Friday, July 18, 2008

Our Food Focused Lives

Historically (and prehistorically, I'll assume), we've gathered together to eat. Of course, we used to gather together just to stay alive, but we got over that.

Today's family gatherings are almost always focused around food. Friends meet over drinks or lunch, hit some dinner before the movie and parties are always about the birthday cake or the bowls of chips.

I wonder how much of Thanksgiving was really about the food. It's made out to be some sort of lifesaving food event, but I don't find lifesaving foods to be delicious and covered with mini-marshmallows. MREs are my idea of lifesaving foods.

But, Thanksgiving (or even Turkey Day, as some unfortunately call it) is one thing. What's the excuse for Easter and Christmas? Everyone has to eat, but we lose focus on the event while we focus on the meal (and the meal planning). But, that's not really where I'm heading here.

Why the focus on food? We all have to eat, but why don't we just eat when we're together. Why does it always have to be getting together to EAT?

Over at the JP Fitness forum, Leigh Peele said this the other day.
I for one agree that social mixings should not be only centered on food. One of the quickest ways you can find out how interesting someone is or isn't is to take away their food and their drink to see what is left.

That being said, you can enjoy the actual experiences of good food and drink with the company of the ones you love.
This is something that I've thought about a lot over the years. I love to cook, but I found that the long and complicated meals were overwhelming. By the time I ate, I was exhausted. Plus, I'd only spent time with the one or two people who really wanted to help cook. In the family setting, these are usually the ones you wish would go play with the kids, but don't.

What was a better solution? Pot lucks? Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy the disjointed, mediocre meal made under questionable hygienic conditions then transported for hours on the floorboards of a car.

The last few years, the meals were simpler. The key was to take the holiday meals in a direction that was almost completely removed from the traditional. For me, Mexican or southwestern cooking was the key to my kitchen freedom. Beans (the best beans ever) and mole were made the day before. In a nod to tradition, I'd roast a turkey, make some green beans, sweet potatoes and squash, and no one was the wiser. You can't make your traditional meal simpler, no one will stand for it, and they'll wonder why there are no marshmallows in the yams and their aren't two kinds of stuffing, rolls, gravy, cranberry jelly and cranberry sauce. You get the idea. [/digression]

Long term, I think we can do ourselves some real good by taking the focus off of food for our gatherings. Have good food, but keep it focused on the people and the event. Did the people come to the house for Christmas because your prime rib was so good? It was overcooked and you used jarred horseradish, so no. They love you, despite the cooking. So put the focus back where it belongs.

Ok. People still like food. Let's have some ideas for parties and gatherings where the food can be good, but doesn't need to be the focus.

Pot lucks. I know I made fun. But, give it a theme and put out some rules. The people driving in bring the fruit salad, the raw veggies, the cookies, or a cooler of beer (on ice). Leave the hot foods to the people next door and down the street. It's your party. People don't know what to bring anyway. Tell them what they're bringing.

Fondue, hot pot, weenie roast, etc. It's not about the food, it's about making your own food. Simple food. Easy. People talk and laugh.

Chili. That's pretty much it. A big pot of chili and bowls of garnishes. Soup or stew if you're so inclined. Easy. Delicious.

Stone Soup. Hopefully, you know the story. Just in case...

"The Stone Soup Story".

There was a great famine. People were starving and jealously hoarded whatever food they could find, hiding it even from their friends and neighbours. One day a wandering minstrel happened to pass through the village and asked if he could stay for the night.

"There's nothing to eat here," he was told by the villagers. "You better keep moving."

"Oh, I have everything I need," he said. In fact I was thinking of making some stone soup to share with all of you." As the villagers looked on quizzically, he pulled an enormous cooking pot from his wagon, filled it with water, and built a fire underneath it. Then, with great ceremony, he drew and ordinary looking stone from a velvet bag and dropped it into the water.

By now, hearing the rumour of food, most of the villagers had come to the square or watched from their windows. As the stranger licked his lips in anticipation, hunger began to overcome the villagers' initial scepticism.

"Mmm," the minstrel said to himself loudly enough for the villagers to hear. "I do like tasty stone soup. Of course stone soup with cabbage, now that's hard to beat."

Soon a villager approached cautiously, holding a cabbage he'd retrieved from its hiding place, and added it to the pot. "Wonderful!" cried the minstrel. "You know I once had stone soup with cabbage and a bit of salt beef as well, and it was fit for a king."

The village butcher managed to find some salt beef, and so it went, through potatoes, carrots, onions, mushrooms and so on, until there was indeed a delicious meal for all. And from that time on, long after the famine was ended, they reminisced about the finest soup they'd ever had.

One year when I was 21 or 22, we all hated our parents and couldn't stomach another family holiday. We were all "poor" and I was the only one who knew how to cook. I told people to bring stuff. Raw ingredients. Anything. Nothing prepared and nothing in a box or package. We all pitched in and made a huge meal that was really, really good. Chicken and sausage stew, roasted veggies, salad, and fruit. No one missed the turkey and stuffing one bit.

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