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Liz Neumark Headshot

Where The Wild Things Are

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Everyone will have a Super Bowl tale to tell. Mine is simple. It the annual Vilda Chaya gathering at our house, a tradition started several years ago when Sam began to invite his buddies over to watch the game.

A son, following 2 daughters, and this testosterone-in-training gathering has tested our ability to embrace the male spirit with the same understanding and joy with which we enjoyed the gathering of little girls. Hence the term - Vilda Chaya's - loosely translated from Yiddish as The Wild Things. "Let the wild rumpus begin."

In the early years, the game watching was superficial, and the party swiftly degenerated into a ruckus play date, after which we picked up the shambles of Sam's room. Food was never a big deal - fruit, veggies, chips, a little protein and LOTS of soda, in our otherwise soda free house.

There is always a guest of honor, my dad, who miraculously, anticipates this gathering with great humor. At 82 this past November, he still traverses Central Park from west to east to sit in his designated chair with the best view of the screen. I imagine his perspective on the party is tempered with a knowledge we cannot yet understand. I am very appreciative of his willingness to reign over the gathering and of my son's insistence that Gramps be present. Perhaps my dad has learned to savor these fleeting moments, regardless of the decibel or the clean up.

Over the years, the make-up of the group has changed slightly. About 2 years ago, one or 2 female classmates infiltrated the guest list. Their presence signaled a slight change in the male game watching habits, from spontaneous wrestling to more controlled behavior. And as the boys have matured, their appreciation for the commercials has grown. Naturally, their armchair/couch side quarterbacking skills emerged as well and the discussion of strategy has become increasingly sophisticated.

This year, I am told there are no girls coming. Apparently, a female classmate in CT is holding a party and the boys are not invited. I am delighted, as I have come to anticipate this day as my homage to male ritual bonding - something that I do not do often in my female dominated lifestyle.

You might think that our house is the Super Bowl Mecca because of our technology or giant screen TV. Quite to the contrary, we have the oldest and possibly smallest screen on the Upper East Side. In fact, it is in the weeks leading up to the game that I seriously contemplate upgrading all the electronics associated with game watching. (The other 350 days of the year I fantasize about getting rid of every TV in the house.)

Sam spent 5 weeks this summer working for Great Performances. He worked in the warehouse, on trucks, at special events and rotated through several of our cafes, learning the art of service and hospitality. Needless to say, it has been in his genes long before that. He has got the 'touch' - a sense of appreciation for the logistics of an event.

Last week, we sat one night and crafted a menu - filled with typical game watching items (wings, fried chicken, ribs). Sunday morning, he reconfigured the family room/dining area to accommodate seating needs while providing access to the buffet and beverage station. A true host, he also identified special diets which include vegetarian and gluten free meals. Featured prominently in the menu are Katchkie Farm products - notably the Salsa, Salsa Verde and Bob-B-Que Sauce, as well as Katchkie Ketchup and some micro greens in the salad. (After all, he is the Katchkie behind Katchkie Farm - another nod to the indispensable Yiddish language.) And he knows that it is all about eating local!

I ask him about the small screen, other game watching possibilities and why all his buddies end up here. He pauses thoughtfully, smiles and looks at me knowingly - "Ma, we have the best food."

Say no more, I am hooked. The next several hours of my Sunday will be spent cooking, frying, roasting and baking. Ronnie Davis, my co-worker and rib-roasting consultant, chided me last night - You have a kitchen full of cooks who can do all this for you. Not for all the tea in china - this gig is a true labor of love.

And on the subject of love, and the fleeting moments when a gang of 14/15-year-old boys will relax and be themselves in our presence - Sam has a hickey on his neck (apparently acquired last night at the high school dance.) He announced this afternoon, after I noticed it, that he has a girlfriend. She is the hostess of the Connecticut girl's party. I wonder how the food is there. Can her mother cook like I can?

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