open table

University students have lower standards for food and home decor than most people, but even as a lowly freshman, I knew I walked into something special when I first set foot in Jo’s home. The mother of one of my closest friends from that year, Jo embraced all into her home with open arms, a kind smile and delicious food. She decorated with style and entertained with ease. Their house was a home, and I felt welcomed and cared for.

I remember one of the dinners I shared with them that weekend. There were large round plates on which the eating plates sat, something I had never seen before, and I don’t remember the rest of the decor, but I know that I was mesmerized by her table. Then the food came out. Bourbon roasted turkey – I think, this was a long time ago – hummous, baba ganoush, a plate of orange, dates and pomegranates. We had a warm, laughter-filled evening, enjoying the food and conversation.

There’s another table that comes to mind even as I type this tonight. I was in Ethiopia as part of my trip around the world a few years ago, and my first week I travelled to Tikemptishet, a village in the south western corner of Ethiopia, 100 kilometers from its border with Sudan. This village full of children, women and men, red roads with red dust that rose with our rusty Land Rover plowing through it, and no electricity or running water, it was in this village where there was a missionary compound that housed a health centre, the only one of its kind  in the area.

Most of my meals were spent with an Australian nurse in her solar-powered compound home, but we spent quite a bit of time outside. One meal we had at a compound guard’s home. It was a home made with mud walls and a tin roof, and we sat in the front part of the home, while his wife was in the back cooking for us over a stove made of wood and flames.

When the injera with beef stew came out, I ate heartily. Ethiopian food is one of my favourites, but as my fingers dug into the injera, this meal, eaten  with very little light, in front of the eyes of curious children, this meal came at great cost to the people who provided it for me. Beef is an extra special meal here, and I can be certain that their children did not enjoy the stew that night. Another land, another table, at least I think there was a table.

I have sat at many other tables during the course of my life, had many conversations, enjoyed good food, cried tears, laughed, made new friends, deepened relationships. The tables of our lives are the places where we come together to hear each other, to understand, and as we live our lives side-by-side, this is how we experience renewal.

I carry these experiences – from Jo’s table in Hot Springs, Arkansas to a dusty village in Ethiopia to my home in Geneva today – because I want the same legacy for our table. May it be a place of beauty, of life, of love, of cost and sacrifice, and may it be a place where bodies, souls and spirits are fed.

  • Baked French Toast        I followed this recipe but made the following adjustments – For each pan (and these were somewhat large baking pans), I filled it with nine slices of thick-cut baguette bread. For the wet mix for each pan, I put three eggs instead of two plus the milk amount the recipe recommends, and I left out the sugar.  Then I added cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice in whatever quantity I felt like, which was a lot because I like spices. I buttered both sides of the bread and the pans, and soaked them in the liquid for about two hours before I put it in the oven, and every now and then I flipped the slices over to make sure that all sides absorbed equal amounts. I baked it for 25 minutes at 425 F/gas mark 7/ 218 C. The outside was a bit crispy, but the bread was moist and spicy all the way through. Delicious with yesterday’s syrup recipe and vanilla yoghurt or just with the syrup and fruit or maple syrup.

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