Table Topics

Oh, hi.

I know, I know . . . it's been a while. We have, indeed, still been reclaiming Sunday supper -- two weekends ago, around a big, long table at Jolly Pumpkin Brewery with two other families on a Sunday afternoon before a treacherous drive home through the snow and ice, and last weekend, at our house with a dear family of five. I walked in the door last Sunday at 5:45 pm, straight from a four-day weekend with my best college girlfriends and an even-more-treacherous drive home through the snow and ice from Chicago, and I've never been so grateful for a warm house, a glass of wine, and a husband who cooks. 

About that weekend with my girlfriends. It was our thirteenth one, we think (the math gets a little sketchy, though there's a journal somewhere in which we try valiantly to record details every couple of years), and though getting together is a logistical nightmare every year, it's a tradition we cling to fiercely. Some years (before we began having kids -- 17 total between the six of us), we did adventurous things: whitewater rafting in West Virginia, horse races in Kentucky, hiking in North Carolina. Then we started having more kids and getting less sleep, and the last few years, our weekends have been largely about gathering somewhere (one of our houses, maybe a spot on Lake Michigan) simply to rest and connect. Some days, we struggle to get out of our pajamas before dinner. We mean to get out into the world and have adventures, but the thing is, we have so many things to say. And last weekend was no different.

We had restaurant reservations each night, sure (and I'd strongly recommend this, this, and especially this if you're hitting the Windy City soon), but, as we told the lovely woman at the front desk when we arrived at our little condo/hotel (another A+ recommendation, by the way), "All we really need is a table."

Our room wasn't quite ready yet when we arrived on Thursday, so the four of us who had driven settled down in the library. A few trashy magazines, a bottle of wine, and a long table surrounded by walls of bookshelves while the snow fell outside? We were completely happy. Later in the weekend, when our whole party of six had finally convened, we cozied up around the coffee table in our condo with oatmeal and coffee in the morning, cocktails and cheese in the evening -- one night until two in the morning.

I love that absolutely no topic is off limits, that these women have known me since I was a college freshman, that our long, tangential conversations cover everything from parenting to fashion, from careers to church, from food to dreams. Thirteen years in, we still haven't run out of things to say when we hunker down around a table. Last weekend, we toasted to that, to our smart friend the doctor who just passed her oral boards, and to not being able to keep track of the years together.

And then, bonus: walking in the door on Sunday night from a weekend around the table with my best girls, I got to glory in one more round of around-the-table talk with my family and one other. Jason had made gourmet mac and cheese (recipe from Clarkston Union), among other things, and the girls had set the table and gotten out the Table Topics. The five kids at the table took turns reading the questions, and we laughed at some answers and were sobered a little by the sweet honesty of a five-year-old, but never ran out of things to say. We got to hear each other's stories, which is what time around the table is really always about.

The Unmentionable

Two crucial ingredients for time at the table with friends (grown-up ones, at least) are a good cocktail and a great story. Our family loves the Table Topics family cube so much that I brought along a dinner party cube to Chicago for my girls' weekend. We barely used it, and that's probably because we're all so desperate to share our most inappropriate stories with one another that basic questions don't quite do the trick. But if you're around the table with someone besides your college roommates, I recommend the cube for fun conversation. And if you're looking for a good cocktail to start off your night, I recommend The Unmentionable, which I had for the first time last winter at Mani Osteria in Ann Arbor. I went back last summer, promptly ordered it again, and planted myself at the bar to watch exactly how it was made. Then I went to Art of the Table here in town to track down the ingredients so I could make as many as I wanted at home. I made a round last weekend in Chicago and nobody was disappointed.

  • 2 oz. Bulleit rye
  • 1 oz. Antica Formula (vermouth)
  • 1 oz. fresh lemon juice
  • 4-5 dashes walnut bitters
  • 1 t. apricot marmalade
  • sprig of fresh thyme and slice of lemon rind, to garnish

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Pour rye, vermouth, bitters, lemon juice, and marmalade into shaker. Cover and shake for 30 seconds, until very cold and marmalade is mixed in. Pour entire mixture (ice cubes and all) into a glass, and garnish with thyme and lemon.