Thursday, March 21, 2013

Dinner: Basis of Society

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. 

Brave crocuses in March inspire talk of gardens!
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. 

Baby plants coming up everywhere!
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.   


  1. Food and family is a tradition for both sides of my family. I had a grandfather who tended a city garden on the top of a three car garage, and his wife my grandmother made her own pasta. When we all started moving away from a central location it was hard keep family gatherings, even for holidays. Not so cost effective when on different coasts or too far north or south. We've been able to revive weekly dinners with family because other members have retired close to us, and one son has added a wonderful wife and her family to our own. So now we get to celebrate, deliberate and laugh together with greater frequency. So whats for dinner???
    Sometimes grilled delights, other times traditional fair and other times just pizza. And with four generations together ...that quite a feat. Sometimes when you have a crowd of 12 or more, paper and plastic just make clean up easier :)

    1. Your dinner parties sound delightful and delicious - and I totally agree on disposable settings for more people, especially if it's just a casual gathering, rather than a holiday. Thanks for sharing your experience :) I'm glad to know that the family dinner party tradition is still alive and well with you!

  2. ...and the last just left...
    The total was actually 16.

    Good night and thanks for your visit. I think once they are all posted I'll put them all together in the series on my Blogspot, blog spot :)

  3. eating together at a table is vital for human community - without it we are no better than animals who forage for food by themselves... good piece of writing Chiara!

    1. Thank you, Freya! I'm glad you agree that eating together is one of the cements of society. Your observation about animals was very thought-provoking too. Thanks for commenting!