Family + food: parents visit college. Like many families, ours has a particular food culture that defines it. Food anchors us, and connects us to one another. We use mealtimes as times to have important conversations (about what we’re eating and about life), to laugh, and to simply enjoy one another.

It is Parents Weekend at our daughter’s college, Willamette University. (Shout out to a superb college: another blog posting). It’s been a wonderful, joyous, interesting – and at times, puzzling – three days. We’ve (re)connected with her on a new footing. She has changed a great deal in eight weeks, and we are meeting her as an equal who has been liviphoto(1)ng rather independently from us.

She is showing us her new community this weekend, we are meeting her friends, and getting a glimpse of the experiences and life she is creating for herself. It is a bit like standing on the deck of a rolling ship – in the best possible of ways – when the safe harbor and shore are behind you, and the horizon ahead is infinite and limitless. You are no longer the captain: that role has now been given over to your young adult, to the next generation, and you can only try to keep your footing and remain relevant in some way. (In our case, working the galley: food provisioning).

The first afternoon, we celebrated our reunion and tested new waters. We became reacquainted. Our daughter drove us through the gorgeous Willamette Valley to enjoy an afternoon snack at the Willamette Pie Company. We saved room for a patio dinner with our daughter and her roommate at Adam’s Rib in Salem. Another dinner was reserved for a new favorite, La Margarita. Each of these places evokes a place from our own community of Ventura, but each is different. An important lesson: we seek the familiar, even when we set out on new journeys.

After dinner last night, our daughter came back to our hotel room to enjoy a slice of blackout chocolate cake with vanilla bean ice cream, snuggling on the bed, reading for classes, and watching football with her dad. Dirty clothes were magically laundered and folded, and we sent her back to the campus well fed.

Sunday meals have always been an important tradition in our family. My husband cooks. Not fancy, but substantial and a big production, and always extra for my daughter’s friends, who invariably have showed up to eat. Usually while he cooks, our family congregates in the kitchen area: I write, and my daughter studies. We talk to one another. And it is perhaps on Sundays that we miss our daughter most acutely now, when the house feels quietest, and we soldier on with much smaller meals.

As we conclude this special weekend, our daughter has made a request: that her dad make Sunday dinner for she and a group of friends in the dorm kitchen. We visited the kitchen yesterday to survey the resources. No pots, no pans, an electric stove. Utilitarian: much like the kitchens we had access to when we were in college, when our Sunday dinner tradition began as young adults. We are headed out now to provision. On the menu: chili and cornbread for ten or twelve first-year college students, who are missing home and their family’s food ways.

The kitchen is off the rec room, with a TV and a ping-pong table, big comfy couches and a wonderful feel. This afternoon, on a cool, overcast Oregon day, while our daughter lounges on a couch in a gorgeous brick building that is nearly a century old, doing her homework or playing ping-pong with friends, her dad and I will be cooking chili and cornbread. The focus will be less on the quality of the food, but rather, on the opportunity to revisit a Sunday tradition with our daughter’s “new family” (her college friends), in the place she now calls home.

“A Garden for Everyone. Everyone in a Garden.”