A TALK ABOUT THE REMEMBERING DINNERS WITH STEPHANIE CHACE
Food is an element in Life which has so many enriching aspects. It is in the creating and in the sharing of meals where we are given many gifts. Remembering Dinner is the latest project of the All Souls Procession Weekend, in which participants contribute cherished recipes from their ancestors and dear friends who have passed on.
In this conversation, we hear from Stephanie Chace on the inspiration and significance of this amazing, precious project.
jhon: So how did this all begin? Where did the idea come from?
Over this summer I was taking a seminar in a self-expression leadership program where you develop a project in your community and then try your best to make it happen. And I thought, “okay, so this cookbook thing is something I’d like to try, and I could probably apply this to the All Souls Procession as something that’s dear to me. And all the people involved are just, you know, good folks. So I thought, “this is the time, this is the project, this is the community to work with to do that. And I thought, “oh, we’ll have of course a competition for recipes”. And then I thought…how horrible that would be! And there’s so much of that in life, you know. You have to be in the top something-or-other, you have to get approval, you have to get acceptance. And that just didn’t seem like it would apply in spirit with the All Souls Procession. So then I started thinking, “well, let’s just have everyone bring a recipe from someone who’s dear to them.” And I also thought it would be a really good way for people to re-connect with that person. It could have been a grandmother you lost when you were ten and maybe you don’t even tear up much about it, but this connection begins again, you start thinking about it, or when that dish was made for you. It just re-connects some lines that haven’t been sparked in awhile.
People who have given us recipes or a memory of food…it’s a continuum. When you make that dish again, what they’ve left behind, what they’ve left here for you and you get to share it with someone else, that’s just this continuum. It’s like this fine, thin thread that keeps going and going. And that for me is huge, that’s a really big part of this: the continuum.
Food basically nurtures you, it gets you through another day, but then with the spirit of someone who’s gone…it’s just this fantastic notion. Just thinking in that way for me really, really helps. It gives me joy.
My father taught me how to cook, so often when I cook I think of him. Cooking is such a great thing, because with food, you can just share it with people. To me it’s just such a communicator when you’re offering food to someone. It just seems so basic, you know? I grew up with nine other brothers and sisters, and it was the only part of the day when things were settled down, safe, we were all bookended between our parents in the dining room, and that was like the calm of the day; finally all the food’s on the table and it’s just for forty minutes or whatever, but that was what we were doing, and we were doing it together.
When I was cooking the other night, making my father’s squash, it was so cool, because it’s like you’re drumming up the spirits. It’s like a rain-dance. You start getting all the ingredients together, and it is like that. It’s…
jhon: Like a ceremony?
Stephanie: It’s a ceremony, and then sometimes it’s conscious, sometimes it isn’t. But there is that action, and it is kind of like a rain-dance; if you want the rain to fall, you concentrate on it and it’ll come, like if you want the company of the spirit of that person with you.
jhon: It’s funny, because I don’t think I have too many memories like the kind you’ve been talking about. My family situation was completely different than yours, and I think I missed out on having like this miniature community in your house and people getting together and de-compressing like you were talking about. And food, because it’s so intrinsic to life and so basic, it acts as kind of like an adhering, bonding element. I didn’t really have that; my mom and dad got divorced when I was four and we’d eat t.v. dinners….
Stephanie: But wait, the t.v. dinners though! I see that as the experience, and that is not lesser than my godmother’s apple pie. On Fridays, we’d have the Catholic supersonically frozen fish-sticks with the frozen french-fries. That was my experience, and that is just as tender and as dear to me as my father teaching me how to cook and my mother teaching me how to bake. That’s why also that I nixed the idea of competition for the recipes, because it’s not about some kind of culinary “what’s better?”. If the memory is snow-cones and your uncle who’d come like once a year to visit for the summer and he’d take you to the street fair or the circus would come and you’d go for the snow-cones, then that’s where it is and that’s the joy that person shared with you.
Like my sister Catherine, she died when she was eighteen, and I was fourteen. She didn’t really cook, she cooked like the rest of us did, because my Mom died when I was eleven. She wasn’t really into cooking, but for me, cinnamon toast, that really evokes memories of my sister Catherine. We’d get back from school at 3 o’ clock in the afternoon: “What are we going to eat?”, “Well, cinnamon toast. Just get some bread and butter and sugar and cinnamon”, and that was it, you know? And those are like those gifts that people give us.
jhon: Yeah, I see what you mean. Now that you make me think about it, if I go far enough back, when I was five, six, seven, my Mom and I, when we would eat, we actually would sit down together -just the two of us, that’s all there was- at a folding card table with the t.v. dinners, by candlelight with one of those deals from the seventies with different colored wax dripping down onto a wine bottle. So you’re right: the t.v. dinners just go with that memory of me and my Mom and the candle on the card-table. It’s just as valid when you think about it.
