My Catholic Table

This is a story about a table. It begins, in the early years of the twentieth century, when a young immigrant couple from Czechoslovakia bought a home in the Duquesne neighborhood of Pittsburgh. The neighborhood was a bustling one then, filled with Catholics from around the world. For six days, the men worked in the steel mills, and on the seventh, they donned their Sunday best to walk with their families to one of Duquesne’s three Catholic churches.

The young Czechoslovakian couple was no different. Their life revolved around the mill, their parish, and their neighborhood. It also revolved around their boys—all five of them. Early in their marriage, recognizing they’d need some place to feed the growing brood, the couple took more than a few of their pennies out of savings and used them to purchase a dining room set made in Lenoir, North Carolina. On the bottom of the chairs, paper tags proclaimed the date they left the wood shop: March 1916. DR2 The dining set was beautiful, grand even, far grander than the working class home to which it went. But, it was meant for a grand and noble purpose—to be the locus not just for daily meals of halushki and peroghi, but also for daily conversations, for homework and story telling, family prayers and birthday celebrations, schooling little ones in the virtues and handing on the traditions of their homeland. It was, in a sense, made to be an altar, an altar upon which the sacrament of family life unfolded.

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Sacrifice All the Things: The Loser’s Guide to Winning Lent

I grew up Catholic, but you’d never know it based on my Lenten history. For decades, try as I might, I could never get the season right. Some years, I did too much. Other years, I did too little. And sometimes, I simply lost my mind. Like, the year when I gave up expressing opinions for Lent. Yes, I did that. Well, I sort of did that. I tried, but it didn’t work out so well. Fancy that.

There was also a Lent where I did a progressive fast. During week one, I gave up sweets. For week two, I gave up sweets and meat. The next week, sweets, meat, and dairy. By the time Good Friday arrived, I was basically eating like a tee-totaling, vegan Mormon Celiac on a diet. Or, to put it more accurately, I was eating like a miserable, crabby, total wench of a tee-totaling, vegan Mormon Celiac on a diet.

That was a special year for everyone.

The good news is that all those Lents—crashing, burning, banging wrecks that they were—didn’t go completely to waste. My own particular kind of Lenten crazy gave my friends lots of opportunities to offer things up. I think a few roommates actually did count living with me during Lent as their penance. Plus, eventually, I learned from my own mistakes, and stopped trying to win Lent—proving how holy I was by my ability to Sacrifice All the Things.

Bourbon

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Hosting 101: The Guest on the Special Diet

Everyone’s got one: The friend who’s gone Paleo. The son-in-law who won’t touch animal products. The co-worker who swore off nightshade vegetables, canola oil, and foods that start with the letter “B.”

Feeding any one of those people can be a challenge—especially when you have no idea what qualifies as a “nightshade vegetable.” Feeding all three of them together, at a dinner party, is enough to make any sane person swear off entertaining for good.

It didn’t use to be this way. Once upon a time—like five years ago—you could invite a gaggle of friends over for dinner and feel reasonably certain they would all eat the spaghetti and meatballs you put before them. Back then, throwing a dinner party in no way resembled an episode of Iron Chef. Now, it does.

Dairy

To use or not to use? That is the question.

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Pinterest Lies: The Secret to Successful Entertaining

In 2015, at the ripe old age of 39, I have a fancy new stove, a pretty little kitchen, and grown up dinner plates to match. When I have people over for dinner, I try to make the most of those things. But it hasn’t always been this way.

The first two years I lived in my house, I cooked dinner for 20-plus people every week in a kitchen that bore more than a passing resemblance to a crack den. The walls were nothing but bare, unpainted, crumbling concrete. The floor was covered in filth that I couldn’t wash off. Only one side of the sink worked. And from there, it got worse.

Here are some not so pretty detail shots for you.

The stove hood

Behold the glory of the stove hood.

One of the nicer kitchen walls.

 

No, that’s not dirt on your screen. It was my floor.

My classy plumbing solution.

 

As for the meals, they were good, but simple. I mean, you try cooking fancy food for 20 people on a decades-old range with only three working burners and an absolute inability to reach an internal temperature higher than 350 degrees. Not surprisingly, we ate mostly soup and pasta.

If Pinterest were to be believed, not a single person should have shown up for those dinner parties. There were no quail eggs laced with truffle oil. People didn’t dine off china plates that I hand-painted myself. No crafty mason jar chandeliers hung from the ceiling. Mostly, there was just construction dust. And a lot of it.

Yet those 20-plus people kept coming back week after week. They didn’t care that the city probably should have condemned my kitchen. Or that none of my silverware and plates matched. All they cared about was that at my home they felt known and loved. The food helped…but really, it was just an excuse to bring people together. It was the means. It wasn’t the end.

Although, admittedly, it was a pretty tasty means.

Soup 2

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