A Belated Sunday Opinion: The Dinner Table

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.


  1. Marianna is indeed special. Her cooking and love for her company are done from pure unadulterated love and caring. Who else would go to five markets….miles apart…to buy the perfect eggplant? Once you buy it you must prepare it!!!! She is truly amazing. Everything was very special.

  2. What a beautiful story! I love Armenian food, they use the freshest ingredients and many spices. I believe that the dinner was extraordinary interesting -food mixed with history. Thanks for telling about Detroit. How interesting! Great post! I hope my boys will remember my Russian cooking. I am not a great cook, but they love several Russian dishes I prepare from time to time. Your story is very inspiring. Thank you!

  3. Obviously, her children miss the dinner because she cooks for the joy of it — not because she “expects” them to show up for a joyless meal.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Helen, I think her kids idea of family life is intimately associated with the dinner table-just like hers was when she was a child. This is how she raised them. Family is an umbrella under which any member can get out of the rain-and have a great meal, and great conversation; she saw to that. She does cook for the joy of it-you put it well. She does a lot of things for the joy of it. She got interested in country music in the past year or two-how did she put that? Country music has changed my life; she said. She set me to thinking-what has changed my life? Deborah

  4. I do believe this blog has changed your life; it has certainly changed and enriched my life. I can hardly wait for the next entry. I have learned a lot from you….about gardening and about life….and about you.

  5. Jeff Bowes says

    Dear Deborah,

    Very nicely written. I enjoyed reading it….my mouth began watering as I enjoy Greek, Armenian and Middle Eastern cooking. My wife’s grandmother was from the Macedonian area. So she has a few old world recipes she enjoys cooking. More importantly, I was heartened by the reference to, and the support for “the greening of Detroit”. I think it is a great idea! Hoepfully, it will gain support and momentum. Additionally, I believe it would be great for you to be involved it that! You have become one of the best at what you do. As you said the other day…..”you were raised in Detroit and used to ride your bike to Hudsons and felt perfectly safe doing so”. I hope and pray those days may one day return to the City of Detroit.

    I have the issue of TIME that I mentioned to you the other day. The cover story is entitled “The Tragedy of Detroit”….How a great city fell and can rise again. I will pass it along to you when some of my staff is finished reading it. The article makes reference to the very issue of making garden plots within the cities neighborhoods. It is a sobering article, but one that I believe may help turn our town around! I think you will appreciate it.

    Thanks again for sending your blog. Well done!


  6. Thanks, that was very interesting. Actually,I was born in Russia in 1967 but my parents fled and settled here in England. Truthfully, I didnt really care much about my russian heritage until my mother died recently, now I’ve been trying to find out as much as I possibly can. Seemed like food was as good a place as any to start from! You dont generally hear much about russian cooking do you? Anyway, I found a lot of russian recipes here that your readers might be interested in too.

Leave a Comment