the whole dinner experience.

May 14, 2011

I love being in the kitchen, finding fresh, interesting ingredients and trying new recipes. It is enjoyable to pour a glass of wine, saute some onions, chop vegetables, and let the meal begin to unfold. While the process is of great pleasure, the greatest joy happens once I am sitting down around the table with friends and family to share the abundance. On Thursday, I found this beautiful set of 1960’s dishes at a thrift store. The mustard yellow color and intricate pattern is so lovely.  I got to thinking about what the draw is, and why I would spend money on more dishes. While I have had a number of meaningful meals over paper plates, I think there is really something special about the plates and cups that we use to serve food.

The dishes become something which hold value and sentiment, as families use them again and again for celebration and holidays. They can represent a style or a period of time. They can be carefully crafted pieces of pottery made by someone you know (read: my brother) or an artist that you want to support. They can be a colorful set that inspires or an antique set inherited. Beautiful food deserves beautiful presentation. It helps us cultivate a more meaningful relationship with the food we eat and the time we take to eat it. It is a small thing that deepens the ritual. It creates a whole dinner experience.

It is important for us to develop a meaningful way of thinking about the things that fill our home. Things are not here to define us, but because there are so many items that are essential for living and functioning, why not buy things that mean something? If you spend time to research and use your money on the things that inspire, or are made well, they last longer and begin to contribute to the overall experiences of life. Being a good steward of what we are given involves taking care of what we fill our homes with, especially those used daily, such as plates, forks, and cups.

Curious about what other food lovers had said about the subject of dishes and dinner presentation, I turned to my role model, Alice Waters, of Chez Panisse in Berkley. At her resturanunt, all the tableware is from Heath Ceramics. Heath is made in California, and focuses on a blend of functionality and modern aesthetics. She chose them because they are made locally and each piece is crafted carefully with sustainability in mind.

She shares some insights in relation to her project Edible Schoolyard, which works to bring healthy, whole foods and gardens to schools.  Though this article is directed towards kids, the implications are great for all. The whole interview can be found here. A few highlights:

We’ve made a place that is comfortable, because that shows them that we care, too. We want them to see beautiful things, as well as to smell and to taste beautiful things. For example, I love to put down the tablecloth. That’s all a part of telling them that we care. We’re creating an atmosphere that naturally fosters goodwill and respect — an everyday experience that encourages civilized conduct.

We set the table with a tablecloth, and real plates, forks and knives. We think about the center of the table. Maybe it can use a little centerpiece. The kids choose what that might be, whether it’s flowers from the garden, something from the kitchen, some vegetables, or something that’s going to be part of what the kids are eating. The improvements to the food or the surroundings don’t need to be costly. They can be quite simple.

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One Response to “the whole dinner experience.”

  1. Clarissa said

    I love thrift stores. It is a fairly new love, as I have only been thrifting for a couple of years. Bartlesville is full of different little shops. Tuesday house is one of my favorites. My mother purchased a charming set of china for me there. A forty-piece set for something like $20. I love it! And we scored some Christmas china for my annual brunch and all those special Advent meals.

    I also bought a set of nostalgic 70’s stoneware. I wanted to eat a grilled cheese and some munchos on them immediately! I felt like I was 9 years old! They are Mikasa’s Java pattern. I love them, but I primarily bought them (for only $10!!!) to sell on Craig’s list. They are somewhat difficult to come by and I thought, perhaps, some people might like to replace a lost or broken piece to their own set. While it was a great deal, and I had good intentions, that purchase was two years ago and I have yet to list them. I must do that! Now is the time.

    Thank you for sharing these pictures and your thoughts on making our everyday lives meaningful and purposeful. I enjoy reading your blog, Abi. I only wish we lived closer so that we could spend some time together over a glass of wine or a cup of tea! Love you!

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