I turned from rinsing dishes to see Giada plate her finished meal on television. With tongs she placed three perfectly browned scallops, just so. Then something green and a small mound of something else. I can't remember what the two side dishes were, only that I stood there staring until I realized I'd left water running in the sink. I turned back to my dishes, wondering why Giada's perfectly arranged plate was affecting me so, because it was.
I finished cleaning up the kitchen, thinking back to a movie my sister Teresa and I saw years before. The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton's book by the same name, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder, and Michelle Pfeiffer. The movie had so enthralled me that walking out into the harsh sunlight on the concrete pavement after the movie ended, to the blare of horns, actually hurt. I flinched. We didn't even talk for quite a while, both wanting to hold onto the movie's magic.
The film presented a way of life that was so exquisite and so quiet. People spoke softly and moved elegantly. No electronic noises disturbed the rooms. You heard a floor creak, the page of a book being turned, the crackle of the parlor fire. We were supposed to leave the movie, I assume, pondering the age old question of duty versus passion, family love versus grand love. Which to honor?
Instead, I left the movie with pictures in my mind of the food served at table for family meals and society banquets. When the movie came out on VHS (where the movie lost much of its beauty), I bought it and would freeze-frame it on the plates on the table, the meticulously composed plates at the van der Luyden's exclusive dinner. I didn't dwell on these mind pictures because of any latent talent of being a food stylist. I have zero talent for "plating" food, but I have always like to see it done well and believe that it is vital to a satisfying meal.
I grew up with meals served family style, put in bowls and on platters on the table and passed around once the blessing had been asked. Even though we were a family of modest means, Daddy did take us out to eat a few times a year at nice restaurants with starched white table linen and flowers in the center of the tables, and the food always looked so much more appetizing brought to our table already plated, although such a term was not used then.
When we went to the North Carolina mountains on vacation, or through them to visit family, Daddy would take us to a special restaurant in a log cabin high up in the Smoky Mountains where food was served family style, large bowls and platters set on the table. My father loved this place, but I looked suspiciously at the large bowls. It was just food--globbed together, no design to it at all. Nothing about it to pique the appetite of a finicky eater.
No longer such a finicky eater, there is still something in me that is drawn to a beautifully plated meal. But there was something more to the near trance I went into watching Giada place three scallops just so on her plate. i believe it was more a desire to have life plated, perfectly plated. And baby, life is just not like that. It isn't served by gloved footmen and butlers, or in pretty serving bowls. Life often just gets thrown at us.
Have you ever been to that restaurant on the Alabama coast where the hot rolls are thrown at the customers, much to the amusement of small children and most men? Yuck! Yet I don't see much chance of forcing life to be served to me "plated." If I want a serving of life, and naturally I do, I guess I'm just going to have to become more adept at sticking my hand up in the air to catch a hot roll as it is thrown at me.
A hot roll, anyone?