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Are You Hungry?

A True Italian Dinner
Family Dinner in Italy at Chef Brendon's Grandfather's Cousin's Home

It’s loud. There’s food for days on the thoughtfully arranged table. As many opinionated, heated discussions as warm expressions of affection hang in the air. Chaos and laughter. Are you hungry? “Mangia! Mangia!” “Grab a seat, make room! We can fit, just squeeze in!” “I’m so glad you brought a friend! {Nonna’s kisses on both cheeks and real hugs take the friend by surprise} Who is this gorgeous friend and do they want some bucatini all’amatriciana?” “Here -- try my caprese, everyone loves caprese!” “I’ve been simmering this sauce all day. Don’t forget the salad! More bread? You look thin, of course you need more bread, I won’t take no for an answer!” “So tell me about school! Who is this boy? Does he have a good family? You should bring him next time!” “Oh, listen to your uncle singing again.” “Pass the vino!” “Let me tell you about the time…”

Ahhh, the traditional Italian Sunday Dinner known for generations!

Italian Caprese Salad with Fresh Mozzarella
Caprese created for a Liliahna's Catered Event

Our Sunday dinners rarely replicate the magical conviviality of Nonna’s fame in the scene above. Being on the field watching soccer games on Sunday tie up some of our time in the kitchen. As for most of our weeknight dinners, everyone is going in different directions. Practice means dinner in the car (an egregious American phenomenon); dance rehearsal means reheating leftovers upon arriving home. “I’m coming to eat in a second!”... after one more work email or when the school project is finished. Not every dish holds well until folks finally make it to the kitchen. It’s definitely not as simple as when I could put a homemade lasagna on the table to please all five of us at a normal dinner hour. I guess I took some things for granted about ages four, six, and eight versus having teens...even if I had to do more mopping of the floor after meals!

Surprisingly, I have made a four course meal and no one is here to eat it. Papa is stuck working late, one daughter went to a friend’s house, and the other decided to just grab a protein bar and head to the gym. Besides, someone is always on a diet or picky. “I don’t eat meat anymore or anything that has touched it.” {Grimace} I’ll admit trying to get the five of us at the table for a meal and conversation is like trying to herd cats. I throw my hands up and decide to forever give up on trying to cook and please each particular palate, let alone to suit the conflicting schedules. Our extended family is out of state, and I can’t count how many times I’ve lamented that we can’t just pop across town to have dinner with siblings, cousins, parents, or grandparents.

Family Dinner Catered by the Liliahna Team

But, perhaps -- most insidious of all -- even if we are all home, everyone grabs a plate and retreats to their own corner to stare at a screen. Eating with a phone, device, or TV appears much more interesting (or maybe easier) than interacting over a nice meal. Is the mealtime bickering and drama worth the hope of reconnecting? We are losing time, traditions, and relationship. All that we are missing hurts my heart! I love these dear people and want to relish every moment before my three teens fly from the nest. And so I continue to ask my family as I ask you: Are you hungry?

I believe humans are hungrier now more than ever...for positive familial connection, unconditional acceptance, and authentic conversation. The most filling meals feed your soul AND your belly. Nothing replaces the wafting aroma of home-cooked food greeting you upon arrival! Being welcomed by name with hugs and kisses (or cheers), even if we protest the momentary invasion of personal space. How I enjoy little bites of cheese, bread, meat, and olives while new and familiar faces gather! The glasses are continuously filled. A neighbor pops in. Dishes keep coming and the intense conversation flowing like the wine momentarily distracts you from the delicious food. The relationship squabbles and stress of the week are let go because: FAMILY. Plates are piled high, another mouthful here and there as you graze and talk, thankful you wore your stretchy pants (or mentally note to wear them for next time). The “carb-free” cousin is now on her third plate of pasta and you.don’t.say.a.word. You can’t possibly eat another bite, but yet you don’t want to offend the host, so you find room for that glorious tiramisu dessert. They’re passing the new baby and passionately debating how young is too young to have a taste of gelato or cake. Mom squeezes your hand as Grandpa starts that same old story and you’re tempted to roll your eyes until

*wham, you remember* how much you missed all this while you were away.

