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Communion at the dinner table

Emilie Ng  |  08 August 2019

In her first year of motherhood, Emilie Ng has discovered the importance of dinner time for families.

For the first time since arriving home from the hospital, my baby was asleep for longer than five minutes.

At this point, most mums would creep away slowly then pass out on their own bed (if they make it that far). I, on the other hand, made cheese.

It’s not that I didn’t need the extra sleep – the dark circles under my eyes would have told you otherwise - but when your baby has the decency to let you sleep for 10 hours overnight, a midday nap just seems indulgent.

So instead I slaved over a hot stove for four hours to produce a small bowl of ricotta cheese. The baby did wake up halfway through the cook so I rocked her in one arm while swirling the curds and whey with the other. By the time dinner was ready at 9pm, we were eating a lasagne worthy of a spoon tap from Matt Preston.

My husband finds it hard to justify all this, given the pleasure of eating rarely lasts more than 10 minutes (and how after most occasions I leave him with an entire sink full of pots and wooden spoons). The answer I give him is always the same – preparing a meal is not a chore, but an attempt to heighten our communion as a family. Just as God never intended for man to be alone, I’m pretty sure he didn’t want us to eat on our own, either.

In the same way the Eucharist, which Catholics believe to be a meal and a sacrifice, is the centre of the Church, I believe food – which often comes in the form of a meal and contains many, many sacrifices for the cook – is the centre of the Domestic Church.

And it’s not just the practice of eating that unites the family; preparing a delicious dish together is just as important.

I remember my dad and I used to pitch in making homemade roti to wrap around mum’s Mauritian curries. Dad would roll out perfectly round pieces of flatbread while I could only muster up a version of Australia in sticky dough form.

Roti wasn’t the only food we learnt how to make. We were taught how to fold wontons, how to use a pasta machine to make birthday noodles, which vegetables in the garden were edible, how to fry a perfect fluffy egg in a wok, and how to create the most delicious curry powder from scratch. Even my grandfather taught me how to wash and cut that ancient Chinese delicacy that makes most Westerners run for the bathroom, the century egg.

Even though, during all these practices, us family members weren’t having profound conversations, simply doing it together had a deep impact on my understanding of family and nurtured greater respect, admiration and affection for my parents. Because not only did they make sure we had enough nutrients to help us grow healthy and strong, they wanted to spend time with us creating an experience that we would all share.

For nearly one year, I’ve had the privilege of being the food provider for my precious first child. From day one I’ve given our baby food created by my own body. I’m not only nourishing my baby’s body, but I’m spending quality time getting to know the unique person directly on my bare skin.

I’ve spent more than six months mixing all sorts of foods into unidentifiable purees and had the pleasure of watching most of it drop on the floor during meal times.

But I can’t wait for the day that I get to share the knowledge and experience I had as a child with my child, knowing that the food we create will not only keep our bellies satisfied, but help us grow in communion and love with each other.


Topic tags: thecatholictradition, familylife, catholicsocialteaching

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