Friday, 3 December 2010

The Pleasures of the Table

This is another chapter from Simple Pleasures.  I picked it up because I associate the phrase with frugality, also with a quieter more easy life than I had when I was working.  I thought I might find some ideas to incorporate into my retirement to add value.  I can't say I've learned a great deal that is new, it's been more a matter of being reminded of what I like.

Most of us like love our food.  Writers in this chapter recommended simple bread and cheese, morning sun and cornflakes, keeping bees for their honey, baking with the children, eating offal for lunch (I'm guessing this is British humour, but I'm never sure...), growing your own food.  Another offered up a 'soothing' recipe:  (Fried Rice Cakes with Creamed Leeks and Egg).

There is something both simple and complicated about our relationship with food, mainly because of enjoying it too much and also because of the perplexing amount of health warnings and advertising advising on how to eat well.  Never mind all that, let's keep in simple, shall we?

I doubt many of us understand real hunger, beyond the kind that is self-induced for weight control anyhow.  I've never really gone hungry, though I can remember a period when I was 19 and couldn't afford healthy food.  I was trying to live with my Dad and go to university full time.  We lived on boxes of macaroni and cheese with the occasional hamburger patty.  The cost of tomatoes had skyrocketed that summer because of some major crop failure.  Of course we both smoked back then.  I was largely ignorant about cooking.  I could do so much better now with the $20 a week he gave me to cover food, cigarettes and gas!  It was being hungry for a lettuce and tomato salad, believe it or not, that caused me to decide my education would not be full time with a part-time job.  Instead I would go part-time, in night school, with a full time job.  That way I could eat, drive a safe car and reward myself for good grades, not to mention pay cash for tuition and books.  If it took me longer, well I got there in the end.

For me, a significant pleasure of the table is getting the food on it.  I really enjoy the challenges of cooking frugally; experiments with new food are great fun and we have relatively few that aren't successful.  All but a couple of experiments were still edible.  I read once that if a raw carrot doesn't sound good to you, you aren't really hungry.  I extend that to whatever is put in front of me as I have no known food allergies, though I draw the line at raw onions;  the indigestion just isn't worth it.

There are all sorts of foods I once hated that I really enjoy now:  beans, spinach, radishes, Brussels sprouts (well, sort of), cheese on potatoes, mushrooms, cottage cheese, sour cream, yogurt.  I try to keep an open mind about things and try them again periodically.  I love the endless variety that a wider acceptance of food allows.  If we don't have steaks or roasts at every meal, neither do we have endless repetition of the same meat and two veg.  It's funny how 'eating well' means something so much different to different people.  Our definition is definitely about health, which fortunately goes together with frugality:  main course, loads of veg, fruit for dessert. 

In addition to planning and cooking, I love having a dining room.  It went unused for a while except for entertaining, then we discovered it was warmer in there with the fire.  (Anywhere is warmer than my north-facing kitchen).  I hide all the flaws of Grandmother's old dining room table with an old white linen table cloth.  I hide the imperfections of the linen table cloth with a lace table cloth on top.  Those also have their own problems, but candlelight is sufficient to convince me we have an elegant setting.  I could go buy new table linens, but for some reason I prefer the old ones.

We recently splashed out and bought some sterling silver, in the pattern my Grandmother had.  It, too, is second-hand, from Replacements, as International Silver no longer makes this pattern, Spring Glory.  I love the Art Nouveau look and I associate it with many happy Thanksgiving meals at Grandmother's house with all the family around.

Bill wanted to save it for 'special' but I wanted to enjoy it more often and reduce the 'cost per wear', so to speak.  We use the silver for dinner in the dining room.  I appreciate that eating with sterling silver is not a frugal choice.  Rather it is an extravagance made possible by many other frugal choices.

We seem to have about eight different sets of plates between Bill's family and mine and since we are apparently too sentimental to get rid of them, I try to rotate their use.  I have one good set of Noritake which I'm equality happy to pull out and use for no particular reason.  We've yet to break any, but if we did there are plenty spare.  (Note:  If I had to choose china again, I would look for sets that had covered serving pieces, which mine do not).

In addition to food and the setting, another pleasure of the table is the company.  It's not unusual for Bill to come home from work and busy himself with a cup of coffee and his laptop to unwind.  I'm often in the midst of something absorbing, being an afternoon person.  We sometimes catch up with each other in the car on the way to the running club; other evenings we talk over dinner.  

What pleasures of the table do you most enjoy?

1 comment:

Pauline Wiles said...

It sounds to me like you were close to knowing real hunger, during your younger years.
As well as the carrot test, I've heard more recently that chicken + steamed broccoli is a good way of knowing if you're really hungry or not.
I'm not ashamed to say that after working all day, our evening meal is not always interesting and only sometimes home-cooked. But we eat at the dining table 99% of the time and unless I'm too exhausted to think, I light a couple of candles. It's a major time for talk between hubby and me, to the extent where I feel a bit disconnected from him, if for any reason we eat separately.
Like you, I have foods I eat now that I used to hate, including tomatoes, olives and cooked/melted/gooey cheese. Yummy, all of them!