There is a stereotype of Italian mothers. They want to be sure their children are well-fed at all times, insisting "mangia, mangia, mangia." With a three-course meal, this is typically no problem at all. Paola is no exception. She is always sure to feed me a well-balanced breakfast and send me with a juice box and snacks to school. For lunch and dinner, I am presented with fresh, healthy, and incredible meals, every single day. I always assure Paola that I leave the dinner table full. "Sono piena," I always stay as she tempts me with another scoop of pasta, another cut of meat, another nectarine, or another piece of cake. But I've noticed that I leave the table each day so incredibly full. Full of energy, full of love, full of great conversation, full of thoughts, full of inspiration, and full of life.
These meals with Paola are such a nurturing time for me. I have realized that so much happens at the dinner table. It is the place where are hearts are warmed from the inside out with a bowl of hot soup. It is the place where we share stories, place bets, and look up Italian words that have escaped my memory. I will occasionally jump up from the middle of dinner and run to my room to retrieve my camera. I want so badly to capture this memory, this meal, this moment. Before these 7:30 ritual dinners come to a close, I desperately try to record each recipe and lock it into my brain so that I will take Paola back with me for many years to come. Almost the entirety of my relationship with Paola has been formed at the dinner table. From the first day where she wowed me with the magical parings of pecorino cheese and pears, to the early-morning cappuccinos for the last three months. I know each day when I sit down at the table and look down at the well-worn pink tablecloth with dancing ducks, that this is my time to be with Paola.
Like any good Italian mother, she makes sure that I leave the table full. But her remarkable character ensures that I leave the table full of so much more than food. Perhaps this is especially timely with Thanksgiving upon us. So tomorrow, when you are eating your meals, be sure to notice how full you feel. Not in your belly, but in your heart. I think you'll notice the nearby friends and family are far more filling than any turkey-pie-stuffing combination.
This is a photo of tonight's minestrone soup. It is my all-time favorite food she makes and Paola fixed it tonight because she knows that Thanksgiving is right around the corner. I could eat this comfort food for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. I am working on acquiring the recipe! She claims it is as simple as putting vegetables in a pot with water, salt, and pepper, but I know there is far more to it than that. Plus, a little parmesan cheese with homemade croutons on top certainly doesn't hurt.