Sunday Dinners


When I was a child I did not particularly enjoy the weekly southern ritual of Sunday dinner.  Like many families, mine was pretty screwy and the dinners were often wrought with tension, usually generated by my father's mother, Lillian, AKA Maw Maw Benson, whom I  still regard as my Evil Grandmother. The woman was an absolute terror, a grief-seeking (and generating) missle, a character who HAD TO BE THE CENTER OF ATTENTION at all times. That said, this bitch could cook. She grew up in New Orelans' 7th Ward neighborhood, near the corner of Elysian Fields and St. Claude avenues.  She was born Lillian Lombard somewhere around 1911 to a family of second or third generation French immigrants and her father died of tuberculosis when she was 2. This surely started her on her well-worn path to meanness and the rut in that path was undoubtedly deepened by her mother's marriage to a mean man who disliked Lillian as much as  much as she disliked him. Anyway, someone somwhere taught the angry young maiden how to cook and she learned the lesson well. I do not recall her ever doing anything particularly elaborate but she had mastered those classic New Orleans and generally Southern dishes, such as Panneed Veal, Red Beans and Rice, Lima Beans and Ham, Stewed Green Beans with Ham, Mirtiton with Shrimp, Shrimp Creole, Stuffed Crabs, Shrimp Ettouffee and the like. Her culinary skills redeemed her from total isolation.

 I now have my own Sunday dinner traditions, which are radically different from those of my childhood. We rarely gather around a table and few in attendance are blood relatives. Various members of what I consider my Selected Family gather for pot lucks at one another's homes, sharing the responsibilities of serving as the host. Late this afternoon we will gather at the home of my buddy, Cyndi Collier, and her husband, David Kelly. They are cooking up a Smothered Beef Brisket and Cyndi will pull togather a Caprese Salad.  Another of my girlfriends, Jennifer John, will bring along some concoction or another, which may or may not be edible. I am bringing a Spicy Potato Salad and a loaf of Whole Wheat Banana Nut Bread that I will make with some amazing local honey from Algiers (it's harvested by some of the guys who run Adrian's Tree Service, go figure). My daughter, Cecilia, will contribute a 14-year old's sullen attitude and my husband, Andrew, well, he left home to go work out this morning wearing a t-shirt with a picture of a toilet on the front of it bearing the caption "This is where I do my best work," so I will assume his contribution to the evening will be his adolescent sense of humor.

 These dinners differ most notably from those of my childhood in their absence of tension and hostility. Many of us are passionate, experienced cooks, others are not. It dosen't matter. It's not so much about the food. We gather because we want to.  


In response to your Sunday dinners, we, as a family, never ate Sunday dinner at either of my grandparents homes, my Mom cooked for us.

Now both of my grandmothers were excellent cooks in their own rights. I had a NICE one, who was my maternal grandmother, Mamit; and a MEAN, hateful, and spiteful one, Maw Maw, who was my paternal grandmother, she was the one known, “ To have a heart as black as the Ace of Spades” as told to her by her own sister (how’s that?!?!?). Both could cook, bake, and preserve, with little or no measurements involved, as though it was effortless, but still “to die for”!

My Mom would usually cook a beef or pork roast in the most ridiculously insane brown gravy you ever tasted (you literally wanted to “Lick the Pot”). Pork was “THE BEST” or was just my favorite of the two - it was stuffed with chow-chow, made from pure cayenne peppers and cloves of garlic. Along with that she’d prepare baby lima beans, her famous homemade macaroni and cheese, and candied yams. When she didn’t cook, my Dad would barbecue Sirloin or T-Bone steaks, and she’d prepare a homemade barbecue sauce, which was our neighbor’s recipe, along with rice dressing, and a very simple potato salad consisting of potatoes, eggs, Hellmann’s Mayo and just a slight bit of French’s Classic Yellow Mustard (I’m salivating typing this now!).

On special occasions/holidays we would have Crawfish Etouffee (when in season) or a good Seafood Gumbo.

We always ate in the living room on TV trays so we could watch the Saints kick-off at 12 noon! In my house, we seldom sit down to eat together – it’s as though we eat in shifts, and we’re only three people in this house, but no one’s ever ready to eat at the same time.

When I got married, I cooked for them at least one Sunday out of the month and took care of the majority of the holidays to give them a break – it was only fair.

Now, that both my parents have passed away, I may cook only one Sunday a month. It’s just a day that I like to wake up a little later, have a good breakfast, sit down and watch Food Network, catch up with friends on Facebook, read the paper and RELAX! We usually just pick up a Sunday Dinner from one of the local stores/markets, like Charlie T’s, Poche’s or John’s Store (The Best Brisket Dinner you’ll ever eat is at John’s Store).

No, traditional Sunday Dinners are just not the same, but then again, neither are the times we live in – we’re moving entirely too fast and I just want to Chill-Lax on any given Sunday...

P.S. - Thanks Jyl, that felt really good !!! lol


Your response is EXACTLY the kind of feedback Susan and I  were hoping to generate when we launched K&C. We want to start a dialogue about our food heritage and how it impacts our lives. We are starting with the South. If it catches on we want to get people in other regions in on the discussions.

I have been to neither John's Store nor Charley T's in Breaux Bridge but  I sure as hell know Poche's. If Poche's was in my neighborhood I would probably never cook again (ok, well maybe sometimes). Why mess with perfection?

Growing up with my father (Big Wayne), who bought a Lafitte Skiff boat after retirement ,led to many wonderful weekend seafood boils. Wayne worked for Ma-Bell during the governments annihilation of big conglomerates ; therefore, he was forced to retire at the old age of 56. Wayne and my favorite Uncle Bud( retired marine), decided to venture into shrimping, crabbing ,and what ever else came along, for the rest of their days. They managed to sell their catch to local seafood joints in the area, but what ever was left over, was our HEAVEN. I remember having soo many boiled crabs and fried shrimp to eat , I did not know what to do with myself. This led to 20 people or more in the backyard of my parents small Metairie home. I will never forget the joy and laughter these weekend boils generated in my family. Me and my Sister still talk about that glorious time of union.

I really like the Sunday dinner one...especially since I had my seat at those. And remember our grandfather..the kindest, sweetest man on the face of the earth, the one designated to make the creamiest mashed potatoes ever. Keep it up!