Today is Family Day where I live. A long weekend, a chance for families to spend some time together. Not the Spring Break-kind of vacation time, but perhaps a chance to see a movie, or make a trip to the ski hill (there is still snow up there although not much left in town). If people can manage to arrange their busy schedules to make quality time happen, I’m all for that.
In our house, the easiest way to make quality time is to set the table. Does that sound old-fashioned and corny?
We are passionate about food in all its forms – growing it, cooking it and eating it. That too is weird for lots of people, I realize. What can I say? I was brought up in a house where meal time was important and where a nice meal was a big deal. Everyday meals were not to be taken lightly either.
Growing up I didn’t think of us as not having much, but according to my parents there were times when things were tight. I loved Tuna Casserole and shepherd’s pie for dinner, so what did I know?
I don’t think I realized tuna could be eaten another way than from a can until I was much older, and I thought everyone made shepherd’s pie in their electric frying pan just like my mom. Seasoning was what counted, and she knew how to make flavourful meals.
Many of our meals today are simple – we eat salad for dinner at least a couple times every week. When we invite people for dinner we apply ourselves, offering something fun and colourful. It might be simple if it’s dinner before a movie, or it might be Sunday roast with all the trimmings; it’s always an occasion worth celebrating, just like at the family table when I was a kid.
Anyone around my table are like family – I want them to feel comfortable, taken care of and happy.
They shouldn’t feel guilty having seconds, and they needn’t worry about offending if they push the mushrooms or onions to one side. I am happy they could be there and enjoy the time – that’s what counts.
So how’s about we make every Monday a Family Day? You get the cutlery and place mats, I’ll grab the tuna casserole. I’ll meet you at the table.
Well, it’s a new year. Here we are in the midst of being back at work and thinking about the resolutions, the plans, the things we wanted to improve for the future. If you are like me, you still have the Christmas tree up (I like to leave it up till Epiphany, when I close out the festive eating and drinking – watch for the Twelfth Night torte recipe!) I like to ease into things, so I am trying to remember to tackle my resolutions and new projects in small, manageable pieces. It’s sort of like approaching a buffet, I think – I like to sample lots of different flavours and get the most from the experience. I also enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes from completing a task, and if you have lots of little tasks, then you have lots of accomplishments (instead of the daunting nature of a huge project viewed all at once).
One of the things I like to keep on the resolution radar is cooking everyday meals at home. I know that may sound a bit silly, but I am fortunate enough to have married a chef, so he thinks about getting meals made all the time. He also gets hungry faster than I do, so if I want to cook on a Tuesday night I have to get myself organized so that dinner isn’t the casual affair I might tolerate after a glass of wine and a bit of chatting over how best to adapt or customize a recipe. Last night I tried a straight-forward idea from my newly-arrived Bon Appetit magazine: Skillet-Baked Eggs & Spinach. In deference to them, I include their link for the recipe here. NOTE: I modified the chile aspect by using an assortment of dried Mexican chiles we have in our larder, along with a healthy pinch of smoked paprika. (In Kelowna, Turkish chili powder is not something you find readily.) It went very nicely with a glass of Okanagan rosé – perhaps a bit of indulgence on the Tuesday after the holiday season, but it was worth celebrating. After all, I had managed to organize an interesting meal and get it cooked in time for us to enjoy it and still be ready to depart for our movie night out. I could have cooked an old stand-by, like tuna casserole, but there is the rub: I am plagued by the desire to consistently try new ingredients and combinations when I eat. Hence my recurring New Year’s urge to keep one foot in the kitchen and the other in the specialty aisle of the grocery store.
I don’t think I am a food snob. Does it make me elitist if I don’t want to eat tomatoes in winter that taste like kitchen sponges that merely wiped tomato juice off the cutting board? I would rather look for some other tangy ingredient if the red billiard balls in my freezer (read frozen garden tomatoes) won’t suffice in a recipe. In the summer I know I will recover from this hiatus when we eat tomatoes at every meal. I like the thrill of finding a traditional winter dish that wraps me up like a cozy scarf on a cold day and makes me want to open a bottle of ponderous red wine from the cellar. That dish might involve local root veggies, or it might involve a stew recipe from a country halfway around the world.
I think everything has its place, even comfort food. Tuna casserole was always my favourite dish as a child, and when nostalgia strikes I like to re-create my Mom’s dinner that included jellied carrot salad as an accompaniment. I love a fancy dessert, but I also adore Mom’s lemon pudding cake, especially those late-night spoonfuls snuck from the bowl late at night (I always volunteered to take all the empty tea mugs back to the kitchen on nights when it sat on the counter :)). The taste of that stuff is as powerful a memory in my mind as my first taste of Spanish flan in Barcelona or Cape Brandy Pudding atop Table Mountain in Cape Town. Perhaps I have catalogued my food memories as unique accomplishments too, so that each one is a victory in itself. Or maybe that just confirms my status as a gourmand…
If you are looking to cut back on calories, or switch your diet to avoid gluten or dairy or meat or other substance, then I think it is even more important that taste become a priority. As far as I am concerned, food of any kind is meant to be enjoyed, not endured. A squeeze of lemon or a dash of herb or spice or a splash of oil or vinegar can make all the difference in the world. This philosophy could be applied to traditional favourites too. The Sunday roast might be sacrosanct, but who says you can’t put a bit of Dijon in those mashed potatoes? (If you have any secrets or tips you want to share, please leave a comment! One can never have too many options in the kitchen.)
So, in essence, the moral of this post is “One meal at a time”. There is always the potential for the next dish you eat or drink you sip to be something so sublime as to stop your world and create a memory. Wouldn’t that improve a hard day at the office?