A conversation at work about “What is your purpose in life?” led to several days of thinking, and after considering 4 or 5 very different answers to the question, I realized that this goal is a major part of my purpose in life. I thought about what I’d want to be remembered for when I was dead. I thought about what brings me reliable happiness and what really matters most, and the “purpose statement” I came up with is: “Create joy around the family table”.
I want family and food to be the materials I work with to create a meaningful life. At our house, food takes in lots of topics: ecology, health, culture, history. I want the table to be a platform for all those topics, as well as a time to reflect, to be generous and thankful. I want it to welcome new friends and reunite family. I want the table to spread that joy through all who eat there.
When I was younger, I was keenly interested in politics. I was ambitious. I thought I’d mark the world through words and laws and policies. As I’ve gotten older the ambition abated. I find myself more occupied with domestic matters, but not as a distraction, but rather as a more meaningful way for me to influence the world. I don’t want to dictate goodness with law, I want to spread joy, and I’d rather do it with food than with politics.
I typed out this goal “make family dinner a priority” not really knowing what I even meant when I wrote it. I just knew I had a longing for something and that I wasn’t already doing all I could to meet it. Out of the ignorant beginning, I think I found my purpose in life.
The last step I think I’ll take on this goal before I mark it done is to change my hours at work so I make it home by 4:30 to help plan and prepare our meal. When my work is more aligned with my real goals in life, I know I will have done what I needed to do to make family dinner the real priority it ought to be.
I boiled a family dinner on Sunday for some friends and it was great. Corned Beef, Cabbage, hot potato salad, and Anne made Soda bread. It was fun to catch up with Ryan and Jane and the kids spazzed out. I also made it home early yesterday for a mostly relaxing and enjoyable dinner before irretreivably blowing my cool with the kids.
Last night I had solo parenting duty (I try not to call it babysitting). I took the kids out for Japanese food and it was a success. They both ate well, enjoyed the atmosphere (one of those places where the food circles the tables on a conveyor belt) and we had a great time. Yea for family dinners even if they are in restaurants.
Over the last month I’ve cooked up two feast for parts of the extended family as well. 3 weeks ago was Indian, and that was a smash success, last week was Italian and it was fine, but I sort of screwed up my sauce (I’m a perfectionist when it comes to Italian cookery). This week I’m on again, and need to find my theme. I think I’m finding that cooking is a must for me on the weekends, I really enjoy it.
I’ve had a couple of breakthroughs on this goal. The first was really just a better way to conceptualize what this goal means to me. The goal is really to have dinner be the best part of the day – a time where the family pulls together, we enjoy each other’s company, share conversation, and everyone feels the family connection. I read a description in The Unprejudiced Palate that helped me think of it a bit more clearly:
There is a simple, enduring joy – and it needs to be discovered – implicit in the preparation of such excellent dinners that [the family] would deem it a grave misfortune to miss one of them. It is the solid, thoroughly human satisfaction derived from doing something which inspires admiration while it promotes the happiness of others. [p. 36]
So the goal isn’t so much about what is cooked (though it should be good and enjoyable) as it is about the time spent together and the good feelings that come from it. This is a long-term project – to make our table a reliable base for family and friends – and to make our kitchen capable of serving as a magnet that draws in our family and friends.
I think a key for making this happen is realistic planning. In a later chapter in the same book, the author, Angelo Pellegrini suggests a cook should plan one hour to one and a half hours to prepare the meal. Now in a family with 2 kids under 5, this is a serious chunk of time to dedicate to anything – but I think that is realistic – and I can now see how many dinners end in stress or disappointment from trying to do in 20 minutes what really takes 3 times that long.
Another key is appropriate planning. Also, with 2 young kids., the goal isn’t to serve a dinner that “wows” it is to serve a meal that satisfies – so that means serving reliable food people like to eat and not focussing to much on “interesting” or exotic explorations. It also means being prepared so not every meal generates new stresses with shopping or additional logistics.
The goal is really to lay down a good foundation for family dinners that the kids will enjoy as they grow up and the parents can look forward to. I want it to be a meal that the kids friends say “let’s eat at your house” and where friends know they can drop in and get well fed.
Lastly, to pull this off, I need to get home earlier to make the dinner preparation less stressful and more successful. I think the other robot’s think I’m nuts for caring this much about dinner, or see this as a waste of time. But I think it is probably the most important thing I can do to ensure a lifetime of happiness. Go figure.
So far I’m doing a pretty terrible job of this!