Written by Katrina Smith
Our family dining experience has changed for the better.
It only took our French customers to show us the way.
Language is no barrier when entertaining, especially when you consider food is a universal language all by itself. My French is minimal, and only Pascal speaks English, but the 4 of us enjoyed several meals together before they went back to France. Here is how they have helped to shape our meal time to be more than just food gobbled down while watching TV.
It started with a trip to a local French restaurant called Café Longet on Miami in downtown Venice. I noticed right away that there is a wine for everything you eat – and no one is in a hurry to finish. Which was good because the meal was amazing – 5 stars! The atmosphere was bland in the décor department, but the food and the service definitely make up for the shortcoming. CafeLonget.com
The real awakening came when they invited us to enjoy a meal in their new home, prepared by their son who is a chef in France. We discovered that meals are social events with the French. There were a few light appetizers set out – with wine followed by the actual meal – with wine, followed up with a cheese platter and a different wine, and finished up the evening with coffee and a few sweet treats from Kilwins from downtown Venice Ave. What strikes me most is the time we spent sitting around the table – 3 hours, and never feeling anxious like we needed to get up and go back to work. Could be all the wine, it didn’t hurt – but we were never at a place where we felt the effects. Perhaps it is because the meal is slow, thoughtfully laid out, social and above all delicious. Again, we never even felt too full to have another bite. It was a memorable exchange of ideas, laughter and learning more about each other’s cultures – comparatively.
What did I take away from this meal adventure?
Time. The need to make time in my life to have moments like this.
I was inspired to go out and replace my tired and worn out dishware with new dinner settings, serving dishes, new shiny flatware, proper glassware, and real napkins. I also decided my dining table had to be upgraded to accommodate at least 6 guests - so we bought a new one. I began setting the table and shutting off the TV during mealtime. We may not always have 3 hours to eat, but we can make the time we do have more memorable and enjoyable – and it has been. We look forward to it daily - as a boundary for us to signify that the workday has ended, and our time begins. Very American to be overachievers and workaholics. It is true that the French work to live and Americans live to work.
I now serve a simple light appetizer – prepared ahead of time with a light aperitif before the meal to draw my husband away from work and start to relax. I set a nice table – simple in nature but better than average. I even serve a light cheese platter with wine after I clear the dishes away to be washed up later. We follow it up with a coffee and a simple low carb dessert sampler. And the whole time during the meal we are playing our favorite album in the background ( Jackie Gleason).
This simple change has added so much to our lives – we even started having a weekly dinner party of two couples every weekend. Something we always talked about, but never found time to do. I keep it simple and low carb so it is not overwhelming after a long workday, and most of it I can prepare ahead of time.
My grandmother raised 10 kids on one income, and her wise words resonate in my mind every time I set the table now, she would say “ Kathy, no matter what you can afford to serve for a meal or how fancy your place setting, it will always taste better if you set the table attractively”. She was right.