Saturday, October 8, 2011

Family Style

If you know me, you know how much I love eating.  I'm that guy who lets hot food get cold while taking pictures of it, who makes embarrassing noises while savoring each bite, and who plans entire vacations around restaurants he'd like to eat at.  But even if all you know of me is what I write and the pictures I take, I still think it comes through loud and clear how much I respect and appreciate both the process and act of eating.

And if you ask me, there's no better way to eat than family style.

When I was much younger, frequent visits to Chinatown had conditioned me to think that family style eating could only happen if there was a lazy susan on the table.  But over the years, that definition has grown, not only in what it encompasses, but also in what it means to me.  I see it as an opportunity to commune with others, demonstrating affection and gratitude through what we bring to the table, and allowing not only the food to nourish our bodies, but allowing the company of others to nourish our souls as well.  And now "family" includes not just the family I was born into, but also the family of friends and loved ones that I have chosen along the way.  It is in those instances of coming together to share a meal where time can slow down, where the demands of the outside world can become a little less strident, and I can allow myself to truly be, regardless of expectations.

The following are pictures from two recent gatherings where I had the pleasure and privilege of doing just that.

Myself, Jennifer, Natalie, Sarah, Kate, and Fatty

The first was a housewarming hosted by Kate (whom I mentioned in the recent juicing post) and her new roommate, Sarah.  Two of their friends were also there, Jennifer and Natalie, and Stephanie and I rounded out the little group.  What sticks out in my mind was how in the days previous,  I had been in a fairly lousy mood - all I wanted to do was be alone in my "cave."  And stepping up to the door, bags of food in my hands, I was still forcing a smile onto my face.  However, all that quickly changed as food was set on the table and we assembled in the living room to eat.   Even though the six of us had never hung out as a group before, the spirit quickly became jovial and relaxed.  There was so much we all had in common - it no longer seemed strange that all of us happened to cross paths on that evening.

And the cherry on top?  It turned out to be a gluten-free, vegan potluck with a majority of the ingredients sourced from Johnson's Backyard, a local organic farm.  The spread was beautiful, with so many different flavors, textures, and colors represented.  I contributed a Mediterranean inspired three bean salad, mashed sweet potatoes, banana bread muffins, and orange cardamom shortbread cookies.  Other dishes included balsamic marinated beets over arugula, cumin-spiced quinoa with black beans and okra, spicy ginger roasted root vegetables, and curried black rice with cauliflower.  I am not ashamed to admit that I filled my plate at least three times (not including dessert).

The best part, beyond all the delicious food, getting to know everyone, and watching Fatty the cat stalk the laser pointer, was how grateful Natalie was to enjoy the desserts I brought.  She had recently transitioned to a gluten-free diet and was finding it difficult to not be able to enjoy baked goods like she used to.  But the look on her face as she tasted the banana bread, watching the subtle doubt melt away and give way to raised eyebrows and a large grin - that was awesome.  And when the cookies disappeared almost as soon as I pulled them out of the oven - that was pretty cool, too.

The other gathering took place a few weeks later, and was decidedly lower key.  It was a dinner date hosted by Amy and Emily, the owners of The Steeping Room.  It was just the three of us and just an overall pleasant evening catching up, discussing blogs, and sharing stories about how funny our pets can be.  I brought warm lentil soup, which Amy garnished with avocado, cilantro, and hibiscus leaves.   We also enjoyed a beautiful composed salad, with the different flavors of sesame oil, fresh lemon, and aged balsamic dancing on the palate.  The flavors and ingredients celebrated the coming of fall as well as the passing of summer:  light versus earthy, cool versus warm, and sweet versus savory.

We laughed about how we had intended to have this dinner date at the beginning of summer, and after three months, were finally able to make it happen.  What was funny was that it was only three months. 
* * * 

I know many people who "eat to live," approaching food in a very pragmatic and straightforward manner.  And while I understand that aspects of that are necessary in our lives, for the most part that's definitely not me.  Food is a way for me to center and ground, a way for me to heal and recover, and most importantly, a way for me to connect with others.  And in the years since I have removed gluten and dairy from my life, that is especially the case.  Eating and living, and the delicate balance between the two, are no longer things I take for granted.  And finally finding harmony between my body and the foods I eat, I can now extend that harmony to include the life I lead and the people with whom I share it.  

I am grateful and proud to be someone who "lives to eat."  And I am blessed to be able to share that truth, and the bliss that comes with it, with those whom I hold dear.

That is why I love family style.


  1. Shall we say...2012? ;) Of course I would be honored to join you for another dinner date. Let's see if we can make it happen in the next month or so - I love cooking during the fall.

  2. Wonderful... I have to say- my brother (Danny) and I both married people who were not raised with 'family style' meals. Both of us have insisted on continuing the tradition with our own young families, eating really is about so much more than the nourishment. Thank you for this, and every post. Love and Hugs, Your old Friend, Abby (Scott)

  3. Abby! It's so great to hear from you! Looking back on _all_ the parties your family hosted, I know that the Scotts know about "family style." It's a tradition that can sometimes get lost in the hustle and bustle of our demanding lives. I'm glad that you and your brother are upholding the practice with both your families. Big HUG back!

    ps - have you had a kumquat, lately? :)


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