From dinner parties to food shoots to hurricane flooding, this is the story of a wooden table and her globetrotting lifestyle.
More than 25 years ago, my Cherrywood table was born in the workshop of a carpenter in Amsterdam’s vibrant neighborhood De Pijp. She beamed in all her buffed Cherrywood glory when, once home, she felt herself embraced by the colorful warmth of six Arne Jacobsen butterfly chairs.
In her life as a dining table she received countless guests at her edges, soaking up sauces and wines spilled in her veins.
But to me, she’s always been so much more than a dining table. We were globetrotters together, survived a major flood together. We even worked together: She as surface, me styling stuff on top of her for photo shoots; she as desk support, me resting my elbows thinking about the next lines to write.
We left The Netherlands together in 1998, me on a one-way plane ticket to New Orleans, LA. and my Cherrywood table followed in a 20-foot shipping container. I already knew where she would be when she arrived: in a large, light and bright room with a view of one of Uptown New Orleans beautiful tree-lined and cottage-dotted streets.
Weekly, I dressed her with plates and silverware and glasses for a convivial night of food and wine. For six years, she adorned that room—and I adored seeing her beam like that. Literally: There was always light falling on her reddish dark surface, making her look so good.
Until the job that got us to New Orleans changed, and we were headed to Cairo, Egypt—minus my Cherrywood table. She was headed back to Amsterdam—along with her colorful companion chairs—to what was now our ‘pied-a-terre’ on the short Cairo-Amsterdam hop. Had I known that our next decision would be to sell the flat and put its valuable contents in storage, I most likely would have reconsidered. You see, ‘for the time being’ turned into years. And as we moved from Egypt to Malaysia, and from Malaysia to Dubai, my Cherrywood table sat all alone in the dark confines of storage.
It wasn’t until we moved to Houston in 2013 that finally, after ten long years, my Cherrywood table and I were reunited. Once again, she became the focal feature of my life at home. More so than ever before, in fact. In those four years at Herdsman, as we called our place in Houston, she got quite good at multitasking. She was a dining table once more yet seamlessly, she alternated between her other roles. She transformed into a wine tasting table so easily. She was the perfect dark-wood background for food styled to appear in a photograph for Edible Houston magazine. She was my trusted work desk, her smooth edges comfortable enough to rest my wrists.
The fabulous @JennDuncanPhoto at work
styled for shoot
recovered after flood
after Harvey’s devastating floods
But then, disaster struck on August 28, 2017. Hurricane Harvey churned above Houston long enough to cause massive, widespread flooding. We did not escape the muddy flow of bayou water and neither did my beautiful Cherrywood table. As we were boated out of the area to safety, she disappeared under four feet of filthy flood water.
Two weeks later, when finally the water receded, I found her covered in mud, her gorgeous features disturbed, and her reddish brown complexion now a sickly grey. Toxic mold, it was said, was a risk not worth taking. Yet, I couldn’t bear it to follow common sense and discard her. She was too precious to me. I searched and researched and ended up following guidelines to wash her with a vinegar and water solution, over and over, week in, week out. I scrubbed her vigorously, all over. A whole month of vinegar washing went by before I switch to oiling, and oiling again.
We moved to a new neighborhood. My Cherrywood table came along, of course, but she needed more time outside for a total cleanse. And so, she sat on the patio, flanked by wicker chairs. At night, candles in storm glass holders cast a warm light across her less-and-less sickly complexion. As seasons came and went, yellow oak pollen stuck to her; heavy rains lashed her; neighborhood cats left paw marks on her. Remarkably, summer heat never seemed to bother her.
Early in 2020, once more change was on the horizon for us. I looked at our Cherrywood table. Where should she go? To our house in Canada? Back to the Netherlands? Stay? We are still debating a similar decision, for ourselves. But for her, my beautiful Cherrywood table, the decision was made early on. She would head to a well-deserved room with a view, one where she would experience spring awakening, summer warmth, fall colors and a wonderland of winter.
As we emptied our house in Houston, she left in a moving truck, to our cottage in the Laurentian mountains. Buffed back to her original Cherrywood glory, she’s in a beautiful spot with an unbeatable view.
Here’s a quick selection of recipes shot on the cherrywood table and published in Edible Houston magazine.
Court-Bouillon Noodle Soup The base of this noodle soup is a light court-bouillon (literally a ‘quick’ stock) for which I used lemon grass, makrut leaf, a fresh red chili and salt. Bring to a boil, simmer for 10 minutes et voila. Replace the egg with soft tofu (poached quickly in the same court-boullion) for a vegan version.
Fall Tomato Shakshuka Eggs cooked in a spicy, fragrant fresh tomato sauce. Make this hearty, nourishing breakfast (‘all-day’ of course) in individual cocottes or in a family-style oven-proof dish.
Rainbow Carrot Tarte Tatin . Upside-down savory carrot tart. Yep, another delicious thing to do with those beautiful seasonal carrots.