Monday, January 21, 2013

Life, Plated

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?


  1. What a great post, Dewena. Growing up on a farm I never went out for a meal until I got married and lived on my own. I, too, love fine dining. There is just such a sweet bite of life wrapped up in that simple act.

    I have been to the "catch a roll" places, too! xo Diana

  2. Yes, life often does just get thrown at us. I love the analogy and cracked up at your last life, "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 th air to catch a hot roll as it is thrown at me."
    So good.

  3. Dewna,

    Yes, I remember that movie. It was a long time ago and I too, was enthralled with the beauty of each scene and the beautifully set tables. When hubby and I visited Savannah, Ga a couple years ago we stayed in an old mansion that was converted to a B&B. Every day we had breakfast on a beautifully set table. No, don't want any rolls thrown at me thank you. This was a beautifully written post. I could visualize a fine dining experience while reading.

  4. Dewana, I always enjoy your analogies. They make your words have a way of sticking with me. I have been to Lamberts Throwed Rolls in MO and in Alabama. I didn't know anybody else watched a movie for something other than the plot and script. I'm always looking at the house, the decor, the tablescapes, and what's being served. At my house, my husband and I often serve ourselves from the pots on top of the stove. I dream of creating a dessert with chocolate drizzles placed beautifully on the plate. But, just like my life, I know it would never turn out as pretty as it does in a movie. We take what is thrown at us and do the best we can with it. It's always a joy to read your blog and to read your comments on my blog. laurie

  5. Wow, something to think about! I guess we live in such a fast way so different from other many things that are thrown at us from every angle...I personally didn't know about fast food till much later..and I appreciate that so much! Nothing like a home made meal surrounded by family!

    1. Really enjoyed this post, Dewena. Perhaps this is why I enjoy Downton Abbey. So much attention is given to setting the table, practicing table manners, dining in elegance and excellence. So much excitement in the kitchen downstairs, beautiful trays brought to the rooms upstairs. Lovely. I've never been to a place with hot rolls tossed about but loved your analogy :)

  6. Have you ever seen the "I Love Lucy" episode where Lucy is throwing hot rolls from the kitchen and Ethel and the wife of Ricky's boss are catching them? I can't remember for sure but I think Ethel is using a baseball mitt, lol!

  7. I will have to see that movie. When I came back from France a few years ago I couldn't turn on the tv or listen to the radio for weeks for fear of losing that magical feeling. We had spent time off the beaten path in the quietness of rural Provence and home just seemed so loud and assaulting to the senses. Even today I try not to turn the tv on during the day .

  8. Isn't it wonderful-I, too, am entranced by setting the table, the scene. Even on a budget it can be done. My "good" dinnerware is heritage by pftz-the purity of the white shows the food nicely plus I have them as a base so I can decorate the table and room per holiday or theme. I also let it be known that was dinnerware I was collecting-I recieved so many wonderful serving and decorative pieces as gifts over time. Especially at this struggling times it is a nice way to build a set.

  9. I got that feeling after Star Wars, Star Trek and the Lord of the Rings movies,lol. The plate that makes me happy is the Cracker Barrel Country Boy Breakfast,with steak done medium of course. Yum!

  10. I truly believe hot rolls of life thrown randomly is a lot more interesting than perfectly place scallops. I've had plenty of the "throwed" rolls of life and believe I am richer for that.:-)

    Wonderful post!

  11. I've got some burned hands from all the "rolls" thrown at me, but I'm still truckin' on!

  12. Hi Dewena, I am glad to visit with you today. Your writing is deep and thoughtful. I like it and I will be back. I am following now. Thank you for your many visits and comments to Olive Out. hugs, Olive

  13. I'm right there with you. Dinner (we called it supper) was just like that at our house. We scooped butterbeans out of the same bowl with the same dipping spoon every night.
    Funny how that memory just came rushing back.
    Jilda and I were at Gulf Shores this past weekend and we passed the roll tossing place but we didn't stop this time, but it sounds like my kind of place :)

  14. Dewena,

    Enjoyed your post so much....very thought provoking.

    It is the small things in life....the details....that we no longer pay attention to in our fast moving society. More is the pity, I think. The small details of life, when properly attended to, keep us from feeling bogged down in my opinion. They raise the ordinary to the extraordinary.

    I always take the time to plate the food. I eat with my eyes first.



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