If someone were to ask me what is my favorite thing to do with other people, my simple answer would be "to feed them." For me, planning and preparing a special meal is a solitary and creative ritual. My goal is not to be lavish, but rather to be inventive. I want to prepare a meal that will both surprise and delight--not only my guests, but me. Inviting someone to your home for a meal is an act reflecting both generosity and goodwill. A shared meal provides strength and renewal not only for our bodies but for our spirits as well.
There is a sacredness to the shared meal. The preparation of the meal is a transformative process that relies on the bounty of the land, the toil of many who work to grow, harvest, deliver and package our food, and the sacrifice of an animal on whose flesh we dine. And the cook is the ultimate alchemist who transforms sometimes disparate elements into a concert of aromas, textures, colors and tastes. And to sit at the table and share in this experience requires us to set aside our differences. It is no accident that 'breaking bread' together is the ultimate in our setting aside our differences. A shared meal repairs our relationships and cements the bonds that hold us together.
I had the opportunity to go to Spain on a private group wine tour. If that sounds a bit elitist, it was my first trip to Europe, and we do not take regular vacations. It was a splurge (it was just me), and it was the first time in my life that I was away from work (highly stressful job) and family for two weeks. My mid-life flight from life! On a whim, I took a college level wine course offered through the culinary program and the community college. As it turned out, my professor (a microbiologist and a professor emeritus at the medical college) arranged wine tours every other year. It is always booked up in advance. I had a particularly bad day at work, and I jokingly asked, "Dr. F, are you sure your wine tour is filled up?" Surprisingly, he answered, "As it happens, I just had a cancellation today, but you must let me know tomorrow." I came home at 10:00 p.m. and asked my husband if he minded if I went to Sicily/Spain without him for two weeks. I had my money in Dr. F's hands the next day!
It was a lifetime experience for me. I was going on a trip with 29 other people who I did not know (except for Dr. F). We visited several wineries and the format was the same: tour of the winery accompanied by a meal featuring local food paired with the wineries offerings. While the wines and the foods were different from winery to winery there was a very distinctive similarity: the extraordinary graciousness and pride in which each wine maker owner shared his/her wines with us and the bounty of food that accompanied it.
While each meal was memorable in this regard, one stood out particularly because we were watching the food get prepared. Our meal was at the home of the wine maker, and his cook made the food and served us (with some help). She was a woman in her late fifties. She was both energetic and purposeful in her ministrations to each dish that she prepared. As she brought them to the table, she radiated joy in the simple pleasure of sharing the gift of food with us. We gave her a standing ovation at the conclusion of our meal.
I write this post on the morning of my own two day cooking odyssey to prepare a Thanksgiving meal for my family. We've a modest group. There are four of us plus two sets of grandparents. I've also invited a bachelor neighbor--a long time friend who is frequently a guest at our table. Just nine of us--I know several who have as many at 30 people. As I was in BJ's last evening securing the victuals, I paused in front of some elegant plastic plates. I went passed them. I returned to them and caressed them in my hands thinking longingly of how easy they would be to toss in the trash afterward. I put them in my cart. Two aisles later, I turned around and put them back. My meal will grace my china.
My best to you and yours as you celebrate this special day of giving thanks.