I’ve been in a dinner slump. No joy in thinking about, preparing and putting dinner on the table. For the past few months dinner has been a job and an ordeal for me. I would have been happy to open a carton of yogurt for myself or have some cheese and crackers.
I’d been trying to figure out what was going on. I had lost my knack, my confidence and my desire. Was I slipping into a mild depression?
Time dragged on, meals were served (at home or in restaurants), and then a convergence of ideas emerged. It was like the clouds that have been coming together lately for our magnificent thunderstorms.
Here’s what happened:
1) Evan read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food and became a convert.
2) My girl started Farm Camp for the third year.
3) I read Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Depression, by Mildred Armstrong Kalish.
4) I went on a quest for a coffee cup, which entailed driving for 5 hours, and we ended up listening to some of the podcasts on my ipod, including a TimesTalk with Alice Waters.
These four events happened within about a week and it suddenly dawned on me that the Family Dinner I was dedicated to putting forth needed to be re-worked. Family dinner had been a big effort on my part to put dinner on the table (set generally by My Girl) and then cleaned up by Evan. It had seemed like a fair distribution of effort, but not any more.
Evan’s interest in eating in a more responsible and healthy way made me realize that he had a bigger stake in the meal than before. He had always been appreciative of the meals I prepared and served. But one night I realized that he makes rice better than I do and that the work is easier when we share it—both preparation and clean up.
My Girl was excited about Farm Camp this year because it involves more cooking. She harvested zucchini yesterday. She prides herself on her ability to clean garlic.
I was drawn to Kalish’s book by the cover and the hope that her voice would be like that of my grandmother, telling stories about how to “make do” with less. She helped me get my shower door clean with baking soda (truly, make a paste and scrub lightly—all of the sick scum comes right off without the fumes or cost of the scrubbing bubbles) and reminded me about the green husk on walnuts and how you have to let them age.
And then My Girl and I listened to Alice Waters (who I both admire and find grating) talk about teaching children to appreciate good food by growing it and preparing it. My girl is already 9, ready and able to learn more about making meal plans and preparing food.
My vision of Family Dinner has shifted. It’s no longer just the three of us sitting down to dinner I prepared. A real family dinner has to involve all of us – in decisions, in preparation, in sharing and cleaning up. So last night we had lamb chops, mashed potatoes and cauliflower (My Girl’s choice of vegetable). We all worked together to get the meal on the table. My Girl picked and washed the rosemary for the rub, prepared the garlic and mashed everything up with the mortar and pestle (then made her lunch for camp when she was done). Evan put water on to boil, cleaned and chopped the cauliflower and made the mashed potatoes. I grilled the chops and prepared the cauliflower. We sat outside in the summer evening enjoying all of it, and I knew that I was on to something and that my delight in dinner was recaptured.