Sunday, August 14, 2005

Fisher's "Gastronomical Perfection"

Trawling through the archives of About Last Night I found this evocative quote:

"I feel now that gastronomical perfection can be reached in these combinations: one person dining alone, usually upon a couch or a hill side; two people, of no matter what sex or age, dining in a good restaurant; six people, of no matter what sex or age, dining in a good home.

"Three or four people sometimes attain perfection either in public or in private, but they must be very congenial, else the conversation, both spoken and unsaid, which is so essential a counterpoint to the meal’s harmony, will turn dull and forced. Usually six people act as whets, or goads, in this byplay and make the whole more casual, if, perhaps, less significant.

"The six should be capable of decent social behavior: that is, no two of them should be so much in love as to bore the others, nor at the opposite extreme should they be carrying on any sexual or professional feud which could put poison on the plates all must eat from. A good combination would be one married couple, for warm composure; one less firmly established, to add a note of investigation to the talk; and two strangers of either sex, upon whom the better-acquainted diners could sharpen their questioning wits."

M.F.K. Fisher, An Alphabet for Gourmets

When I lived in a group house in North Cambridge, we took turns making dinner; working our way through the "Moosewood Cookbook" we each tried to produce lavish Earth-mother spreads. Soup and bread from scratch were my specialties, and I haven't lost the knack - one Friday in Vermont this summer I baked fourteen much-appreciated loaves of challah.

Ahh, I'm feeling nostalgic for that big Queen Anne house of long ago. There was lovely hippy crockery in that house, and there were hand-woven placemats, and a big antique table, and extra friends on hand, and candles.

Then the mothering years: chaotic, minimalist, functional meals. Kids have such strict and austere tastes. Remember Roz Chast's Children's House of Horrors, which included as an exhibit "the plate where the foods touch"? Melina's White Foods Only phase was a low point: pasta, yogurt, cheese, white bread, vanilla pudding. I gave up cooking anything interesting.

In 2000, when Zed got sick, I was sleepless for months, surfing E-Bay at 4:00 am, buying too many sets of matching placemats and napkins, service for six or eight. These purchases sealed this vow: that someday there would be good times again, and nice dinners. With placemats and matching napkins. But they're still in storage under the stairs.

In a mere fortnight Zed is leaving for college. He survived. There was no dramatic day marking the receding of catastrophe - the exhaustion and desperation abated gradually. Now that I'm going to be an empty-nester, it's time to rethink everything, including dinner.

Although far too often I'm subsisting on bachelor meals, gradually I'm upgrading to some of those lovely solitary dinners Fisher recommends. I'm no longer afraid of dining out alone and have discovered that, for a life-long lurker, covert restaurant observation is delicious. I've also been methodically instigating dinners for two, and been glad for the company.

Now, I realize, it might at last be time for those long-imagined dinner parties.

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At 10:00 AM, Anonymous colleen said...

I know I'm an oddball on this one, but I actually like eating alone. I taste and enjoy food better that way. I like to socialize but not while I'm eating. I still go to a potluck Thanksgiving in the neighborhood here, though, and appreciate it not having to cook everything to get the Thanksgiving effect! Michele sent me today.

At 3:26 PM, Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

I'll never forget the first time I ate out alone: aged 17, driving long distance in Australia, in a nearly empty Comfort Inn restaurant, and they stuck me behind the potted palm beside the entrance to the ladies.

But I've been dining out alone ever since, and have got MUCH more assertive. I don't really cook - although I do "assemble" foods - why bother? It is so much easier to eat out - often alone, and why not?

Bring on Marx's socialisation of housework (and cooking), I say.

At 1:13 AM, Blogger Patricia said...

Just a quick hello from Trish, presently in Nepal. Thanks for your visit. Stop by a leave me a quick comment after I get home and I can put you in my favorites. Are you on livejournal as well?

At 8:36 AM, Anonymous Pearl said...

Interesting truth hit on with those numbers of diners. Is there any progressive dinner groups locally? Maybe you could put an ad or word around and start one. A seven course dinner, each course taken in sequence at a different home monthly.

At 12:30 PM, Anonymous Bruce Ard said...

Merri Xmas and Happy New Year!


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