Saturday, May 1, 2010

Food for thought: Delightful Repasts

I have to say... I love food! All sorts of food! Delicious food!

I think that creating and eating delicious food is life enhancing! Great food delights and pampers the senses. It stimulates, communicates and assuages our more primitive heart-brains and gut-brains. Taste links to and drives so many of our pleasure circuits. Delicious food is comforting, uplifting, joyful and sometimes even orgasmic (especially if it involves chocolate :) Yes, used intelligently and appropriately, food is truly life enhancing.

I'm also magnificently blessed by living with a wonderful and beautiful person who shares my passion for cooking and savoring fine food. It's true, I'm spoiled. Anyone who has enjoyed a delicious Fiona meal or sampled some of her culinary delights, will whole-heartedly agree that she is a wondrous creator of delectable comestibles.

Combine some wondrous food with a great wine and you've got the makings of an evening of life enhancing bliss!

So it will come as no surprise, given my focus and passion for great recipes and delicious food, that for today's blog post I've served up a wonderful interview with a person who shares a passion for both food, cooking and writing. Jean, is a freelance writer who writes about food, etiquette and entertaining for numerous publications. I was introduced to her wonderful blog Delightful Repast and instantly felt a kindred spirit. On her blog you'll find recipes that warm the body and soul, recipes of the sort to become a family tradition. She has a passion for good food, and for making every meal a life enhancing "delightful repast".

To set the scene (or table perhaps) for the interview with Jean, I'd like to share with you a couple of snippets from the FAQ on her blog. They'll give you a feel for why I was keen to ask her to share her thoughts, ideas and passion with you here.

What is the origin of the name of your blog?
My husband is very polite and humorous, often simultaneously, and has said to me after nearly every dinner I've ever made for him, "Thank you for the delightful repast." How could I name my food blog anything else!

I chose the subtitle A Tradition of Good Food because I was born into a tradition of good food, the product of a father who, having grown up on a monotonous diet during the Depression, spared no expense when it came to food and a mother who was an inspired cook with "perfect pitch," able to taste any sort of dish and recreate it.

How would you describe your food?
The short answer would be: comfort food with flair. I love classic comfort food prepared with care and the finest ingredients. Beautiful presentation is important. It adds immeasurably to the enjoyment of a meal. I use as many local, seasonal, organic ingredients--as natural and minimally processed as possible--as I can. My recipes are not the "open a can of this and a package of that" sort. And "doctoring up" a mix is not my idea of baking. (Not that there's anything wrong with that; I just happen to enjoy the process as much as the result.)

Life Enhancing Interview with Jean @ The Delightful Repast

Ok, so with the base ingredients nicely covered, I invite you now to sit back, relax and enjoy the following taste treat: Food for thought - A Life Enhancing Interview with Jean @ The Delightful Repast

Q. What do you think is life enhancing about delightful repasts? Or about creating delightful repasts?

Food is so much more than just fuel for the body. It delights all five senses and provides emotional, as well as physical, comfort. I have memories from the age of two that indicate I have always viewed the kitchen as the heart of the home. My childhood was rather chaotic, but I choose to hold onto the good memories, most of which happen to center around food. I think if my family of origin could manage to gather around the dinner table together at the same time every evening and enjoy a delightful repast, any family can!

My husband and I don't eat in front of the television, and we don't allow the telephone or anything else to interrupt our dinner. We don't use paper plates or plastic cups, and we don't use different dishes, glasses and flatware than we use for company. Everyday life, not just special occasions, IS our life. So why not make an occasion of everyday dinner?

Also, when you take a moment to be thankful for the food that is before you, it helps you really appreciate all that you have as well as life itself. And I think that quiets down the endless list of "wants" we tend to have in a materialistic society.

Q. What are the values that direct your cooking and recipe/food/ingredient selection?

Food is such a significant part of any household's budget that the choices we make in the marketplace can make a real difference. Saying "No" to pesticides, chemical additives, preservatives, food coloring, irradiation and genetically engineered foods puts our consumer power to work for a better world as well as better health for ourselves and our families.

