In the middle of summer I spent time lazing around in a house in the middle of the French Countryside. The kitchen had three different chandeliers and three different fly swatters.
A black board slanted against the back wall with french and english words married together by a small dash. Words for delicious, sour, napkin, breakfast, dessert. We sat opposite the table facing the black board, repeating words into the air and twirling pasta on a fork.
Here I learned how to have a meal.
Sometimes mealtime carries a sense of urgency. I’m hungry, I’m in a rush, I have to get there and do this. It’s more of an act of filling your stomach, energizing yourself for the day ahead.
Sometimes mealtime is distressing. A battle between your mind and a fork as it travels from the plate to your mouth. A constant argument on whether or not to continue, on whether or not to eat.
Sometimes mealtime is absent. Handfuls of chips sat in front of the tv. Queuing the next episode, sinking deeper into the couch. And suddenly your hand reaches the bottom and you barely remember the last bite and what it tasted like.
Sometimes mealtime is methodical. A planned space, a tick mark to check off, not enjoyment, just functionality. A step in the process of life.
Breakfast (le petit déjeuner) to dessert (same in french and english) at the countryside house were something different. Something special. A meditation, a slow down of life, set with intentions and love.
We biked kilometers away, slicing through wheat and sunflower fields, to buy fresh aubergine from a local farm. We sipped wine as we poked cherries into a cake and stirred copious amounts of sugar into coffee. A meal overtook our entire attention, became an event of sorts. Flip on the radio and flit about the large dining table and small microwave. Which plates? Which forks? It was all part of a visual masterpiece, every detail carefully considered.
This is how you eat a meal.
You gather people you love, and make it an event. It’s a community effort. Even if your only job is to chop garlic, you are giving your love and your energy in some way. Kitchens are typically small spaces, bringing everyone together in a corner of the house. Filling up countertops with vegetables and carefully maneuvering between the oven and the fridge. It’s less about the cooking and more about creating.
Now that everyone is there, make something simple. You don’t have to look up a complex recipe, just focus on the flavors. Let aubergine be aubergine, and dress it with olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper. Bake it until its crispy. Slice bread and serve with butter. Have a salad with vinegar. Mixing and mastering something bold and authentic. Make the kitchen smell up, dust everything with a pinch of this and that. It becomes art.
Serve, in big bowls in the center and let everyone serve themselves. We are all eating from the same pan from the oven, the same big bowl of pasta. Ill scoop some for you, a generous serving because I appreciate and love you. Keep going for seconds and thirds until the bowl has reached the bottom and theres not a bite left and the button on your pants is bursting.
Take your time. If you are taking a bite, be fully in that moment of tasting the flavors. If you are having an interesting conversation, give your attention to your words, to their words, be inquisitive curious and engaged. Creating conversation around the dinner table is just as important as creating the dinner itself.
When you are done, after an hour or so, have dessert. I know you thought you couldn’t bear another bite but the smell of a berry crumble might make it possible. Get special plates if you can, gold rimmed ones, flower covered ones, smaller, more delicate, more fit for a dessert.
When you are done, no need to clean it up right away. You can do that in the morning. It’s better to save water and wash your coffee mug from the next morning with the plates from tonight anyway.
If you do feel the urge to clean right away, make sure to sing as you do it.
Thank you Noemie for having us