At the age of seven I was given a watch for my birthday. Its maroon face was round with clear numbers circling it and it had a faux leather band to match. My father explained that the big hand pointed to the minutes and the little hand to the hour. He pulled out the ridged knob on the side and turned it until the big hand pointed straight up to 12 and the little hand to 5. This he explained meant 5 o’clock which was exactly the time I was to be home for dinner every evening. I memorized the position of the hands before he once again turned the knob to set the watch to the correct time. That watch gave me freedom. Wearing it made me feel very grown up. As long as Mom or Dad knew where I was going and who my playmates were, I could roam the neighborhood at will. That watch also created a tie to home: not a leash but a reminder of our family’s daily ritual.
Meals were served in the typical American fashion with every dish placed on the table at once. A casserole or roast chicken breasts, a vegetable or two, potatoes or rice and a salad made up dinner. It was never fancy, but usually tasty and there was always enough to go around no matter how many of my parents’ seven children lined the table. At the time I took those dinners for granted. That’s just what families did.
Our dinners were about sustenance and family time, not about sustainability, supporting organic farms or culinary artistry. The nearby television was turned off and we talked, or argued. We were no idyllic Disney version of a family. We were people who lived together and shared a table every day, and by doing so shared our lives and our stories. Mom was busy and took no great pleasure from cooking. Anything with Old El Paso brand green chilies in it was called “Mexican” and I grew up thinking that chili was made from Boston Baked Beans and ground beef. Vegetables came mostly from frozen bags and many other ingredients came from cans, but mixed together they made a meal that brought all of us to the table.
Since then I’ve eaten pastries at Fauchon in Paris and tasted fresh cheese in the Basque mountains. I’ve gnawed on spit-roasted ox at Oktoberfest, dined at Michelin 3 star meccas, and hosted four-hour wine dinners at my own restaurant. Herbs for my kitchen are harvested from my own garden patch and we source as many ingredients as possible from local organic farms for the restaurant. There’s a gold medal misplaced somewhere in my apartment that I won in a state-wide pastry competition and I used to be mesmerized by the wizardry displayed in the original Iron Chef show from Japan. I make my living by creating places where guests enjoy amazing, authentic dishes prepared by talented professionals. Sometimes though, dinner is more about the people who share the table than about the food on it. There is pleasure in spending all day making your own stock and mushroom velouté to mix with green beans you hand picked at the weekly neighborhood farmers’ market. But the next time you think that you don’t have time to get the kids, your housemates or friends to the table, just take a page from Campbell’s and cook the way Mom did. At the very least, it will fill bellies and get the conversation going.
Green Bean Casserole
serves 12: prep time 10 min. cook time 30 min.
- 2 (10.75 ounce) cans Campbell’s® Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup or Campbell’s® Condensed 98% Fat Free Cream of Mushroom Soup
- 1 cup milk
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 8 cups cooked cut green beans
- 2 2/3 cups French’s® French Fried Onions
- Stir soup, milk, soy sauce, pepper, beans and 1 1/3 cups onions in 3-qt. casserole.
- Bake at 350 degrees F. for 25 min. or until hot. Stir.
- Top with remaining onions. Bake for 5 min. more.