Newsday asked readers to tell us about their traditional Sunday dinners. Here's how some families gather:
BETTY PALMER, SAYVILLE
When we were starting our family I told my husband John that I would not be making big Sunday dinners. I knew that when the kids got older, the lure of friends and a sunny day would pull them away and I'd be left with empty chairs and my tears falling in the roast beef and Yorkshire [pudding]. So we decided that summers were for barbecues, John's forte, and the cooler months were for my spaghetti and meatballs. Then one year I added a twist to it. I noticed that Ronzoni had a number on each different box of pasta shapes, so on a whim I wrote down all of the numbers and every week the kids took turns picking a number for our Sunday "spaghetti." They were thrilled when their number came up and found out what I made with it, and I had a great time finding out there was more than just meatballs out there. This Irish-English-German-American discovered cacciatore - shells - Alfredo - and all kinds of wonderful ways to make a Sunday Dinner memorable. The kids, "grown now," still reminisce about it .
MARILYN LaCORTE, CORAM
Sunday dinners in my childhood at Grandma's house are the ones I remember and cherish the most. Many of her children and their children would arrive for "dinner" at 1 p.m. Most times it was homemade macaroni (known today as pasta) with Grandma's homemade sauce made from her own preserved tomatoes. The rest of the afternoon was spent playing cards or musical instruments and at 6 p.m. someone would run out to pick up the pizza.
When we moved from around the corner from Grandma's house, my mother carried on the tradition at our home, although at times we still went to Grandma's house, too. The disadvantage to dinner in my parent's home was that it meant helping with the preparations, clearing and cleaning up, and always setting the table. At Grandma's we only had to help with the cleanup. In spite of these "disadvantages," I look back fondly on those times that we gathered with some family member or other because otherwise Sunday's were not as much fun.
After Mom passed away, Dad picked up the cause and the tradition still continues; most Sundays we still gather, often times with other family members, to enjoy Sundays at my son and daughter-in-law's home. Dinner at my son's home is a better setting especially with winter's school schedule, but to vary the theme, we will have dinner at "Mimi's" too; especially, if Monday is a holiday. So, the Sunday dinner format has been changed from Grandma's (Mimi's) house to mostly Johnny's house; and, the menu has changed, too - it's not always that Sunday is pasta day.
Most times "Mimi" (some of the times "Poppy") prepares the "catered" meal at our house. I call it catering so to speak since it is then transported over to "Johnny's" home. At times the menu is more elaborate than others but most times consist of appetizers to dessert. What will be served is usually determined after a trip to the stores Sunday morning and is dependent mostly on what looks fresh and appealing (sometimes cravings will be taken into account) or sometimes I get to make one of many special recipes that I've been wanting to try. Our dining usually begins by 4: p.m. with drinks, appetizers and conversation; that being followed by dinner, dessert, baths for the children and story time.
I try to accommodate the children's requests for "Mimi" to bring her fried broccoli, her apple pie, her special cakes or Mimi's cheese (fresh mozzarella) as well as the fresh little tomatoes (grape or otherwise) that the children enjoy. Poppy gets requests, too, for his chicken soup, shrimp scampi or chicken cacciatore. And, with due respect for my daughter-in-law's desire that they eat properly - fruit is always in addition to some other special treat (homemade pies, cakes, doughnuts, cookies and store-bought ice cream used to make sundaes, etc.) all of which contributes to making Sunday dinner family-centered and so great.
Once in while we will deviate from our regular scheme of things with some takeout food or a trip to a restaurant. When summer arrives we sometimes scale down the menu when we are off to the beach or the pool for the day. But nevertheless, something homemade and special is most times prepared for the day even if the "venue" changes due to a casual meal at a waterside eatery.
Some may consider this tradition of family dinners too much work, especially for those of us who still work a full-time job. For me, it's a labor of love. In any event, it is extremely rare that we don't spend Sundays in this way. I hope that these Sundays continue to bring us all enough joy so they will be carried on into the future in some manner or other because what better way to bond with family and forge fond memories to be cherished well into the future.
