Monday, August 31, 2009

Last Day to Enter!

Today is the last day to enter Rosanna's Third Annual Tablesetting Contest! All photo submissions should be sent to by midnight tonight (PST). We will need a few days to review and judge, but hope to post the winners by Friday, September 4th.

The photo to the left is Sheena Kelso's holiday table that took 2nd place in our contest last year. The winning tables will be featured on our blog, and some will be featured on our website. Good luck, and thank you so much for participating!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Happy Family, Happy People

Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest ideas. And sometimes, for some reason, these simple ideas don't occur to us, like taking a walk after dinner, putting fresh flowers on the table, spending an hour in the park, checking out a book from the library, or playing a game.

Rather than watch a movie after dinner, or go off to our separate activities, our family has started playing games. Our favorite game is nothing fancy, but it’s an absolute blast and a big hit every time we play. It’s called Happy Family. Fitting name, don’t you think? Here are the rules:

Give everyone at the table a pen and some scraps of paper. Place a bowl in the middle to collect answers. Also select a reader, but we’ll get to later.

Have everyone write down the name of a well-known person on a piece the scrap paper. The person could be anyone—a celebrity, a historical figure, a fictional character, a politician, an artist, an athlete, or even someone well-known only to the players, like a family pet.

Once everyone has anonymously placed his or her slip of paper in the bowl, the reader reads out the list of names through twice. Now here’s the tricky part: you have to try to guess the author behind each submission, but have to remember all of the names without writing anything down!

After the reader has finished, go around the circle and take turns guessing. Let’s say Sally, Sylvia, Mitch, and Alfie are playing Happy Family and the characters for the round are Marie Antoinette, Michael Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Mickey Mouse. Sally starts and asks, “Mitch, are you Mickey Mouse?” If she’s right, then Sally and Mitch become a Happy Family. Sally then tells Mitch whom she wrote down, and they get to guess again together as a family. The goal is to accrue as many family members as you can, and NOT to forget any of the submissions! Because even if you’re part of the biggest family but no one can remember the name of the remaining character, all of you lose that last unknown person wins!

Play as many rounds as you like. 

Because of all the whispering and close contact Happy Family calls for, everyone invariably ends up giggly and excited. It’s a perfect way to end a dinner party or get everyone feeling close at an extended family gathering. Here's a hint: the more players, the happier the family.

*photo of The Father Knows Best cast courtesy of Chronically Vintage

You Are What You Eat

"Out Of The Kitchen, Onto The Couch," the feature story Michael Pollan wrote for The New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago got me thinking. The piece focuses on America’s increasing consumption of pre-made meals and a reliance on supermarket convenience food. The article emphasizes the fact that all over the country, American stoves are gathering dust and ovens are accumulating cobwebs.
On top of the most obvious disadvantages of consuming processed foods rife with preservatives, chemicals, and hormones, the decline of American cooking means something else. Because we are what we eat, in more ways than we know.
Think about what it takes to prepare a meal by hand: time, effort, patience, and care. All of these elements find their way into the food we make, especially if the meal is intended for people who mean something to us. It’s called cooking with love. Countless individuals have caught on to this phenomenon and transformed it into lovely works of art. I’m thinking of literature and films including Like Water for Chocolate, Ruth Reichl’s memoirs, Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me With Apples, the films  Babette’s Feast, Chocolat, and most recently, Julie and Julia. Even The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci includes a nod to food as love!
All of these pieces tell the same story. Food is an incredibly potent means to transmit beautiful sparks of humanity--passion, tenderness, care, pleasure, gratitude, and goodwill. It doesn’t get more direct than it does with food. You feel an emotion, infuse the food with that feeling, and then someone puts that food in their body! This knowledge alone is compelling enough to inspire me to close the computer, get off the couch, and start cooking. Right now.

Come Together

Life is full of surprises, and every now and again, new people stroll in without notice providing an unexpected but welcome breath of fresh air.

One evening a few weeks ago, one such person literally appeared on our doorstep. Filippo, a young Italian doctor completing his residency at The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center had just recently moved into our area. Earlier that night a neighbor had told Filippo another Italian lived close by, inspiring Filippo to walk over and knock on our door.

What began as a friendly chat quickly turned into a plan for a casual Italian dinner party. To welcome Filippo to Seattle, we invited a few more Italians for a total of ten guests. The meal was a mélange of Italian and English, with conversations alternating between the two languages in an easy flow. Everyone stayed until one in the morning. Italians do love to talk. When it was finally time to say goodnight, cheeks were kissed and it was unanimously agreed that we would all meet again soon.

Delight is not so hard to come by. One of the easiest ways to cultivate it is to invite new people into your life. Especially in mid-life, when we’ve settled into our families’ routines and rhythms, our circle of friends closes in and shrinks down. However, when we make that extra effort to reach out and include someone new (because it does take a concerted effort to do this), especially if that person is from another culture, the benefits are well worth our while.

Interacting with someone new is such a wonderful opportunity. We're able to see the world from a fresh perspective and mull over issues and ideas that wouldn't occur to us otherwise. Spending time with someone new also inspires us be better and different versions of ourselves. The foreign energy feels invigorating.

So, as the saying goes, make new friends, but keep the old.

…and introduce them to each other!

*Photo courtesy of NextUp