Sunday family dinner is sacred.
Ever since our kids were born, we have instilled in them the sacredness that is Sunday family dinner. The iPods and iPads and iPhones get turned off. There’s no Wii or xBox or even TV. It’s just the four of us sitting around the table (and of course, surrounded by an exceptional meal).
Our daughter Ally loves every aspect of Sunday family dinner – from the elaborate table setting to the actual serving of each course (and every detail in between). When she was little, she enjoyed playing “restaurant” and would spend lots of time creating menus and would make my wife “call” her to make a reservation. Our son Josh also looks forward to Sunday family dinner. His favorite part, though, is the actual eating part.
This is the one time of the week when my wife and I relax the rules a bit, and our kids find themselves in paradise drinking beverages like Sprite and having extra butter on their rolls.
Sunday family dinner takes place at the “formal table” in the dinning room, which does not get used for our daily meals. And of course, Sunday family dinner gets served on the special fancy plates reserved for special occasions.
It’s not unusual for me to spend 4 or 5 hours in the kitchen kneading my own dough or making pasta from scratch or developing a new sauce. Or, as was the case on this particular Sunday, a simple gravy that cooked all day long (and incredible veal-pork-beef meatballs).
Sunday family dinner is all about stopping everything else and celebrating our family. It’s all about learning to live in the moment. It’s about slowing down and savoring the moment that is right before us right now. It’s about teaching our kids that at this particular time, there’s nothing more important than this very moment. Nothing else matters right now.
Why go through these lengths? It is our hope that this sacred ritual, which we have been celebrating for the last ten years, will continue well into our kids’ adulthood. And even through their challenging teenage years when they will be “busy” with their friends doing all the “cool things” that only teenagers know how to do, we will enforce Sunday family dinner. I’m sure it won’t always be ‘looked forward to’, but we will still hold the tradition. The hope is that one day, as they get older, they may feel that tug in their hearts to return back to the table for a Sunday family dinner. Maybe it will be a yearning they cannot explain that will keep them coming back. Some weeks, it may be out of obligation or guilt. Some weeks, they may be seeking a sense of comfort. Whatever the reason, my wife and I will be there waiting, setting the table, and reliving this sacred ritual with them whenever they want.
Now about those meatballs…
I have traveled far to find the perfect meatball. I really have. From the West Coast to the East Coast, to even the great Umbrian Valley in Italy. At the top of my extensive list were the meatballs from Il Cortile and Cipriani’s in New York City. They were as close to perfection as they get. However, my all-time favorite is Villa di Roma in Philly. In one of my many excursions to this tucked-away meatball heaven, I was fortunate to meet one of the owners at the bar. We hit it off and when I told him how I felt about his meatballs, he actually gave me a private tour of the back of the house where a team of 6 people were working on, lo and behold, meatballs!
There’s no special magic. It’s all about really good, fresh ingredients. Equal parts of ground veal, beef, and pork (or, as they call it, the Italian trinity). Lots of fresh parsley. Good Italian breadcrumbs. Freshly shaven Pecorino Romano. Milk. Eggs. Lots of love and tender care.
It is after Villa’s meatballs that I have tried to create my very own. And while mine are actually pretty close, the coveted top price, the meatballs of meatballs, still goes to Villa di Roma.