DIANE (PASTORE) QUINN, NORTH MASSAPEQUA
Is Sunday dinner just a meal or a family tradition? My family has Sunday dinner every week in my parents' North Massapequa home. It all started long ago. When I was little, my parents would put my brothers and I in our car and drive to Ozone Park, Queens. We would have dinner in the basement of my grandmother's house with all my aunts, uncles and cousins. We'd usually have two or three tables put together, and you were lucky if you didn't sit in the crack. We always used real plates, silverware and glasses, never paper products. Mind you, my grandmother had no dishwasher, so after our meal the ladies would wash everything by hand in an assembly line. My grandmother, who came to America from Abruzzi, Italy, stood all day, always cooking, never happy unless we were all eating. There was always homemade spaghetti, cookies on the stove and wine in the wine cellar. Of course as a child, I didn't think this was that big a deal, it was just dinner and everyone has dinner. But now that I'm older I realize that it was special and that not everyone had the experience of true family time.
My grandmother passed away several years ago, and my mother has carried on this tradition in her North Massapequa home. She is now the grandmother of seven, and my two brothers and I enjoy our Sundays with my parents. She always makes homemade spaghetti as the first course except for holidays, when she makes homemade ravioli, or manicotti. Next comes the meat or chicken cutlets with vegetables. The salad is always at the end of the meal. Shortly following the main course, we put out the nuts and fruit on the table until dessert time. During this time the ladies clear the table and wash all the pots in the kitchen. She has a dishwasher for the plates, silverware and glasses. When the kids hear, "time for coffee" they bolt from wherever they were playing to the dining room. They know that coffee time is dessert time. There's always a selection of cookies, pies and cakes. My mother makes the same cookies my grandmother did and they are the best ever! After dessert, the ladies usually play Scrabble while the men watch some sporting event in the den. All the kids love to go to grandma's house to play all day with their cousins. I know they are going to have tons of fond memories to cherish when they can understand how lucky they were growing up with the tradition of "Sunday Dinner".
Sunday dinner is not about the food, but the food is awesome.
DIANE FEYRER, GARDEN CITY
There is not a week that goes by that one of my two children doesn't ask by Wednesday or Thursday, "Where is 'Sunday Dinner' this week"? It's a tradition and expectation they were born into, a comforting ritual to start (or end?) their week.
We didn't start as a big family. It was just me and my two brothers, one older, one younger, in our little cape in West Hempstead. My Dad was an only child and my Mom had one brother, who was mostly AWOL and had no children, so no first cousins to speak of. But most Sundays growing up, my two sets of grandparents would take the LIRR out "to the Island" from Brooklyn each Sunday for our weekly meal together. My Grandma Rosie, Dad's mom whose mother came from Italy as a young girl, was the mistress of the kitchen. As the only granddaughter, I was right by her side up to my elbows in flour kneading dough for pizza, stuffing the manicotti, or rolling the famous meatballs.
The years went by, each of my grandparents sadly passed away, but some semblance of a Sunday dinner remained. My Dad took over the kitchen (Mom always helped fry the meatballs, but was mostly relegated to weeknight meals). Then my brothers and I went off to college, lived in different parts of the country, and me even in Europe for a time, but we all came back. Each of us now lives in Garden City with our own families, all within a mile of each other. So the Sunday dinner ritual continues.
It's a shared effort now, we rotate each Sunday. Each home has its own flavors and touch. My older brother sticks with the Italian table, his sauce is delicious and his chicken Parmesan and linguine with clam sauce are often requested. My younger brother's wife is from Georgia. She always steps up with something new and scrumptious, everything from short ribs to enchiladas. I am quite famous for my osso bucco, making the trek each fall to Arthur Avenue to one particular butcher to get my veal shank. I always make it the day before and let it braise for hours. It tastes better that way. My Dad, of course, keeps rolling those famous meatballs at his house, now known affectionately as "Grandpa's meatballs." He stuffs them with raisins, and anyone who has had them will tell you they are to die for. My mother-in-law (sometimes at our Sunday table) claims they "float off the plate".
So who is at our Sunday table? My husband and I; our 15-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter; my older brother and his two grown daughters and their boyfriends or roommates; his teenage son and his soon-to-be-wife with three young daughters; my younger brother, his wife and daughter; any given week, a mother and father-in-law; brother and sister-in-law; a childhood friend or two or a neighbor. Word has spread and everyone wants in on our Sunday dinner.
We didn't start as a big family, but now Sunday dinner is usually 20 or more. We live close enough to go borrow another folding chair if someone new walks through the door. There is always enough food, and containers for leftovers for Monday's dinner, if you're lucky. Is it just about the food though? I don't think so. Sunday dinner is where new boyfriends or girlfriends are evaluated; the kids share their awards and accomplishments of the week; and where Grandma and Grandpa reign supreme and share their stories and values with the next generation. Where is Sunday Dinner? I'm not telling.