summertime eating

“shimmers of time”

Of all my many food memories, I most vividly remember convening on the wrap-around front porch of the Vassilaros’ summer home.

The house, a converted chicken farm and one of the few vestiges of a time before Bridgehampton was synonymous with excess, was built on coffee. The people behind the coffee are tall, tan, and Greek. They made their living roasting and selling Vassilaros & Sons coffee on just about every street corner in New York City. Although they had plenty of money, money never seemed to have them and so, while renovating the property, they glossed over details expected by the typical Upper West Side renter. The floors remained dusty stone, the upstairs bedrooms narrow and cramped. Air conditioning was never installed. 

All that’s okay though. My father and I like the windows open. So each summer, when the Vassilaros’ pack up and ship themselves off to Greece for the languid months between spring and fall, we rush right in.

The house is vast the way a labyrinth is vast. We do our best to fill it. The house likes to keep a minimum capacity of 10 and we oblige her. My dad, his wife, her family and their children, their friends, and me and my closest childhood friends. Oftentimes there are more. 

The days move in slow shimmers of time. Shadows pass across the lawn that unfurl from the front door and roll all the way down to the tall hedge which marks the increments of existing. Everything about the air and the land is rich and so full of living that I want to dive into it. Eat it the way one eats a peach. In these deeply fertile hours, it’s easy to see food as an extension of the self. What has come from the land that we share will bring us together.

In the late afternoon, the milling about slows. Bikes return from the sandy dunes of the beach and bodies materialize out of the grasses around the pool. We meet each other in the kitchen. Inevitably someone from the younger generation will put on music. This task used to fall to my friends and me, but now we find ourselves ousted by the even younger folk who we’ve just suddenly realized are driving and having sex and, disconcertingly, no longer seven-and-a-half years old. Truth be told, it doesn’t really make a difference; everyone still plays Fleetwood Mac and ends the night outside singing “Dancing In The Moonlight.”

Cooking is slow; chopping becomes more of an excuse to share the past year’s gossip than a way of getting things done. This is how we like it. My dad makes drinks on the back corner of the kitchen island as my friends and I bus around the stove and oven opposite him. By the time everything is finished and hot and heaped into massive white bowls, we are sufficiently drunk. 

We carry out the plates and arrange them along the sprawling wooden table that runs the length of the porch. Everyone who was not in the kitchen is already waiting. Then there is an almost imperceptible instance of silence. A space in which to say, “I see the community that has gathered around me.” Sometimes someone will run down to one end of the table and take a photo, those furthest away leaning all the way in so as to be seen. More often than not the moment goes uncelebrated.

It is then, after this brief pause, that the food disappears. I’ve never known exactly where it goes. Perhaps somewhere deep in the annals of my memory, there exists an entire folder dedicated to the content of these meals. But for now, all that remains is the long table with its smooth wood and flickering candlelight, fireflies just beyond the porch, and the low persistent humming of voices coming together, circling around the dishes that once served as a reason for talking.