My four main requirements for produce or other foodstuffs are that it be: 1) seasonal; 2) locally grown/produced, or at least grown/produced as close to home as possible; 3) organic, or at least as chemical-free as possible; 4) grown, harvested, produced and distributed in a socially, as well as environmentally, responsible way.

I've been vegetarian at various times in my life, and ideally I would be vegan; but that's not going to happen. So I try to eat meat less often and choose meat that has been produced under the best conditions. We need to insist on humane treatment of all animals and proper working conditions for those who work in the meat industry.

Buying only in-season produce grown as close to where we live as possible supports our local farmers. I see it also as a way of preserving the rich farmland of my county and fighting the urban tide. (Remember "pave paradise, put up a parking lot"?) It's a little  frustrating when I hear people lamenting the loss of another patch of farmland to commercial development then I see them buying the imported versions of the foods that are grown right here.

Although we have access to nearly any food at any time of year, eating with the seasons leads to more pleasure in dining--the pleasure of anticipation and change as well as the pleasure of superior quality. I prefer to skip the out-of-season imports and enjoy the anticipation of the first asparagus of spring and the first juicy apricot of summer.  

Then there's the matter of waste. Our society has never, in my lifetime, been very mindful of waste. Now, more than ever before, we need to be. From childhood on, I've always been conscious of not wasting meat, simply because I did not want that animal to have died in vain. Unfortunately, I was not always so conscious of wasting other foods. But the earth has paid a price for the production and distribution of those foods, and so to waste them is a serious matter. 

Am I perfect in all my food choices? Of course not! But I feel good about each healthful and earth-friendly choice I do make. And, for anyone who is just starting on the path, I would like them to know that it gets easier all the time. It sounds daunting, as if every grocery shopping trip would take hours and hours of careful deliberations. But, really, it becomes automatic.

Q. How can people make their meals and food creation more delightful and life enhancing?

Most parents think they are doing everything they can to give their children a wonderful childhood, but many are missing the mark simply by undervaluing the simple things in life. Take an average family of two adults and two children, coming home after work and school (and an excessive number of extracurricular activities), going their separate ways in a house that's larger than it needs to be, each engaging in an expensive electronic activity that isolates him from the rest of the family, each eating a different meal in a different room. Doesn't sound like the stuff of fond memories to me!

Wouldn't it be wonderful if parents and children could go to the farmers' market or farm stands together, or even tend a few tomato plants in the back yard, and prepare and enjoy dinners together? And parents can use cooking to teach their children about their heritage and to keep cultural traditions alive. I honor the memory of my grandmothers every time I cook Southern (paternal grandmother) or English (maternal grandmother) food.

Setting a nice table for family dinners is life-enhancing. Don't save the tablecloths and cloth napkins, the "good" dishes and glasses, and the candles for company. Use it all, enjoy it, let it enhance your everyday life. And don't save "manners" for company either. Turn off the phones. And, for goodness sake, no texting at the table! Whether it's with adults or children, guests or family, I enforce "electronic etiquette" in my home!

Q. What is your most life enhancing recipe?

That is something that changes constantly. On a day I'm missing a loved one who has died, the most life-enhancing recipe I could prepare would be one that is in some way connected to that loved one. On a day I find someone in need of comfort, the most life-enhancing recipe I could prepare would be whatever is that person's favorite comfort food. But if I had to choose one food category to describe as most life-enhancing, that would be bread. Making bread makes any day better! [Check out Jean's delicious bread recipe here]

Q. Who are your role models or exemplars for a) Delightful and Life Enhancing repast creators, and b) for living an enhanced life?
My mother was an inspired cook with what I can only think to call "perfect pitch." She had the ability to taste any sort of dish and recreate it. I inherited her passion for cooking and for reading and began cooking with her when I was about four. We would often do both, cooking and reading, at the same time. Her version of even the simplest thing was vastly superior to anyone else's. I didn't know why that was until I got a bit older and recognized that she never impatiently slapped anything together (not even a tuna sandwich for a child), but always prepared things with care. She would take that extra moment to make a subtle adjustment to the seasoning that would make all the difference. And I also learned presentation from her. Which, I suppose, is why you will never find a commercial container, such as a bottle or carton, on my table!

