The Family Dinner Project

I was in high school when I got my first taste of Amy Tan's writing, and it came in the form of her short story "Fish Cheeks." With just eight short paragraphs she brought tears to my eyes, and I still read it at least once or twice every year around the holidays (often out loud, to anyone who will listen).

The two of us have obviously come from different backgrounds, but there was something in Tan's story that I identified with deeply when I first read it--it was the image of her mother in the kitchen, surrounded by piles of food, outdoing herself once again. So much of who I am is based around food, as well as the fact that for so long, my mom was the one cooking it.

Her father, my grandfather Albino, was a terrific cook, and my dad tells the story of going over to their house in California and being totally unprepared for the number of dishes presented to him at dinner. My mom takes after Albino in that way, genuinely asking "Is this enough for three people?" as she gestures to five bottles of wine or a humorously large flank steak. Our friends know not to eat before coming over for a visit.

My brother and I are each decent cooks, both self-taught and passionate, but Sean takes after our grandfather the most. Maybe it's their shared name--with a middle name like Albino, Sean was always going to be an adventurous soul. Either way, the two of us have always been close friends, and so many of my favorite family memories revolve around food.

As Thanksgiving draws near, I can't help but think of the traditions that Rob and I will continue one day when we have our own children, or the new ones that will happen without us even realizing it over the years--like the Thanksgiving 5K race downtown that morning, marinated cheese, or bright red Cosmopolitans with the neighbors before an enormous dinner.

I fell in love with the minister’s son the winter I turned fourteen. He was not Chinese, but as white as Mary in the manger. For Christmas I prayed for this blond-haired boy, Robert, and a slim new American nose.

When I found out that my parents had invited the minister’s family over for Christmas Eve dinner, I cried...What terrible disappointment would he feel upon seeing not a roasted turkey and sweet potatoes but Chinese food?

On Christmas Eve I saw that my mother had outdone herself in creating a strange menu...

...It wasn’t until many years later—long after I had gotten over my crush on Robert—that I was able to fully appreciate her lesson and the true purpose behind our particular menu. For Christmas Eve that year, she had chosen all my favorite foods.
— Amy Tan, "Fish Cheeks"

This post is brought to you in partnership with The Family Dinner Project, whose mission is to inspire families to enjoy food, fun, and conversation together.

The Family Dinner Project is honoring Giving Tuesday (December 2) and the holiday season by inspiring dinner-oriented acts of giving: to participate, simply snap a dinner/giving-related photo and share it via Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #familydinnerforward between December 2-16. You can share as many photos as you like, and all photos with the tag will be entered to win prizes from Lenox. Learn more here.

Photos by Sarah Gatrell of Photo + Love.