In order to stay within our means, Michael has asked that I really watch the household budget and one of the major chunks of cash out-flow is eating out. So, I committed to making meals at home. Not that it's a problem; I actually enjoy cooking. What I don't enjoy is thinking up what to cook. And, the notion of planning ahead still alludes me. If someone came in each week with planned menus and had done all the ingredient securing, I'd be in hog heaven. (I've never really understood that phrase....what exactly would hog heaven look like?!)
We ate dinner every day between 4:30 and 5:00 at Nanny's house. She'd start cooking as soon as her afternoon 'stories' were over. Around 4, Dad would make the walk across Howard Street from the restaurant where he'd spent the day, first in the office taking care of the bills, then in the print room running off the menus, and followed that by his turn at the register in the packaged goods part. We ate this early to give Dad a chance to eat, relax, watch the evening news, change into a suit and go back to the restaurant to close up at night. When I was a kid, I thought everyone ate dinner that early.
I was expected to be present at dinner each night; no excuses. Occasionally, I was given permission to eat at a friend's house. As I got older, high school events would be considered. But, mostly, I was expected to work my social life around the constant of the kitchen table and time with my family.
The tradition of family meals every night and Sunday Supper with even more family gathered around is part of my Mediterranean heritage. It's a significant part of how I view myself. But, over time of living alone for many years, a hectic life full of work demands and struggles, the ritual of the evening meal became less and less practiced. Let's face it, it's so much less complicated to go out to eat. And, I never have to clean up afterward, although I will admit that Michael is very good about that...most nights he does the clean up.
This is my kitchen. I try very hard to keep it looking like this, but I'd be lying if I said it always looks this way. If we ate out all the time, it would be so much easier to keep it this clean! Our meals are always at the kitchen table. I have a very nice, intimate dining room but for some reason, even when we have company, meals are eaten here. Especially if our company is Italian as we all seem more comfortable eating in the kitchen.
The 30 minutes or so that it generally takes Michael and me to eat our supper is time for the two of us to sit in each other's space and simply be with each other. Many nights, the television is on while we dine. I don't mind as it helps Michael to decompress. We talk with each other about current events and small chat. Dogs at our feet hoping that tonight might be the night they score food from the table. It never happens but they always hope. There's absolutely no magic to the time. Or, maybe there is and it simply goes unnoticed. Maybe we should be more aware of the what it really means.
I came across a quote by Chef Mario Batali about the topic of family meals. It stuck with me when I think about the dying art of the kitchen table supper and why it concerns me: "For family meals, the schedule is as important as the discussion. It's the little things like rhythm and ritual that bring the family around the table and trigger a shift in mentality away from the guarded thought processes developed during long and stressful days. and toward the relaxed state of mind found in the safety and comfort of the family supper."
It confirms what we all know: what we eat isn't anywhere near as important as when and with whom we eat. And, I suppose we could add, 'where' to the list of important ingredients. Now days, a great deal more stressful things like figuring out the bills, or dealing with difficult topics of conversation, or work projects happen around our kitchen table rather than meals. And, that seems a shame to me.
Eating in, being with our most important people in the relaxed and familiar atmosphere of our kitchens and homes is probably one of the best things we can do for ourselves. It gives us a touch-stone of safe in a chaotic world. Trust me, I understand that it's not easy or convenient what with working full time and multiple, often conflicting, family member schedules. Combine that with the multiple choices available for carry-out and eating out. But, it seems to me that most good things in life aren't easy or convenient.
Holly aka Louisa Dituri's Granddaughter
At The Kitchen Table artwork by Michael DeBrito courtesy of the Internet