Dine, people!

Dear friends,

I was watching the Food Network Saturday morning (a favorite activity) and had a nails-on-a-chalkboard experience.

A television cook, who shall go nameless because there’s no need to be unkind, finished preparing her meal and said this: Don’t bother setting the table. Just grab a napkin, maybe set up a TV tray, whatever.

Really? You just invested all that time and care to make meatloaf, baked mashed potatoes and sautéed string beans — all from scratch — and you’re willing to just grab a napkin?

How is it we can worship the food like never before but have abandoned the art of dining?

It made me sad. It made me wish I had a television show so I could proselytize:

Set the table! Dine, people!

I have long believed that family meal time is sacred. A home-cooked meal served on a lovely table in the company of loved ones will cure nearly all ills — nutritional, social, and spiritual.   Delicious food and inspiring tablescapes are the perfect combination for mealtime communions that create lasting memories.

My family dines together several times each week. Sunday is our elaborate meal. I typically cook and bake most of the day, and more times than not, my table is dressed with linens and flowers. During the week, our meals are much simpler — whatever Mr. Mom can whip up that’s tried and true on our list (spaghetti with scratch meat sauce, grilled pork chops with roast potatoes, stuffed green peppers, garden salad with grilled chicken, and sesame noodles are staples for us). But whether it’s at our dining table or our kitchen island, we always sit together. We always eat on real plates, even if we use paper napkins. And we often have dessert, either leftover from whatever I’ve baked on Sunday, or from our stash of store-bought cookies and ice cream.

Maybe grab-and-go meals work for some families, but supper for us is when we connect. When we really talk. When we remember what it means to be a family.

I’m kind of a nut about it, but if the number of kids who have gravitated to our home at mealtime over the years is any indication, I must not be too nutty — because we often seem to have a spare kid or three to feed.

And absolutely nothing makes me happier. A cook is most fulfilled when forks are raised by smiling diners.

With gratitude {for a mother and a grandmother who knew how to cook a proper supper and whose meals are the source of my fondest memories},

Joan, who hopes you’ll click here to head over to Domestic Dilettante for photos and recipes of her most recent Sunday Supper, which is so easy you’ll have plenty of time to set the table

If you haven’t yet watched Worst Cooks in America on the Food Network, you must. The shock, the frustration, the cursing . . . who hasn’t been there in the kitchen? On yesterday’s episode, one contestant kept yelling “My TooFoo is not melting! My TooFoo is not melting.” Because, you know, she thought the tofu in her Asian noodles needed to melt. If you need to feel instantly better about your culinary skills (or enjoy peeing your pants), tune into Food Network and watch the best non-scripted comedy to come along in years.

Supper, my love.

Dear Friends,

Mr. Mom’s Cheeseburger Salad from Pioneer Woman  (Photo by Instagram)

You only need to know me for about five minutes to figure out my life revolves around food. It is my raison d’etre to the max, my greatest pleasure, my pastime, the object of my obsession, and the method through which, more than any other, I express my love and affection.

If Maslow were still alive, he might conclude I’m woefully underdeveloped in self-actualization because of my obsession with my next meal. A social worker might wonder if I’m food insecure. I think I’m neither, of course, but it cannot be disputed that I live to eat. I can say without hesitation that nothing short of the love of my family fills me with more joy and gratitude than a good meal. And since I experience food-related joy three times a day at a minimum, I’m typically a pretty happy camper.

Especially on nights like the one recently where Mr. Mom and I exchanged these texts at 5:00 pm:

Mr. Mom: Tell me when you will be home and I’ll have a good dinner ready.

Joan: I love you.

Mr. Mom: Is that code for 5:45? LOL.

There are millions of working mothers in the world who are just like me in so many ways, and yet only a fraction (probably a miniscule fraction) are blessed with a husband who cooks most meals. And lest you think I don’t know how lucky I am, I GIVE THANKS EVERYDAY FOR MY LOT IN LIFE. Geeeeez, I’m no dummy.

Besides the fact that Mr. Mom cooks supper most nights, I am especially fortunate because he takes orders. Wait, let me re-phrase that: he welcomes orders. Yesterday morning, somewhere between editing a magazine story and signing correspondence, I paused from work about 10:00 am to email him Pioneer Woman’s recipe for Cheeseburger Salad with this message: “Here’s a suggestion for tonight’s supper.”

And guess what we had? Oh wait, you saw the photo evidence above.

Normally, Mr. Mom and I text each other in order to time my exact arrival home to coincide with the serving of supper. But last night, Mr. Mom was otherwise engaged and arrived home just as I did.  (I think I might have actually glanced at my watch and said “You mean you haven’t started supper yet?” But in a nice voice, okay?)

So Kate and I, who were both starving, pitched in and helped Mr. Mom make quick work of Pioneer Woman’s tasty dish. And in the midst of it, as Mr. Mom chopped vegetables and I seasoned the beef and Kate grilled the croutons and we exchanged an easy, playful banter about our day, I thought my god there is nothing in life that beats this. This ephemeral moment in the kitchen — an expression of both teamwork and affection, a family communion as sacred as any and yet a spontaneous flash in the scope of a mother’s life — was undoubtedly a blessing beyond measure. Not to mention we had a pretty terrific meal.

With gratitude {for being exceedingly well fed},

Joan, whose faithful service to mealtime has permanently stunted the self-actualization of her abs