These are the memories that cause a lump in my throat when I am eating a particular food that brings this moment back to life. The tears well up before I even realize why. I have to stop just then to allow myself to revel in the nostalgia for a second. Reminiscing over photo albums that transport us back in time to the good old days with family will also get you right in the heart. How will we have these memories to get us through the trying times and for future generations if we never stop and create them?

I think this is why we are still hungry; a fast food meal alone in the car will never quite satisfy in the way this genuine interaction feeds our soul. We hunger for more!

The Germans call it gemütlichkeit, the Danish hygge, the Bulgarian уют...

Gemütlichkeit (German pronunciation: [ɡəˈmyːtlɪçkaɪt] is a German-language word used to convey the idea of a state or feeling of warmth, friendliness, and good cheer. Other qualities encompassed by the term include coziness, peace of mind, and a sense of belonging and well-being springing from social acceptance. (from Wikipedia)

The Romance languages with Latin roots (including Italian) don’t have a single word for this amazing feeling. Chesterton said it was most exemplified in a biergarten (yes, a family outing in Germany) and I very much agree with that from personal experience. Gemütlichkeit is the best word I can think of to encapsulate all the happy feelings associated with a great get-together where you know you are welcomed, known, accepted, and loved. Oh, and fed, which might even be secondary. I'll bet we are all hungry for more of that!

Italian Sunday Dinner Ideas:

Theme: To get a feel, enjoy this Italian American reminiscing!

Time: Five Courses Starting at 2:00 or 3:00 pm going as late as 8 pm (or whenever everyone has finished gabbing). Dinner in this instance is actually the midday meal and can start as early as after church at noon. People may arrive leisurely as there is no fixed start time. Unless you've invited Germans who will be early, which is actually on time for them. Just tell them a later start time, ha! Leave out some munchies such as grissini and salami for guests who arrive before the main dishes are ready.

Atmosphere: Play some sentimental Italian music and leave the television off, if possible. Tell the kids it's a device-free zone and pull out playdough, puzzles, and games -- or even better, teach them your family recipes and traditions by getting them in the kitchen with you. Leave phones in a basket by the front door with a sign stating your tech etiquette policy. Nonna is a great enforcer when violators get kitchen cleanup duty! Assign one person to snap a few key photos, but be in the moment and upload later. I’m sure sports fans will figure out how to keep up with the soccer game on their own. And prepare for the guys to carry on like this.

Table: The goal is to have everyone together. If you have a dining room table for 24, by all means use it. If not, grab whatever tables and chairs work (folding, card, patio, kids’) and use the same color tablecloths on them for uniformity. Be sure to enlist the help of the children for the table arranging and setting. Pull out the good china because any time family is together is cause for celebration in my book! But if you need a shortcut and won’t have time for the dish washing, no one really minds eating with disposables. Amazon and Sam’s Club have affordable disposable (and reusable/recyclable) plates and cutlery that appear to be china, glass, and silver at first glance. If you’d like a good laugh over working out seating arrangements that remind me of the way my German New Yorker family can be, get a load of this.

Food: What to serve if you want to be traditional? Review details of Aperitivo, Antipasti, Primi, Secondi, Contorni, Insalata, Formaggi e Frutta, Dolce, Caffe, & Digestivo Courses here. Don't forget wine!


Ask for everyone to bring a dish so hosting isn’t as stressful. Here are some authentic recipe ideas to share with your guests, such as Braciole and “Italian Gravy” Ragù.


The focus is on family and togetherness! You don’t have to make homemade pasta every time. Leave the hard work to professionals and order carry-out sandwiches and salad from Three Dog Deli. If you’re looking for an upscale, luxurious option to seriously impress, you can always hire Chef Brendon of Liliahna to come to you. Then you just tidy up, set the table, invite the famiglia, and have more time to enjoy the gemütlichkeit with your guests.

A family-style Italian spread inspired by a client's grandmother, by the Liliahna catering team

To full bellies and full hearts: la famiglia e tutto!

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