Every Sunday, I make a full-course meal and invite up to 15 guests, some of whom are close friends and others whom I mentor. Around my table each week, hearty laughter is heard, good food is eaten, and compelling conversations are introduced and carried on.
The concept of Sunday dinners is one I observed and embraced as a small child growing up in Jamaica. From a corner in my kitchen, I’d watch as my mother, aunt, and other relatives laughed while husking coconuts, removing peas from their pods, and preparing a goat or two for slaughter.
There was no detail too small to escape my gaze. I recognized, then later memorized, the herbs and spices used to season the meats. On Saturday mornings, I paid close attention to what fruits were plucked for the juices we were to drink that week.
The result of all the food preparation I witnessed wasn’t just a huge pot of rice and peas, or tender goat. Instead, it was the glue that held our family intact.
The Sunday dinners at my home start at 3 p.m., which is a Jamaican tradition. My weekly guests are only required to bring dessert, salads or wine. By 9 p.m., we bid our guests farewell, until next week.
But now, there’s no next week. The coronavirus outbreak has caused me to break tradition and eat Sunday dinner in relative solitude for the foreseeable future.
To keep my Sunday tradition somewhat alive, I’ve begun using Facebook Live to teach my friends and family how to recreate the dishes I serve, such as my oxtails, which were featured recently in the Food section of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The online recipe-sharing has been well received. In fact, people in my social network are asking for additional instruction.
So, I’ll continue to share my recipes, but nothing can compare to the level of engagement and connectivity that occurred at my dinner table. So many meaningful relationships were formed there.
For example, three years ago, I met a South Sudan refugee outside a local bank. Today, that person now calls my husband and me “Uncle” and “Aunt,” respectively. And my friends are now her “sisters.” Her donation to our weekly dinners was finely chopped kale seasoned with authentic special spices from Ethiopia and Sudan.
And then there are the young people to whom my husband serves as a father figure. Every week, they were learning about problem-solving and community activism from him and others around the table.
The house is now noticeably quiet. And the dinner table is set for two, with smaller portions decorating it. Since my husband has chronic asthma, which makes him more vulnerable to the coronavirus than a healthy individual his same age, we sit at the dinner table at different times, or at opposite ends.
I’m adapting to the new normal as best I can. Some areas of my life have changed and will change. But what will remain is my commitment to building community and providing a space of belonging.
Andrea Lawful-Sanders is a wife, mother, writer for the Philadelphia Sunday Sun and founder of A Lawful Truth Enterprises. You can hear her on WURD Radio every Tuesday and Thursday beginning at 1 pm. Below is Lawful-Sander’s recipe for oxtails.
6-8 pounds of oxtails cut one inch apart
2 large onions
1whole garlic bulb
1 whole scotch bonnet pepper
3 tablespoons ketchup
1 can baked beans
1: Clean oxtails in 1/2 cup of vinegar and cold water. Rinse and drain. Add to large bowl.
2: Dice up onions, garlic, thyme and peppers. Then add them to the bowl, along with dry seasonings and ketchup.
3: Mix together and let sit overnight. (2 hours can work if you’re pressed for time)
1: Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees
2: Bring a full kettle of water to a boil and set aside.
3: In a large pot, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Once your oil is hot, add oxtails one at a time (be sure to remove excess onions, peppers, garlic and thyme).
4: Braise meat on high heat, until browned.
5: Take your kettle of hot water, pour it over the meat until almost fully covered
6: Cover the pot, and slide it into the oven.
7: Bake for approximately 3 hours or until the meat begins separating from the bone. Test the meat each hour to see where it is in the process.
8: Remove pot from the oven and place it on a burner.
9: Add a can of baked beans and the seasonings, then let it simmer into a gravy. (Oxtails tend to have some fat, so you may want to skim some of the oil from the pot before adding the beans)
10: Once the gravy has thickened, turn off the stove, and serve with your favorite side dish.