Mariana Sneideraitis is one of those clients who over the years, has become a friend. Buck and I were invited last night for the first time to a dinner party at her house. As I had spent a long Sunday designing and drawing for a presentation I will make today, I was so looking forward to it. She has an incredible enthusiasm for her life; her family, her friends, her garden, travel-and for cooking.
The menu was not just about the food. It was about the food she had grown up with, and learned to cook from her parents, and grandparents. She explained how at a certain point she would watch her Baboo prepare a dish, with measuring cups and spoons in hand, so she could write down the recipe he put together by eye and instinct. She explained that the Armenian cooking she grew up with was much influenced by Greek, and Middle Eastern cooking. Thus she shops different markets for what specialty ingredients they carry; it took five stops before she bought just exactly the size eggplant she wanted for last night. When I asked at what point she would have given up looking , she replied, “probably never”; I admire that kind of determination in a person. Her family life revolved around the dinner table, in a way not so different than my own. You learned about your roots, about how to carry on a conversation, you discussed school, friends, and important decisions. At one point she made a toast about how pleased she was for the company of her friends, sharing a dinner, friendship, and conversation, around her dining room table; clearly her expression was sincere and intense.
So why would I, who thinks about gardening and more gardening, be writing about her cooking and this dinner? Guernica Magazine published an article recently by Mark Dowie, entitled “Food Among the Ruins”; the opening sentence – “Were I an aspiring farmer in search of fertile land to buy and plow, I would seriously consider moving to Detroit.” What an astonishing statement. He explains that Detroit has no grocery stores whatsoever. No Krogers or Meijers. Not a WalMart, or a Costco. Some 80% of all people in Detroit buy their groceries from party stores, gas stations, convenience stores, and the like. As Detroit was originally built on farm land, he goes on to suggest that Detroit might remake itself into an agricultural city, that could feed its own. Urban farming-the stuff that the Greening of Detroit has devoted itself to for the past 20 years. It is an astonishing and provocative proposal; read it if you like at www.guernicamag.com/spotlight/1182/food_among_the_ruins/
If what Mariana so genuinely believes, about the importance of the dinner table in providing an essential forum for the development of sound families, and lasting friendships, then perhaps Mr. Dowie’s proposal has more than just a little merit. Marianna has absorbed and continues to live with her version of what her parents and grandparents taught her. She has passed that on to her children. Her kids, now 25 and 27, were disappointed that they would not be having Sunday night dinner with her last night. That sense of loss they felt, came from her. I myself was an appreciative beneficiary of the truly fabulous food, the story of how and what she cooks, the lively conversation and exchange between friends. I could no more cook a Pavlova for dessert than I could fly to the moon, but I can cook up good dirt, water in new trees, and improvise on my design recipes in search of a satisfying visual feast. Mariana sent me home with the notion that what I do might actually make a difference in the big scheme of things. Thanks a million for feeding me, Sneideraitis.