italian-American family, Francesco, me and Chloe, our pup. It’s August and we are in the hills in the region of Emilia. We hike during the day. It’s cool enough to wear sweats at night and fuel up for the next day’s adventure. There’s cheese, lonza, focaccia, and wine on a long rectangular washed out wooden table. There’s enough room for 12 but it’s just us three and that’s good with me. We play fetch with Chloe, grill a few sausages and steak. There’s a tomato salad with basil and sea salt flakes and more wine. Two shooting stars fly across the sky and so I make two wishes.
The food, wine, and moment hug me, being unplugged makes my shoulders drop, I can breathe… I want to freeze these moments, being present in a busy world is hard for me and this is PRICELESS, hence no pictures of this table that is etched in my mind.
Back to the future… a table in a garden in a hilltop town. It’s a cool summer night, the sky is midnight blue and studded with stars. The round thick wood table is surrounded by friends and family. I’m wrapped in a summer scarf, I’m shoeless, there’s something about feeling the grass between my toes. The table is set with ceramic plates collected throughout my life adventures. There is no shortage of food nor wine nor laughter and happiness.
I’ve been thinking a lot about tables lately. The meals that I’ve shared over the years, the meals that I’ve eaten alone, and the people who once were and are no more in this physical world. Around the table they sit with me as do the past, present, and future. They are always with me. We don’t move on from the past, we move forward with it.
The table is much more than a place that nourishes physically. It’s a place where I relax, dream, eat, drink, cry, laugh and am merry. When I sit at the table today, I raise a glass in gratitude, filled with fuzzy feelings, and dreaming of Nancy’s chicken. It’s not about the chicken, it’s about sitting with my family in the same kitchen, at the same table with the past, present, and future.
So I invite you to take a seat at the table and dig into your favorite comfort food.
Gina’s version of Nancy’s chicken
- chicken breasts
- breadcrumbs to taste
- Preheat the oven to 374°F.
- Drizzle olive oil on the bottom of a rectangular baking pan.
- Clean and trim chicken breasts and slice into cutlets. Pound with a meat mallet or leave them thick.
- Place breadcrumbs in a shallow bowl and season as you like. I add salt, oregano, parsley, and pepper.
- Drizzle EVOO or olive oil in another shallow bowl.
- Dip the chicken in the olive oil and then in the breadcrumb mixture.
- Arrange chicken in the baking pan. Drizzle with olive oil and bake for around 25 minutes until golden brown.
This conversation is not over yet. Stay tuned as we reminisce of tables past, present and future.