A kitchen-counter supper.

Dear friends,

Despite my well-known evangelism regarding family suppers, especially those served on “properly set” tables, I thought you ought to know our household regularly shares informal meals around the kitchen island.

To wit, here’s a spread from earlier this week:

counter

There’s marinated, grilled chicken legs; deviled egg pasta salad; sauteed medley of mushrooms, spinach and yellow bell peppers; chocolate-banana cake; and a new dish of my own imagination I’m calling cauliflower panzanella.

Our kitchen island seats four — a bit of kismet since we are a family of the same number — so on nights where we don’t bother to set the table, we plop down around the island, sans linens and flowers, and dig in.

You know I’m unusually devoted to the rituals surrounding family meals. For me, the act of setting the table reflects the value I place on thoughtfully preparing and arranging our sustenance, which is also our best opportunity to connect and share with each other. Still, there’s usually no more than a couple of occasions each week where we gather around a dressed table, no matter how simple, so I also try to be thoughtful about our casual meals.

For me, that includes things like keeping the island clear (just because we’re eating in the kitchen doesn’t mean we have to do so amidst the prep mess); turning off the television (which I tend to watch while cooking) in order to nurture conversation; and maintaining a commitment to culinary variety.

Mr. Mom tends to believe 1 protein + 1 starch = a meal. Me? I like to see no fewer than three dishes, preferably four or five, on our menu. Some might see this as a conflict. I view it as a perfect example of the yin-yang alchemy of our marriage. When he cooks, he gets his way. When I cook, I get mine. As a result, we all get a little variety of both approaches and preparations.

In the end, there are no rules for family meals. But I like to think there are a few standards worth upholding. (Rules are imposed from an outside authority, whereas standards are embraced by choice. I think life could be made a whole lot better by fewer rules and more standards.) My standards include:

  1. Cooking a meal at home, no matter your definition of cooking. Don’t spend an ounce of energy on the argument between “from scratch” cooking and the “meals in a box” variety. Do what you enjoy and have time for, otherwise the whole point is lost in aggravation — and family meals are supposed to ease irritation.
  2. Sitting around a table or a counter together. Don’t be tempted to sit in the living room/den/television viewing area as it kills the opportunity for conversation and decompression. And by all means, don’t watch the news!
  3. Expressing interest in and gratitude for the food on your table and the person who prepared it. It’s just good manners and you might learn something along the way, as well as cultivate a greater understanding of nutrition.

Everything else — dishes and linens and flowers and special menus — is just gravy. And as much as I love me a good gravy, we all know it’s a condiment not an entree.

With gratitude {for the grace of family meals and all they bring},

Joan, who shouted hallelujah when she discovered panzanella because bread salad? Heck yes!

PS: For the curious among you, my cauliflower panzanella was nothing more than cauliflower florets toasted with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a hearty helping of minced garlic, then roasted in a 425 degree oven for 20 minutes, then tossed with day-old Italian bread cubes, sauteed in plenty of butter in a cast-iron skillet until brown and slightly crunchy. You can eat it warm, room temperature, or cold. I’ll eat buttery bread cubes and roasted cauliflower nearly any ol’ way you can serve it, including with my fingers out of a bowl while watching late-night television (not that I did that or anything).

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Comments

  1. That cauliflower panzanella sounds fantastic. A friend of mine adds capers when she is roasting cauliflower — I think she tosses them with the roasted cauliflower at the very end. Something to consider unless you are caper-averse.

  2. Admire the discourse on rules vs. standards and completely agree. We need fewer of the first and more attention to the latter! That said, we are dyed in the wool dinnertime Jeopardy and News watchers/discussers around here. Watching one often leaves us feeling a bit crazed but watching the other snaps the universe back into a place where science and knowledge and logic apply. I wish it weren’t true that we’re typically in front of a TV at mealtimes but we both grew up that way and it has remained our habit.

  3. That looks like a lovely meal. Dinnertime is my favorite time of the day! I love reconnecting with everyone after a busy day.

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