Both my grandmothers, and my great grandmother, were good cooks as well. Cooking things that they cooked, I'm sort of communing with these women all the time in my kitchen. Also, my dear friend Dorothy, who died 11 years ago, frequently comes to mind in the kitchen. And I can't peel a potato without recalling my wonderful mother-in-law saying "Hon, you're taking half the potato along with the peel." And I am constantly making new food memories with my living friends.

I feel fortunate that I didn't have to find my role models on television! Don't get me wrong. I love watching cooking shows (just the ones on PBS--I don't have cable or satellite). But people are celebrity-mad these days, and I think that's sad. Of course, it's good, I suppose, that someone can be worshiped for their cooking as well as for their acting or athletic ability.

That being said, Julia Child was one of my early influences. When she started in television, my mother and I enjoyed watching her show together. I was very young then, but I had been cooking since I was four! My mother would be so pleased to know that I actually met Julia not long before she gave up the Cambridge house and chatted with her several times during her final years at various small foodie events in California. I had always intended to invite her over for afternoon tea but never got around to it. Lesson learned: never procrastinate when you're dealing with someone in her 90's!

There is a lot of food snobbery now. I talk to people all the time who are in a cycle of competitive cookery with their friends. They rarely have anyone in for dinner because they feel they would have to muster up an enormous amount of energy since expectations are so high in their circle. I say, it's time to get real. We're all busy, stressed and tired; we need friendship and comfort, not poached lamb brains on a bed of hummingbird tongues with a rose-scented trockenbeerenauslese reduction (and that's just the first course!).

Q. What are the most life enhancing devices you own and use, either in the kitchen, or in your life?

I love using dishes and kitchen equipment that belonged to my mother or grandmothers or other people I love. I continue to use a particular type of rolling pin (that Julia Child denounced as being too small, and perhaps it is) simply because it's the model my grandmother used. And my teapots and tea kettles--because I drink tea several times a day and it's part of my heritage. 

Check out Jean's blog

Well I trust you enjoyed that delightful repast of ideas. There are some life enhancing distinctions in what Jean has shared, and I hope today's focus on the importance of good food and delicious meals will inspire and remind you to enhance your own life with your own delightful repasts.

You might also like to wander over to Jean's blog. Her blog post this week is about her grandmother's and great grandmother's cream gravy, a Southern thing. The post tells how, as a young girl, Jean got interested in genealogy and struck up a correspondence with her 89-year-old great grandmother that she'd previously never met. Along the way, she shares some of her Grandmother's history, traveling from the South to Oklahoma in a covered wagon! The cream gravy sounds delicious, and of course, there's a link to Jean's delicious life enhancing bread recipe. Check it out: The Delightful Repast

wonderful and life enhancing wishes

Some more food for thought:

The Way to Cook - Julia Child

Sweet Serendipity: Delightful Desserts and Devilish Dishes

The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food


  1. Thanks for an interesting interview. I've been trying out some of Jean's recipes (Beef Stew in Pinot Noir Red Wine), and this interview adds interesting dimensions and background to her blog. Best wishes, Jan Fredrik

  2. Hi Jan, thanks for your comment. Jean's values so strongly resonate with me, and I think we all need to be reminded to make our 'normal' days and meals 'special'. It was a great interview and I enjoyed getting to know Jean and her delicious recipes from her blog.

    best wishes, Grant

  3. Great interview, served up full-course with wisdom and soul-healthy things. These are signature characteristics of Jean's work as a writer as well. (The Big Apple lost a great copy-editor when she chose the West Coast.)

    I was most struck by her philosophy of not holding back the excellence of life -- use the good china! As a bachelor, I am a sorry mix of culinary sins and virtues, but a love of excellence should be portable in every area of life. Thanks for adding "bon appétit" to my day.

    -- Sully

  4. Thanks Sully, Yes! Jean reminds us to live each day with excellence and use the best we have, whether it's the good china, the attitude of making each meal special, or living our life to the life enhancing fullest. Jean's interview and thoughts are a great call to action to live our passions.

    all the very best,

  5. Grant, I've been getting terrific feedback from some of my readers who have read the interview. For some reason, they're just not leaving comments here!


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