Zig & Axel eating hayDid you hear somebody say “Holiday Dinner”?

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I love cookbooks, especially the ones that are less business and more romance. The ones with recipes, pictures and intimate glimpses of the home lives of the Larger Than Life people.  More than the recipes, it’s the stories that I love; a window into a glorious life.  Someone with the life I would have had if I hadn’t been accidentally switched at birth.

In that life, everyone makes the time and has the energy to prepare all that great food from scratch, using ingredients found in some forgotten, earthy way like foraging in European woodlands.  And then they gather to enjoy the goods with plenty of smiling friends and family members in some exceptional setting like a rustic real dining room table and chairs in the middle of a picturesque orchard. With or without a real chandelier hanging from a tree.  Oh, and everyone’s really stylish in that casual, Celebrity wears-muck-boots-to-Saks-Fifth-Avenue sort of way.

We live in a time where 1/3 of our meals are eaten in the car, but we all seem to be a little nostalgic for old-fashioned food traditions. For proof, look at the huge success of the Food Network, Martha Stewart, Williams Sonoma and such.  A good friend of mine even refers to Paula Dean as her real mother.  We don’t really know how to do it anymore, but we love to watch it on TV, buy professional grade gadgets and over attempt in the quest.  Did you ever wonder why there are so many ads for processed convenience foods on the Food Network?

Obviously there’s a pining for something our fast paced lives are lacking –what could it be?  The Williams Sonoma catalog is sure to show you with photos and recipes. The only thing Williams Sonoma has added to my life is stress, pressure and an embarrassingly expensive toaster. Because, after reading the WS catalog, not only am I clearly reminded that my own life lacks this specialness and love surrounding every meal, I now feel called to live up to this challenge. And, my family had darn well better play their part which is showing boundless admiration and delight whether they mean it or not.

I mean, who can enjoy plain old round pancakes anymore?  Everybody knows when your mother really loves you your pancakes are shaped like barnyard animals or Halloween bats & hissing cats.  Come ON – it only takes a few extra major purchases and inefficient time-sucking procedures.  Not to mention the extra storage to store the special pots, appliances and cake pans when their unused carcasses take over your kitchen.

Two books spring to mind as I think towards the season; Little Heathens by Mildren Armstrong Kalish and Country Cooking by Edna Lewis. These books are a charming, nostalgic reminder that eating together is the foundation of family and community. Everyone had a hand in preparing for big meals, even the littlest children. Ingredients had to be planned for well in advance – there was no 24-hour Walmart Superstore.

Anticipation and appreciation surrounded special meals, although everyday meals were nearly as good. And it was further seasoned by the involvement of everyone at the table.  A great meal shouldn’t be a one man/woman performance where everyone else just watches; it is enjoyed best when it is a collaboration and everyone shares the glory and pleasure of giving.

This year I will keep it simple, allow myself ample time to gather my ingredients from local farms and enjoy my holiday unhurried.

How about you? What special things are you preparing to savor this early fall kick-off to the holiday season?