Monday, April 7, 2014


Table drawer

 À table, les enfants! Come to lunch! Come to supper! To the table, little children! They scurry to the table, skinny legs, chubby legs, scraped knees, dirty toes, tumbling over each other, elbowing their way to the chair next to grandpère, the best spot!

 À table, les enfants! Such a common phrase in France for such a commonplace activity. A jumble of toddlers jostling their way to the table, tummies growling, carefully place a tattered cloth napkin on a row of laps, as grandpère instructs. Squiggling, wriggling children torn between wanting lunch and anxious to get back to their play. But grandmère made frites!

 À table, les enfants! The song of so many mothers and fathers, grandparents and older siblings, head out the door or at the bottom of a staircase, hands on hips or hands rubbing clean on an old kitchen towel. Knives and forks clattering as games wait, quiet and abandoned for the length of a meal.

Table milk

Table writings

 We were poor as church mice when we married. An old mattress and a worktable were our sole possessions, but it was all we really needed. But by the time we moved into our first real home, we were two going on three and needed more. We ransacked my in-laws' attic among the dust, among the memories, and claimed an ancient armoire whose creaking doors and cracking wood would follow us around for the next twenty-five years. We added a matching nightstand – the second long gone – and the bedframe, each carved with the same Art Deco flowers hovering around the edges. A small round of pale gray marble dappled and streaked with deep pewter, a cutting surface once used in their shop to cut cheese, made it into our car towards home. And a table. Heavy wooden oak the color of bittersweet chocolate on turned and carved legs, six of them supporting the table's heft. Six, or is it eight, leaves, each so heavy it requires one person, two hands and arms wrapped around it to lift and carry it, left stacked up in a corner or in the basement or garage, wherever we moved to, only pulled out when company arrives, set in and slotted home. An old oak table that seats four when leafless, the three remaining sections pushed heavily together, the outer edges of the oval dropped down, unrequired. 

 Near on thirty years later, that table is still with us, taking pride of place in the center of our dining area. Throughout the years, this old table, now scratched and marked with time and usage and love, has seen countless family meals and holiday celebrations. It has spent years in service as a sewing table and later used as a photographer's support for a light box. Now back to part time desk, part time dining table.

 I have always been loath to part with a table with such a personality, no matter how badly my husband would love to. Warm and familiar like a favorite grandparent, teasingly annoying like a naughty, mischievous child the way it sometimes knocks against one's knee, leaving a bruise, all in good fun. Worn and scarred with time, each knick, mark and stain a memory burnished into the surface.

Table setting-4

 Trips back home to Florida always mean evenings at my brother's. A hot meal or something tossed onto the grill, sitting around the dining room table with the best China and crystal glasses; family meals special occasions. Coffee is served in the paper-thin porcelain cups and saucers, inky images of Chinamen against pearl white, once the table is cleared of dishes and cutlery. Coffee done, the table is cleared once again, cloth removed and the table becomes a surface for frolic and amusement as the board games are pulled out of closets and placed on the wood.

My brother can drink us under the table and usually does at one of these game nights. While we sip wine or iced tea, he fills glass after glass of whiskey from the babble of bottles clinking and clanking on the drinks cart. One too many and his joy becomes merriment, boasting and laughing louder and longer than the others around the table. But then who am I to talk? Two glasses of wine and I'm under the table.

Table work-2

 My mother-in-law's home was crowded with oversized furniture, too many chairs, a jumble of tables, a mishmash of the old and the new, none of it handsome. The dining room table, long enough for a gaggle of grandkids and the generation in between, a grandparent at each end, was covered with a utilitarian oilcloth, flowers in shades of brown, orange and yellow, which she would cover with a white tablecloth for Sunday or holiday lunch once the stains, halos of coffee and crumbs of morning breakfast were wiped away. Piles of newspapers and old magazines would be pushed out of the way once naptime was over – small children and grandfather alike – and the table would become game central. She and my father-in-law taught them card games and board games with the patience of saints, racking up hours upon hours, year after year, of rummy and scrabble, boggle and belotte, treating the boys as intellectual equals, much to their delight. Children, knees on chairs, bodies leaning heavily forward over the game mat, excited chatter and laughter as cards were slapped down, tiles carefully placed or pieces moved from space to space.

 Evening, the crêpe grill at grandpère's end of the table, batter ladled, crêpes flipped then passed around the table.

 My mother-in-law's tiny kitchen floor was taken over by a round table, equally covered with oilcloth, flowers in shades of brown, orange and yellow, a cloth scraped and rubbed white with time and elbow grease. That table saw so many meals made, vegetables chopped, pastry pressed out, sticks of potatoes wrapped in a clean towel waiting to be fried. One single chair, all that there was room for in that narrow kitchen, meant one person standing for breakfast coffee as the other one sat. A mess of coffee cups, broken biscuits, smears of jelly across that table, rickety and unstable, cleared away, oilcloth rubbed and lunch preparation begun.

Fresh Herb pasta
Gathering family and friends around the table for a meal is a daily joy, and nothing is more comforting and familiar than a plate of fresh pasta. This is a very simple dough to make and although we have chosen to add fresh herbs, the flavor variations are many. Making pasta is a fun project to prepare with the children around the kitchen table. A drizzle of good quality olive oil, a dusting of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and you suddenly have the best meal ever.


1 lb (500 g) flour, preferably durum
3 tbsp (or more if you want) finely and I mean very finely chopped fresh herbs like thyme, sage and rosemary
¼ tsp salt
5 large eggs, preferable at room temperature
1 – 5 tsps water, as needed

 Blend the flour, salt and very finely chopped herbs together in a large mixing bowl; make a well in the center and break the eggs into the well. Using fingers or a fork, whisk the eggs into the herbed flour until well blended, homogeneous and a dough forms. Add water a teaspoon at a time as needed to moisten pockets of flour. Knead the dough on a floured surface for about 5 minutes until smooth and elastic. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow to rest for 1 to 2 hours at room temperature.

 Divide the dough into 4 or 5 balls. Working one ball of dough at a time, flatten the ball with your hand or a rolling pin. The dough must be rolled out paper thin, either by hand (with a rolling pin on a floured surface) on a large, long table or a pasta machine (follow the directions, beginning the process on the widest/thickest setting and working the strip of dough through every setting until it goes through the thinnest, dusting the dough with flour as needed.)

 Lightly roll or fold the paper-thin dough and cut into strips, as wide or as narrow as desired. Unroll to cook in lightly salted boiling water until al dente, 1 – 3 minutes.  

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  1. Another fabulous and inspiring post! As usual your words and pictures transport me.

    There's nothing quite comparable to fresh homemade pasta...



  2. The plate of pasta looks wonderful!

    I must say that I love the way each one of your posts - words AND images - immediately evokes vignette after vignette of my own family. This one in particular, makes me think of the activities around the tables - Dad saying, "I'LL show you how to peel potatoes!!" and opening out the classified ads to cover the kitchen table with newsprint, or Mum saying, "No, we'll eat at the dining room table. Remember, the big spoons go INSIDE beside the knife. And let's use Grandma's good linen cloth tonight." or all of us gathered around the Monopoly board on the coffee table, giggling hysterically at each person's choice of "man" taken from the book shelf in the den: a giant china dog, a large metal Eiffel Tower, a miniscule bead found in the sewing box....

    I'd vote for you if I could. But they won't let me vote twice.

  3. I love this post. That's all. :)