The Blog That Brought Me Home Again

Reading my father’s daily accounts of his dinners, I’m transported back to my parents’ table—and reminded of the lessons they taught me about food and family.

When my father started his blog, Eating Every Day, in 2007, I’d been away from my parents’ table for 20 years. My husband’s job had brought us to our own life in Portland, where we added three children to our family and leaves to our table.

My parents, Lindsey and Charles Shere, were partners with Alice Waters in Chez Panisse from the beginning; Mom was the founding pastry chef. Food framed our lives. Mom tended a small city garden with a pear tree and fraises des bois. We shared a fence and the fava beans that climbed it with our elderly neighbor, Mrs. Bertolli.

At dinner we would taste, joke, and argue. Conversation revolved around food. “If you were stuck on a desert island and could only bring ten foods, what would they be?” Dad’s list included grapes for wine. Mom added tangerines and lettuce (her complete list is in the book Culinary Artistry).

I learned my lesson. In Portland, dinnertime became our family’s center. Meanwhile, my parents retired and moved to Sonoma County, where they’d both lived as children. Country life, and their garden, satisfied them. I never thought to regret my absence from their table. After all, you can’t go home again.

Or can you?

Dad’s blog chronicles my parents’ dinners. Initially, I thought I’d turn to it for meal ideas, or to keep tabs on my busy parents’ whereabouts. But soon I was reading it first thing each morning.

When Dad described Parsi New Year at Chez Panisse, I was jealous. Reading about pilaf with peas, nettles, and chard, which he said reminded him “that spring issues from the dark depths of winter,” it was hard not to lament my simple supper of polenta and sausage. Especially when the dark depths of winter were making no signs of departing Portland.

But I didn’t feel sorry for myself. For every Parsi New Year, my parents eat many peasant dinners. And after the simple meals—soup, perhaps, or leftovers—Dad often writes things like, “I’m grateful for it all.”

Showing up is what counts—in a family and at the table. My grandparents, gone but never forgotten, reappear frequently. When Mom carefully cooked carrots with a little ginger, Dad wrote of his mother covering carrots with water and boiling until burned. But another day he took down the chipped pale blue Le Creuset pot and remembered Grandma giving it to them. Years after her death, Dad still warms milk for the breakfast coffee in it.

Meanwhile, my mother’s father kept showing up. The cherry trees needed pruning, and I imagined Babbo shaking his head, offering unsolicited—but probably correct—advice. On the anniversary of Babbo’s death, Mom made one of his favorite dishes: corned beef and cabbage with horseradish sauce, done just right. Dad wrote that Babbo was “a real friend…I miss him daily.” So do I.

In June, young chard leaves are little more than a hiding place for frogs, but by August Dad is confronting the bolting plants, hacking his way to their center. In September the pears—Comice, Seckel, and Winter Nellis—return, demanding attention. The chard resurfaces in December, enduring “like a character in a Faulkner novel,” Dad writes. Pasta with red sauce graces the table weekly, and every time he mentions their nightly salad I hear Mom’s voice: “Eat your leafy greens!’ Martinis show up on Fridays like clockwork; soft-cooked eggs and buttered toast appear with the same regularity every Sunday morning.

My own kids are starting to leave home, but I still hunger for my parents’ table. I want to hear Mom say, “Oh, Charles” and watch Dad grin back. One day last August, Dad’s blog post reminded me that sharing food is the simplest way to share a life. “Lindsey brings me a plate of fruit every night while I soak in a hot bath: an apple, a pluot, maybe some peach. A few squares of chocolate. It’s a good life.”

I hope I’m passing it on to my kids.

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