from The Spirit of Loveliness by Emilie Barnes
Much of our lifetime is spent in a food related atmosphere. If you are a woman forty-five years or older, you’ve already spent over fifty thousand hours in the kitchen and eaten over fifty thousand meals!
Since we spend so much of our lives eating, preparing to eat, and cleaning up after ourselves, shouldn’t we put some effort and attention into making mealtimes some of the most pleasurable and memorable parts of our lives?
What makes a memorable meal?
The recipe for such a time involves four ingredients:
The attractive way you set the table sets the tone for a meal and can convey affection, warmth, and caring. The simple way the napkin is fluffed up in the glass, folded to make a flower, or creatively arranged in a napkin ring can speak your love and concern. The garnish of parsley on the platter of roast chicken or a wedge of lemon in the glass of water say, “I care enough to do the little bit it takes to be above average.” A floral sheet made into a unique tablecloth with matching napkins can be creative and inexpensive.
Centerpieces are great for establishing a mood. But a centerpiece can be so much more than a case of chrysanthemums plopped in the middle of a table. An autumn table lined down the middle with apples, pears, grapes, winter squash and Indian corn smiles a beautiful welcome. A swatch of pine twinkling with tiny white lights and festive with tiny wooden toys sets a Christmassy mood. Individual vases holding single blooms can freshen up individual place settings. And candles are always wonderful. Use them liberally to create the spirit of warmth at mealtime.
Obviously, food takes the starring role at any meal. The warm, caring spirit of the kitchen extends to providing food that is both delicious and healthful. The old adage, “You are what you eat” is really true. When we eat right, we look better and feel better. Our mental and physical health improves. We have more energy and endurance to carry out the task of loving others.
Given the fact that healthy eating is so important, isn’t it great that healthy meals can also taste wonderful? Many of the most healthy foods – fruits and vegetables, especially – are also the most pleasing to the eye. Learning to eat a wholesome variety of foods can be a delicious adventure that adds another exciting dimension to the spirit of the kitchen.
When you are planning your meals, doing your shopping, or just puttering in the kitchen, don’t forget to take your nose into account! Aromas are memory triggers; they invoke recollections of the past happiness. You can build those kinds of memories through the wonderful aromas of the kitchen. The smell of garlic, curry, cinnamon, fresh bread, or coffee can combine with wonderful tastes and warm feelings to instill the spirit of the kitchen deep in the souls of your family, your guests, and you.
Mealtime is traditionally a time for family and guests to gather and share their lives. But hectic schedules make home-made family meals a thing of the past for many families. It’s worth the effort to buck this trend and share a family meal. Turn off the TV, unplug the phone and sit down together for a time of fellowship and food.
Expect some resistance if your family is out of practice at fellowship. You might want to stimulate conversation with some questions such as “What is the best thing that happened to you today?” Be prepared to share, and be prepared to listen.
Mealtime is not the only opportunity for “kitchen style” fellowship, of course. Some of my most reassured conversations have happened while two of us were cooking or cleaning up together. Afterschool snacks, afternoon tea, and late-night popcorn sessions all provide safe, comfortable opportunities for sharing lives as well as sharing the spirit of the kitchen.
Some of the richest kind of kitchen fellowship comes when we extend the spirit of the kitchen to those outside our homes and families. Surely this is part of what Jesus meant when he said, “I was hungry and you fed me.” People who volunteer to cook at a soup kitchen, deliver meals on wheels, or help with an emergency food drive discover that they are richly blessed by the opportunity to share the spirit of the kitchen with someone in need.
A Peaceful Ambience
“Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting with strife” (Proverbs 17:1). That was true in Solomon’s day, and it’s especially true in today’s high-stress, stomach-churning society. Peaceful mealtimes aid both the digestion and the disposition; they are well worth the effort they take.
How can mealtimes be more related? Careful panning helps, so that dishes are ready at the same time and you don’t have to keep running to the kitchen. Food should be simple and wholesome and tailored to the needs of family and guests. (Serving spicy or difficult-to-handle food to small children, for example, just invites tension and frustration.)
Conversation can be lively and even provocative, but it’s good to postpone weighty or emotional issues for another time. Beautiful, soothing music in the background helps everyone to calm down and enjoy the meal.
Perhaps the most meaningful and effective way to bring an air of peace and grace to mealtime is to make a habit of inciting God to be present. Even a mumbled and hurried “Bless us O Lord…” helps turn our hearts in the direction of gratitude and peace. But how much better to really stop, take a quiet moment, and ask the Lord’s blessing on the meal and those gathered around the table.
May these walls be filled with laughter,
May it reach from floor to rafter.
May the roof keep out the rain,
May sunshine warm each windowpane.
And may the door be open wide
To let the Good Lord’s love inside.
“What a majestic figure is that of the mother in the home as she fulfills her destiny at the cradle side, the nurse and teacher of her little ones! Hers is truly a task full of labor, and we should be tempted to deem her unequal to it were it not for the grace of God which is ever at hand to enlighten, direct, and sustain her in her daily anxieties and toil.” – Pope Pius XII