D The thing that makes a dinner, a lunch date, or a rich and creamy chocolate pots de créme even richer is good conversation.
People loved coming to my house for dinner growing up. The food was naturally delicious, probably the best food in the neighborhood or even that part of town. But the reason people kept coming back was for wild conversation that was enticing, loud, and always a surprise. How couldn’t it be?
There was always someone new at the table, and it often became “dinner and a show.” I took the “my big fat Italian dinner table” theatrics for granted because I didn’t know any better. I never ate at anyone’s else’s house because, frankly, the food wouldn’t be good. But, don’t think of us as Jersey Shore Italians. That’s not where I’m from and there was no accent, cheesy jewelry, extreme big hair or gum chewing.
While there were one or two instances of some tables being turned, I was taught to have great table manners and social graces. But, that doesn’t mean we were quietly agreeable. We were defined by irresistible food and dramatic expression, and this might be why a family of four fed up to ten people on any given night.
The Dinner Conversation
And, this is how I turn to the NOT Guilty verdict. There is no doubt that if today’s news was featured back at the dinner table, it would be chopped, sliced and diced a million ways in two different languages. Retro Rose would start it with “how the F did she get off? (Okay, maybe RR is a little Jersey Shore). My grandmother would have a stack of National Enquirers by her bed stand. She would have called her opinion in to talk radio, which she frequently did, and she would be calling the defendant “putana.” My aunt would start speaking Italian in a soft whisper that would be get louder and louder. How could anyone kill their LITTLE GIRL? And, then right in the middle of this, they would talk about which lawyer was more handsome and why can’t those “americana” female lawyers go get their hair done? Then they would compare one of the female defense attorneys to the next store neighbor who didn’t know how to dress. I never said they were fair or always nice, just lively.
And, don’t let me start on how they might regard the jury’s decision.
The jury declared the defendant NOT GUILTY, and it looks like the case is closed and the legal system has demonstrated itself legal, not necessarily just. And, we’ve heard how this is the best country in the world, because we are innocent until proven guilty and if we don’t feel the case is proven, a jury of our peers can legally set a murderer free.
I would be a teenager who would mostly listen to everyone first and I would ponder the act of child murder. How does one get to that point of harming the innocent? I would be stunned, heart broken and deeply petrified inside, having narrowly escaped some harrowing times myself with a divorced parents and dreadful babysitters. Putting that all to the past, I would wake up at the table and go on the attack.
“She is guilty, guilty, guilty and the jury is stupid. People don’t care about children. The world, the justice system, the American family make no sense to me. “ (Teen-age girls are dramatic).
And, then I would wait for more reaction. As long as the “evil” was condemned at the table, I would be satisfied. But, if one person had said what I’m hearing today, “the prosecution didn’t prove their case,” I may have had to start a scene. At 17 years old, I had had enough bad surprises. I didn’t yet have my education in clinical psychology, nor had I made my peace with God.
My reactions would have been guttural, raw, loud and firm taking no prisoners if I saw even a hint of covering up a child’s murder.
I was vigilant in studying people and I would be assessing every gesture and word to see who might have it in them to side with a murderer. (In all honesty, I’ve pretty much have acted the same this week).
Once my family and any number of friends got their say, the conversation could easily turn from condemning the murderer to commenting on how pretty she was and why the hell didn’t someone cut her hair and put a decent blouse on her, that murdering putana. And, then my grandmother (a hair salon owner and health advocate) would remark that she wasn’t eating good in jail. She could tell by her hair and skin. And, then we would hear a dissertation on the junk diet in America, which is another topic for another day.
The dinner table was a safe place for this kind of acting out, intense debate, and opining with gusto. Dramatic statements were allowed, encouraged, actually demanded. It was the only “healthy” argument my family knew how to have and I use the term family loosely because there would be just as many non-relatives sitting there.
Discussion was sweetened by good food. It was my favorite hour of the day, the only safe and predictable time. One might say we were our own kind of dysfunctional family, but it was the kind of dinner table everyone wanted to have a seat at.
The Chocolate Pots de Creme
A sure fire way to sweeten the pot during a feisty dinner conversation is to serve these adorable espresso cups filled with baked chocolate custard known as Pots de Creme. I came to make these merely because I had made cherry tarts for July 4th and I had 4 egg yolks left over.
I knew I was having company the next day for homemade pizza and experience has taught me that you do not want to serve anything pie, cake or cookie following pizza, but people usually want to taste a bit of chocolate. Now I only wish you could have been at that particular dinner because the conversation was more than juicy and went way later than anyone planned, with a promise to be continued.
Tell me, now what kind of dinner conversation did you have growing up?
- 3 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
- ¾ cup heavy cream
- ¾ cup whole milk
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 4 egg yolks
- Optional splash of liquor
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
- Melt chocolate with ½ cup cream, over simmering water. Remove from heat.
- Warm remaining milk and cream with sugar just until sugar is melted.
- Whisk yolks and slowly stir into this milk mixture.
- Set melted chocolate mixture in bowl.
- Using a mesh sieve, pour yolks through into the melted chocolate mixture and combine. Optionally at this point, you could stir in a splash of liquor.
- Pour into 4 ramekins or little espresso cups. Place in baking dish, and bring water up to ½ inch from top.
- Bake for 45 minutes if using 4 ramekins, 40 minutes if using espresso cups.
- Serve warm with whipped cream, or refrigerate and serve cold. You can make this the day before.