I believe in candlelit dinners. As a child there were three dinner shifts that went on in my house. The first was for my youngest brother, the baby of the family and the pickiest eater. At five-o-clock he would eat chicken nuggets, or plain pasta, a tuna fish sandwich or frozen pizza. The second dinner was around six for me and my other brother. We would eat spaghetti and meatballs, grilled chicken, baked potatoes, and glasses of milk at the kitchen table. Our meals would be quick, a break before homework or after sports practice. Conversation would be minimal, and the entire affair would last less than fifteen minutes.
The third meal was for my parents, later in the evening, around eight-o-clock, well after we kids were watching TV or in bed or on the phone. My parents ate well. Viennese chicken with rice pilaf, proscuitto-wrapped chicken breasts smothered in pesto, risotto with Italian sausage and red peppers. Nearly every night, be it Monday or Saturday, they lit candles, drank a bottle of good red wine, and talked. How cheesy, how embarrassing, my brothers and I thought as children. We did not have friends whose parents ate by candlelight. Weren’t candlelit dinners a cliché found only in romantic movies and Paris? Oh no, they could be found at our house any night of the week. The dinners were long, interrupted by bedtime stories and teeth brushing, but they were a time for my parents to connect, to do more than just check in, but to really talk. Over these meals they hashed out problems at work, discussed the state of the world; they talked about us, their children.
As a child and a teenager, I had little interest in these meals. They were a time when my parents spent too long eating fancy food that didn’t appeal to me. But once I went to college, and since then, they have become my favorite part about going home. My palate has grown developed enough to appreciate my father’s pecan-crusted chicken, my mother’s beef bourguignon, and I look forward to Friday evenings drinking good wine and debating moral philosophy.
My husband and I have adopted this ritual of my parents’. We have our own candlelit dinners, not every night, but at least two or three a week. We have discovered our own favorite recipes—pork loin with blue cheese and dates, lemon basil chicken. Some of the recipes I have shared with my parents and others I have learned from them. Our candlelit dinners are now our chance to catch up, to talk about what is important, to remember what we enjoy about each other. Perhaps our children will be embarrassed by them; perhaps they will call them cheesy, but I believe that a good meal can be vital in sustaining you.