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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Family Meals

December 21, 2010

Every December it has been customary for this column to publish an end-of-the-year list containing my favorite dining experiences that were enjoyed throughout the previous year.

Typically, the list has been filled with restaurant meals enjoyed in Chicago, New York, San Francisco and the like. Sometimes the listings are white-tablecloth fine-dining establishments; sometimes I list the new discovery of a hole-in-the-wall local joint that has made an impression on me. Occasionally, I describe some of the great meals I have enjoyed in friend’s homes.

This year I won’t publish a greatest meals list.

It’s not because I didn’t eat a lot of first-rate meals this year. I hit the road beginning in January and ate my way through the next eleven months. There were some very memorable restaurant meals and several excellent lunches and dinners cooked in friend’s homes.

I could spend the entire column listing the meals I ate at my friend David Trigiani’s house in Jackson as we cooked our way through his Italian recipe repertoire preparing dishes for the opening of the new Italian restaurant in March.

The Purple Parrot Cafe is hitting on all cylinders these days, and I could easily list 10 meals in which Chef Jeremy Nofkee has blown me away with his culinary creativity.

But none of those meals can compare to the meals I have eaten recently at home, sitting around the breakfast room table with my wife and two children.

It’s not that the meals are daring and creative, my wife makes pretty good chicken and dumplings, and cooks a mean lasagna. It’s not the atmosphere and ambiance, our breakfast room is pretty typical. It has nothing to do with the flatware, plates, glasses, location, or ratings. It’s the people.

I don’t think there is anything more enjoyable in this world than sitting down and eating a meal with my wife, son, and daughter. And this year I want to encourage everyone to eat supper together, at home, more often.

This isn’t a new revelation that has just struck me halfway though this parenting gig. Ever since I became a father, I have enjoyed family meals. Maybe it’s their ages– nine and 13– and the ever-present knowledge that their days at home are limited. Actually I’m not sure what it is, but I can be sitting at that table with those three people eating my wife’s spaghetti out of a jar and enjoy it as much as any meal I’ve eaten with Thomas Keller or Charlie Trotter. It’s home.

When I was a kid, moms used to open the backdoor and yell “supper” and everyone would run inside. Today a mom yells “supper” and everyone hops into the mini van. As a society we have become too accustomed to driving through a drive-through window, grabbing a paper sack, placing it on a TV tray, eating it in front of the TV, and calling that supper. Folks, that ain’t supper.

I’m not talking about a mom, a dad, 2.5 kids, and a dog. I’m talking about sharing a meal. It can be with your neighbor, your grandchildren, or your neighbor’s grandchildren. Just slow down, sit around the table, and share a meal together.

I’m not on a soapbox here. I have been chief among the sinners. I could always give you two-dozen reasons why I am too busy to sit down and share a meal with my family. No more.

We play a game when I have supper with my family. It’s that question that I always ask. The kids roll their eyes and give me that dad-is-asking-that-question-again look, but I ask it anyway. “What was the best part of your day?”

Everyone answers the question differently. But to me, 100% of the time, without question— no matter what great event might have occurred during that day— the best part of my day is sitting at the table, with my wife, son, and daughter, sharing a meal. Nothing beats it.

So as this holiday season comes and goes, take advantage of family meals and time with friends. Savor every moment. Make the best part of your day a meal shared with those who matter most. It’s time well spent that you will never regret or forget.

Chicken and Dumplings

2 quarts Water
2 quarts Chicken broth
1 large Carrot, peeled and cut into large pieces
1 large Onion, peeled and cut into large pieces
1 stalk Celery, peeled and cut into large pieces
1 Bay leaf
1 Tbl. Salt
2 -3 lb Chicken, whole

Place all ingredients in a large stockpot and simmer for two hours. Gently remove chicken, cool and pick the meat from the carcass. Cut into bite-size pieces and set aside. Strain the chicken broth and return to a large saucepot.


3 cups Flour
1 Tbl. Poultry seasoning
3 /4 cup Crisco
3 /4 cup Cold milk

Combine flour and seasoning. Use a fork to cut the shortening into the seasoned flour. Add cold milk and mix until a ball forms. Place dough on a floured surface and knead it for five minutes. Divide dough into two parts. On a generously floured surface, roll dough to 1 /8-inch thickness. Cut dumplings into one-inch squares and sprinkle with flour to prevent sticking while you roll out remaining dough. Place dumplings in refrigerator and repeat the process with the other half of the dough.

Reheat chicken broth on high, to a rapid boil. Quickly drop dumplings in broth (make sure they are separated to prevent them from clumping). Once broth returns to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add cooked chicken into pot and simmer for 10 more minutes. Remove from heat and allow the mixture to rest for 15 minutes before serving. Yield: 8-10 servings

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