This past Tuesday I had a dinner party.
It was just a very small one, for my parents and brother, but I decided to pull out the stops and served a main dish, two sides, bread, dessert and wine. The evening was just the right length and full of delightful conversation.
Afterwards, because I tend to analyze everything I do (an annoying habit sometimes, but mine nonetheless), I started thinking about the evening. Besides realizing all over again how pleasant it was, I also came to several other important conclusions.
1. Good food puts everyone in a good mood
My father has a stressful job teaching at a university; my mom deals with the effects of osteoarthritis on an almost daily basis; my brother works a hectic restaurant schedule. I myself spent the whole workday teaching, grading nine essays for my English class, and working up some averages. It would have been perfectly understandable for all four of us to be grumpy and taciturn.
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However, I decided to make chicken rollatini (properly known in Italy as involtini di pollo), thanks to inspiration from The Lost Art of Real Cooking, a cookbook worth having simply for this recipe. Basically you marinate thin chicken, dredge it in breadcrumbs, roll it around prosciutto and cheese and then bake it until delicious. Very easy (if a bit time-consuming), with spectacular results. I paired it with a truffle-oil, spinach and mushroom sauté and a rice pilaf. My parents had a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape which we drank with it and it all went together perfectly.
With so much delectable food and that best of conversation-starters – good wine – my family happily talked and laughed and reminisced. The jollity even lasted beyond dinner as we moved into the family room to watch videos and discuss gardening plans for the summer.
2. Friendship is fed by dinner parties
In Aristotle’s ethics, he argues that friendship is based on eating together. He meant this quite literally, because only if you eat with someone do you take the time to make conversation and get to know them. Granted, there are other activities which allow friends to know each other better, but it is true that over a shared meal the best conversations often emerge.
|The finer things are found at table!|
I’ve been reading diet and food recently (it’s an abiding interest of mine) and the books I’ve chosen have all emphasized that Americans may have disordered approaches to food because frequently they don’t eat at a table with other people. It is true that we’ll eat on the run or by ourselves or in front of the TV if it’s necessary – and sometimes even when it’s not necessary. Perhaps this tendency does immerse us in solitude, make us unhappier, prompt us to turn to the food we’re eating for comfort. Perhaps not only our stomachs but also our souls are fed when we eat with our friends and family and converse with them.
Could a dinner party even be food for a new novel or story or poem? It seems possible, even likely.
3. Happiness from friendship is curative
My dad has mild insomnia, but the morning after my little celebration he happily reported to my mom that he slept soundly all night. He attributed it to the satisfying food, which indeed could have helped, but my personal theory is that after our delightful evening, he was truly relaxed and relieved from his work worries and could at last sleep in peace.
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I noticed this happy relaxation in myself, too. I had received a Williams-Sonoma catalog for gardening and farming supplies in the afternoon before the party, so I showed it to my parents as a source of inspiration. Everything at Williams-Sonoma is lovely, if perhaps not for the slim-of-wallet, but certainly looking at their beautiful catalogs can lead to all sorts of design inspiration and creative ideas. For a half hour or so we discussed the use of found objects like ladders and washing-basins for gardening trellises and planters, plus tossed around chicken-farming ideas and debated what seedlings to start in the next few weeks so they’ll be ready for planting in late May.
Even though I didn’t do any writing (usually the one thing I can count on to relax and uplift me), my mind felt awakened both by the creativity of cooking and by the sustained, pleasurable interchange with other people. Society really is essential to human beings – it’s not for nothing that we’ve been defined by some philosophers as the social animal. Our relationships create a network of minds wherein we grow and are nourished by the communication of ideas and emotions.