Sunday, May 4, 2014

Dinner. (A.K.A. Delighting in Disaster)

While it is certainly improving, rare impossible is the moment in my house when everyone is simultaneously seated, still, focused, and pleasant. Evan and I wish we could have such moments, especially at meals, more often. While the blogging world seems to magnify mostly perfection and that one perfectly panached cupcake, I often wonder how often they are just displaying their one percent.  In my life, at least, that is the way it seems to be. (In case you were wondering, frosting is, in fact, my complete nemesis). Meal times certainly have their share of stress. Even when we try and calm minds with a prayer, two kids are bickering before it even begins, then admonishing at high decibels because the other feels that they did it wrong. Someone is sneaking food. Someone is sneaking boogers. We are snarking. One son is walking around the table in circles incessantly, drinks are spilled, food is spit, someone doesn't like sauce or food touching or anything green or how the chicken is cut--Oy!

Oddly, this ritual is desirable. Even when it is a mess, it is mine. After an especially intense and lengthy season of our lives with grad school and too much work, and too many late hours, I admire that we try hard to have dinner together as often as possible. (Did you know that only 28% of Americans had dinner together seven days a week in 2003?). This table, where I can look simultaneously at the three faces, who in only moments are outgrowing my lap, is my treat. These tinies are my terroir; my land and my soil.

Unsurprisingly, there may be much to be learned from how the french create and even sanctify family dinner. In French Kids Eat Everything, I love the Food Rules. In a conversation with her friend she is reminded that north americans only see food as a commodity or fuel and consume it constantly and unmindfully. They live to eat rather than eat to live. Living in it's broader and best sense, of course, means hearing, enjoying, tasting, experiencing, fellowshipping.  But, really, how probable is all that with three small children?

In the book Karen Le Billon makes the assertion that the French never eat without putting a tablecloth on the table. She describes the joy of getting the table "dressed" and says that doing so and lighting candles has a "hypnotic effect on (the children) who spoke in hushed tones throughout the entire meal." In my own house it is also true. The kids are much more eager and attentive when they get assigned to "make the table more beautiful"  If they must put the silverware on, they also love adding adornments of candles or flowers. They love making celebrations, having feasts, preparing picnics.

We have also been playing little games at the table that nurture quietness and attentiveness to the words of others. Sometimes it is "bat ears" where one person has to whisper and everyone else cups their hands over their ears facing outwards to catch the whisper. Sometimes we also play telephone, passing silly phrases from one to the next. In small ways these games help us capture little bits of silence.

I'm working harder at savoring, not scorning, all of the moments and even the mess because, as I'm also reminded while it is too easy to just see food as fuel, it is also a love story.

Lately our seeds are started and we are waiting about six more weeks for our garden to start producing. Meanwhile here's one night's worth of dinner.

  • shaved carrots
  • fried shallots  $1.00
  • mixed greens 3 cups $3.00
Roasted peppers with polenta
  • 1 red pepper $1
  • two corn cobs $2.00
  • 2 summer squash $1.50
  • 4 large carrots $1.00
  • sun dried tomato polenta make your own $0.75
  • 0.75 lbs of pecans $4.50 (Checking pine nuts in the store this week, they were up to $20/lb. The pinion trees are facing some harsh realities).
  • 6 large handfuls of basil (free from garden or indoor pots) or $4.00
  • 0.5 cups olive oil $0.50
  • 1 tbsp nutritional yeast $0.50
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
Total cost: $19.75
Price per person: $3.29

Mix pesto first by combing all ingredients in a food processor.

Shave one carrot for the light salad. Cube the remaining carrots, squash, pepper, and corn into chunks. Set broiler to low and cook pepper and corn for 7 min and squash and carrots for 15 or until they come out slightly blackened.

Dice the scallions. Next pan fry the scallions until crispy and the polenta in 1/4 inch slices for 4-5 mn each slide with pesto in pan halfway through.

Serve the pesto cold on top of the hot polenta and vegetables with the salad greens and scallions on the side.


PS: What ways have you found to make peace at your table?

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