Life happens at the table.
Children are raised, relationships are made, stories are told, love is shared, ideas take shape, and food is eaten. But in a world that moves at the speed of light, and demands we keep up, our tables have begun to sit empty– a place for car keys and junk mail and piles of projects.
The Sunday Dinner Revival has been decades in the making, beginning in my hometown of Saginaw, Michigan, at my Mother’s table. This is where we sat down as a family on a nightly basis, where my four siblings and I learned to eat everything that was served, where I shared my first attempts at cooking, where we formed everlasting family bonds, and where we braided ourselves tightly into Mom’s legacy of celebrating life with good food.
That legacy took shape in my twenties after I headed West. In Missoula, Montana I fell in love with a boy named Noah, who loved to cook and eat as much as I did. Our friends knew that coming to our place meant good food and good times, and we held many a feast and potluck at our various apartments and rental homes. Meanwhile, I cooked my way through college, holding every food service position possible, from dishwasher to Fried Chicken girl at the University of Montana Commons.
One summer, I ventured into the best restaurant I knew: Tapawingo in Ellsworth, Michigan. I asked for a summer job, expecting to peel potatoes and wash lettuce. Instead, one of the chefs quit the day after I was hired, and I spent that summer in a 100+ degree kitchen, working 12 hour shifts, 6 days a week, as the Garde Manger Chef. I seared a lot of scallops, julienned a lot of carrots, concasse’d a lot of tomatoes, and brunoise’d a lot of red bell pepper—that’s a 1/8” dice in case you’re wondering. Plates had 7 to 10 components, and the menu changed daily. That summer was fine dining boot camp, and I knew at the end of it that elaborate garnishes and complicated presentations were not what I loved most about food. I came home burned, cut, and fall-on-my-face tired every day, but what really bugged me, was that I never saw the faces who ate my cooking. There was a total disconnect, and something about that made even the best nights feel hollow.
I think a lot of our twenties are spent figuring out what we don’t want to do. I spent the bulk of mine working in a few more restaurants, I opened a personal chef service, I sold artisanal cheeses, I made soups, I went to culinary school, and I interned at the San Francisco Chronicle’s food section. I learned a lot, but at the end of it all, I still hadn’t found my niche. What I looked forward to most was coming home, preparing simple good food, and sharing it with the people I loved.
In our late twenties, Noah and I (now married) moved to Seattle. We lived there for 3 years. My sister Kim had been in Seattle for many years, and we got together often, almost always to eat, and sometimes to surf. But even with surfing, food was somehow involved, usually in the form of an après-surf beach picnic, or a fish taco party at Kim’s house back in Seattle. Somehow, a little surfer gang formed. We called ourselves the Dawg Pack: Baby Face, Junk Yard, Bone Yard, Dawg Town, The Hammer, and Martin. They became our West Coast family, our Urban Tribe.
Outside of surfing, we gathered as often as we could; to eat, laugh, share stories, make fun of politics, talk about art, but mostly to eat. I think it was The Hammer, a glass artist originally from the South Side of Chicago, who first suggested that we have a family dinner every Sunday. So that’s what we did. It was the best day of the week.
Sometimes we pitched in for a potluck, sometimes the rotating host or hostess would prepare an ethnic feast, sometimes it was burgers on the grill and a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon, but it was always Sunday Dinner, even if we had to move it to a Tuesday. We held space for each other, for simple togetherness at the table, to return for a moment in the midst of our over-booked city lives, to what is real.
Eventually, Noah and I were called North, to Juneau, Alaska. We spent four years there, and I think he spent most of it in the air, flying tourists over glaciers, and heli skiers through the Chugach Mountains. I worked as a Sea Kayaking guide, and produced a Public Radio show for Alaskan writers. I had all but given up on working as a food service professional; that is, until I found the perfect cooking job—the one that changed everything.
There’s a natural foods store in Juneau called Rainbow Foods. Every Thursday night, Rainbow Foods hosted a special dinner, and it was my job to plan and prepare that meal. The Thursday Night Dinners were ethnically-themed and served buffet-style. It was a community affair, and a gathering place. I soon realized that the menus I was creating were healthy, seasonal, globally-inspired, and family-style—much like the meals that were served at our Sunday Dinner gatherings back in Seattle. Because I was singlehandedly cooking for 40, they couldn’t be too time consuming or labor-intensive. After setting up the buffet I was able to eat and meet with many of the regulars who came in for dinner. It was a time to catch up with friends, share new flavors, sit, talk, and be nourished.
I LOVED it.
Finally, something felt right. I had found my niche. This is what I was good at, what made me happy, and most importantly, what I believed in.
In 2010, the sun set on our time in Alaska, and Noah and I put roots down, back in the same beautiful, crunchy little mountain town that we fell in love in: Missoula, Montana. He landed a year-round flying gig, and I continued to build on a budding freelance food writing career. As my mission took shape, things began falling into place, and I found myself with work that had real synergy with The Sunday Dinner Revival. I started writing regularly for Nourish Network, whose motto is , “Nourishing body, soul, and planet with every bite.” One day the phone rang and an opportunity to teach cooking classes fell into my lap. About once a month I demonstrate a Sunday Dinner menu at our local version of Whole Foods: The Good Food Store. When we moved here I had a food blog, called Food-G, but I wanted to refine it into something more reflective of my mission. That is how this virtual table was created, and the guiding light behind what I want to provide you, my beloved readers with: ideas and inspiration to help you bring your tribe back to the table.
Sunday Dinner isn’t just a meal, it’s an ideal. The Sunday Dinner Revival isn’t just a blog, it’s a movement. I’m Ginny Mahar, a cooking teacher, freelance writer, blogger, recipe developer, and professionally trained chef turned home cook. I want to help bridge the gap between then and now in regards to The Sunday Dinner Tradition. I specialize in modern, family-style food, creating recipes using world flavors, with easy-to-access ingredients. My cooking is guided by the seasons and what is locally available. In my kitchen, home-cooked food does not have to mean complicated or laborious food, and I try to keep my recipes accessible to any level of cook.
I believe it’s time to reclaim our quality of life, to revive what is real, important, sacred, and whole. And I believe the dinner table is a great place to start.
Thank you for taking a seat here, and for joining me in this ongoing journey. I hope that sharing stories, ideas, and recipes from my table, will enable you to deepen the experiences you have at your own.
Now let’s EAT!