Stephanie: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, totally.
jhon: So the other night, you had the first of the Remember Dinner series. Tell me what happened. How did that go? And did it turn out differently from what you had expected in some way?
Stephanie: I didn’t know what to expect, but I certainly didn’t expect that many people to show up. So the amount of people who came was a pleasant surprise for sure. And as far as the feeling of intimacy in the room, that was wonderful. I remember when I thought about doing this that I didn’t want to have a potluck with people eating from their laps, and podding off into groups of people that they know. I knew that that was not what I wanted.
jhon: How did you set it up to keep that from happening?
Stephanie: One long table, and when people came I said just put your plate down where you want to sit. So nobody knew whose plate was whose. Which was great, because people sat down and they were sitting with people they didn’t know.
And there were lots of candles. We had all the shop lights off and tons of candles with one string of Christmas lights. And then wine; I mean, now I understand why religions have relied on wine for thousands of years (laughing). That was great. And people sharing. I got up to share first; I talked about my father teaching me how to cook, I talked about the dish and how we’d go to the beach and get the squash at the farm-stands, and then we’d just come home and make the smashed squash. So the more I shared, the more I think it freed people up to share as well. And so we did.
jhon: How do the musicians fit in to the evening?
Stephanie: They also set a tone. It’s almost like they’re creating a feeling of a safe place to be, to tell your story. They were holding the space for all of us, with music. There is that sense of like, food and music; it just comes together you know? Whether you’re cooking food and listening to music, or eating food and listening to music, it’s there. Food and music is like salt and pepper.
jhon: And tell me next about the mosaic.
Stephanie: When people go online and they r.s.v.p., they’re encouraged to either break the plate that they’ve brought with them, or bring a plate to break as a catharsis if they feel inclined to. Diana Ricks is a mosaic artist, and once we have a number of plate shards together -since mosaics are traditionally made with broken plates- she thought it’d be a great idea to help people make a big mosaic and then quite possibly turn it into a table.
jhon: Would the table be incorporated into a future series of Remembering Dinners?
Stephanie: It could be. It could be very amazing. It could be the table where all the food is placed, maybe that would be the table where people bring more dishes.
jhon: How do you imagine the Remembering Dinners developing over the future? What are your hopes for that?
Stephanie: I’d love to see them continue next year, maybe not do the cookbook again, or maybe just have those recipes collected and then eventually someone else will put a cookbook together. I’d like to see these six (dinners) result in a cookbook, even if it’s a small one, but a beautiful one. But I think that people could really groove on this, that it could really serve people in a beautiful way. People will get to thinking about friends they’ve lost, dinners they’ve had together. So I’d like to see it continue of course.
I was just talking with a friend of mine from out east and she was saying, ”I think I might do a Remembering Dinner”. Already.
jhon: Some things are so basic that they’ll just catch on very easily. Food, and love.
Stephanie: Yes. I was telling someone that they’re like love-letters, there’s just love all around it; there’s the love of the person who gave you the recipe, the love of the person who made it, the love for the food. My sisters, if I’m home, they’ll make stuff that I love that they make. Like if I’m at my sister Mary’s house, I’ll have her cook something that I associate with her. My sister Becca, she makes this beautiful Terragon pot-pie, it’s so good. Like that would be okay for me to request that; of course she’d make it. When I go home to see my sister Lizzie she always asks me to make her poached eggs. My father taught me how to poach an egg, and when I’m at her house she’s just like,”will you poach me an egg?”.
jhon: It’s somehow different when you do it, like if she were to do it for herself it wouldn’t be the same.
Stephanie: She can poach an egg, sure, it’s just boiled water, simmer it three minutes (laughing), take it out of the strainer.
jhon: This stuff has to do with….
Stephanie: ….the person, yeah….
jhon: Exactly, and it’s like that because it’s so intrinsic to being alive and to relationships…. sharing food.
Stephanie: It’s the gesture. Like tea: if I’m sick and someone says, “can I make you a cup of tea?” And it doesn’t matter if the tea comes hot and it just sits there and gets cold. It’s just that someone made you tea. It’s that effort and that recognition that someone’s giving you something. It’s a communicator, isn’t it?