I’ll be reviewing this terrific book soon for Bookslut, but I came across a passage about the power of dinner that I loved and wanted to share with you all.
But before I get to that, this is a wonderful read, despite a cover that Dwight Garner described (in his spot-on review in the New York Times) as “… like the cover of some mediocre nonprofit group’s annual report, or of Guideposts magazine.” As Garner points out, this book not only tells a fabulous story, but Ciezaldo is a terrific writer, the kind you want to keep reading lines out loud to your dinner partner, because they’re so clever. She’s really funny and especially this week, after the Egyptian revolution, her story of living among regular people in a war-torn Middle East is really pertinent. And did I mention she’s funny? She’s very funny.
But here’s the passage from the beginning part of the book that seemed pertinent to LivingSmall:
There were days when we didn’t knwo where we’d be sleepign that night; months when I longed to go to school like a normal kid. But one thing I never questioned: dinner. Somehow my mother saw to it that we sat down to a proper meal every evening. A glass or two of wine and a Crock Pot turned cheap cuts of meat into daube Provencal while she was at work; bacon leeks and cream (you only need a touch of each) transformed the proletarian potato into a queen. No matter where we found ourselves–a homeless shelter, a friend’s couch, our car– we would sit down to eat, and we would be home.
Toward the end of my senior year, a friend with a car gave me a ride home. I didn’ tusually let my classmates see our one-bedroom railroad apartment, … but Wendy was all right, so I brought her in, and my mother invited her to stay for dinner.
That night we were haivng Suleiman’s Pilaf, a lamb and onion stew topped with parsley and chopped almonds and sultanas served with rice and yogurt. It was one of my mother’s standbys, adapted from … Elizabeth David … Wendy lived in what I thought of as a mansion, with multiple bedrooms and an actual dining room. I always imagined people in houses like that eating duck in aspic off matching plates under crystal chandeliers. But when we all sat down at our small kitchen table … Wendy looked stunned. In her house, she told us, everyone just foraged in the fridge or got pizza somewhere. No one cared what or when the kids ate.
“Do you eat like this every night?” she asked with something that sounded like awe, and when my mother said yes, I saw that home could be something you made instead of the place where you lived.
As I surf around the cooking blogs, I sometimes see comments from readers who are grateful to see home food because it validates their own efforts. I worry about the lifestyle-ification of cooking — all the blogs and tv shows and magazines and competitions out there. Really, it’s just about cooking dinner. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It can be a stew you make in a crock pot before you go to work. The important things are that you make it from what Michael Pollan would call “real food” — and that if you live with other people, that you all eat together. (And if you live alone, as I did for a very long time, that you feed yourself real food. You are no less in need of feeding because you’re on your own.)