by Lael Gibbs

One of the things that I enjoy the most about being in this area (Roxbury, CT) is the simplicity of life. There is very little cellular service (anywhere). Businesses that are close by are generally small, locally-owned operations that close down early. Most streets don’t have sidewalks or street lamps. And while, in some instances, these characteristics can make life less convenient, I think that they can also bring out the best parts of life. It forces me to look around, take in the beautiful country views, and make small talk with the people around me because I can’t be engrossed in my phone. It forces my little family to be home with each other at night because we aren’t able to just “run out quick” to pick things up. And the stargazing at night can be unreal without the light pollution of a busier area. 

Here in Roxbury, the nearest commercial grocery store is a bit of a drive, which means that I do a lot of our food shopping from local producers. And the nearest restaurant is also a bit of a drive, which means that I also cook most of our meals at home.

Cooking is something that I really became excited to learn after I graduated from college. And Brian (bless him) has been around for the entire learning process. Some recipes have been huge successes. And some recipes…well let’s just say that one year for St. Patrick’s Day I made the mistake of BROIL-ing the corned beef instead of BOIL-ing it. (Please don’t worry, this was many years ago, and I am happy to report that I have since learned the difference between the 2 techniques.) Success or failure, though, I have always loved trying out new recipes.When I first began learning to cook, my mother surprised me at Christmas with a book of family recipes that she had compiled from my relatives. When Brian and I moved into our first home, my mother-in-law made me one from their side of the family. These two books have always been so special to me. I’ve read through them dozens of times feeling incredibly lucky to have certain recipes, like my grandmother’s cheesecake or Brian’s great-aunt’s crumb cake. I have envisioned myself passing these recipes on to the next generation and telling the stories of when we used to eat them. The one thing that I had never done with the recipes…was try to cook any of them.

A few weeks ago, as I was trying to figure out what to make for dinner, one of the cookbooks caught my eye and I thought about how silly it was that I have coveted them as gifts but never used them for their intended purpose. Since that day, I have  picked out one recipe from each family collection to try each week. And not only has the food been delicious, it has been such a fun walk down memory lane. Each dish seems to spark a conversation that starts with, “we used to eat this all the time growing up and one time…,” which is a conversation that also usually ends with us laughing. 

One of the most special parts about opening these books has been reading the recipe cards in my grandparents’ handwriting. Seeing their penmanship brings me a huge sense of nostalgia and reading their instructions brings back the memories of their personalities. Some of the recipe cards have very specific instructions about how to treat each ingredient. One grandmother notes to use “the good mustard” in one of her recipes. Some cards have little notes as to which of their friends enjoyed the recipe so that they would know what to serve when company was over. Some are labeled as “Family Recipes” and others as “Favorites.” And every one of them makes me smile in its own way. 

I love bonding around a good meal. And if that meal is also comforting and familiar, oh, it’s just the best. It allows us to connect and unwind, and for me, that is what family dinner is all about. 

With the holidays around the corner, the theme of connecting and enjoying each other, couldn’t have come at a better time for me. As things start to get a little chaotic with shopping and get-togethers; and the pressure of finding the perfect gifts looms overhead, it reminds me of the simpler, yet bigger picture and the real purpose of the season: comfort and joy. Like a good family dinner, except with a lot more people. 

I hope that this season finds you bonding over good food and shared memories. 

Happy holiday season,

Copyright 2020 – 2023 The Roxbury Local; Reprinted with Permission