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Promoting Thoughtful Food Dialogue


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We have a lot of threads devoted to the dolts and ne'er-do-wells who do not share our own desires for food, eating, cooking, drinking, and learning about the same. (And, just so we're clear, I'm just as guilty as anyone around here of pronouncing the sheer imbecility of those who cannot, say, appreciate the glories of Friendly's butter crunch ice cream.) However, I'm proposing a different sort of thread here.

I just read this post from Marlene --

Last weekend I was making dinner for my brother and his SO.  I made them roasted asparagus with shaved parmigiano.  My brother's SO piped up that she had grated parmesan and could we use that.   :wacko:   I shaved some of mine and invited her to do a side by side taste test with hers.  She said later she never knew you could buy it in blocks.   :rolleyes:

-- and something clicked in me. In this little anecdote, Marlene taught someone something. Yes, it was something very simple that most on this website know: freshly grated cheese tastes better. But Marlene's gesture seemed generous instead of judgmental; she shared her experience with someone else and thus expanded that other person's horizons.

I thought a bit about this over the last couple of weeks, when I visited my in-laws in southern Arizona and learned how to make nana Elsie Castañeda's tamales using fresh masa. We spent hours making the beef, blending the masa and lard, and buildling the tamales; I asked a lot of questions and learned a ton.

Later in the week, when I had a chance to prepare some food for Elsie and her extended family, I did something very different than I've usually done. Instead of making food with which they'd be familiar, I made a variety of simple cold dishes with interesting ingredients that were new to most of my in-laws, and, as people filled their paper plates, I talked one-on-one with them a bit about each item. Sure, some people didn't like the (heavenly!!) bleu cheese resting on a leaf of endive with a walnut half and sliver of perfectly ripe pair, but they probably liked the seviche, or the anise and parsley salad (with shaved parm, of course), or the yukon gold potato salad with fresh herbs (and no mayo or miracle whip). Much to my surprise, not only did people enjoy themselves with all this weird food, but it all got eaten, too.

I think that these three episodes suggest that most people are actually quite eager to talk and learn about food and eating as long as their knowledge -- extensive or not -- and their tastes -- sophisticated or not -- are respected. Let's face it: even the most hell-bent food snobs among us have been made to feel ignorant and low-class by a wine aficionado, sushi fanatic, or the like; I know that I would have welcomed a chance to talk frankly about what I know and don't know, and what I like and don't like, in those situations. Finally, if you're reading this, you probably should admit to yourself that you have a lot to say about food and everyone in your life realizes it! :wink:

What do you think? Have there been any times when you've found that balance of pleasant engagement and informed experience that unexpectedly enabled you to turn someone on to the pleasures of the table? When has it worked? When hasn't it?

edited to fix a grammatical gaffe -- ca

Edited by chrisamirault (log)

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I've been on the other side of that equation. One that really helps me is no pressure. I didn't grow up with sushi, and I found I was able to try a lot of things by being with people who would explain it, but in a large enough group where it wasn't that noticeable if I took a piece of something or not. If someone takes you out for some new kind of food and then watches your every reaction to every bite, it's kind of weird. Some foods grow on you, anyway. (I thought raw fish was just OK for a while, and gradually got to the point where I'd seek it out.)

On the other side of the coin, I do feel let down when I introduce someone to my favorite foods and they don't "get it," but I try to remember how it feels the other way.

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On the other side of the coin, I do feel let down when I introduce someone to my favorite foods and they don't "get it," but I try to remember how it feels the other way.

I'm glad you brought that up, Tess. I had a conversation with my wife as I was making all of those dishes that focused precisely on this "disappointment," and I realized that it would make perfect sense for some people not to like some things. That conversation eliminated that expectation, enabled me to enjoy the event much more -- and it also made me realize how much pressure I can put on people when I say, "What d'ya think?" while holding up a dirty chef's knife. (Well, ok, I don't hold up the knife, but you know.) It made me realize the investments that I have NOT in having people try new things but rather in having them be like me.... :blush:

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Interesting thoughts, Chris. As usual.

It seems to me that how well one will accept (or even desire) a learning experience depends on so many ethereal things. Some people love to be open to other ideas, some just plain do not. (Can that be changed? I don't know. I don't think it can be changed by anything external but that it might be changed by an internal process, but of course nobody has control over anyone else's internal processes. Grace happens, or it doesn't.)

Then there is the time of day. . .some people are cranky or withdrawn at differing times of the day. There is "what happened to them on the way to work" which will affect mood and attitude. So much more. It is such a flitting thing, this ability to be open to learning.

Some people have resentment towards any sort of what sounds to them like authority. If someone says "yay" in an authorative tone, one that holds a certain extending tone of sureness, they will be angered by the tone, and will then therefore say "nay" just for the saying of it.

As far as how to go about sharing knowledge (or, if you prefer, not even "knowledge" but differing ways of doing things) I agree with you that there must be a sense of calm and balance within oneself to be able to do it well. As someone once said, a great teacher does not "teach". Instead, they say, "stand beside me and see what it is that I see."

And isn't it wonderful when it works, for either teacher or student. Not that the roles have to remain stable. . .the teacher can become the student and the student the teacher. Everyone knows "something", everyone has something to share, don't they?

But it sure as heck is not a science, this thing. Can't put it into a standardized recipe form. Just have to do the best we each can, and when it doesn't work, say "fuhgettaboudit" till the next time. Would be great if it were to be something that could be controlled, defined, set up to work for all time.

But that might take a lot of fun out of life. . .certainly it would take out a lot of the drama!

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I think that family (as expressed above) is one of those areas where this sort of scenario most often occurs. Particularly in the day-to-day meals of a family at home. In my mind, the best way to approach sharing "new" or "different" foods with someone is very similar to how one begins to introduce a child to the wonderful world of cultural foods, spices, experiences; that is, make it an EXPERIENCE - something fun, something that is interesting, something that addresses all the senses - and approach it from the standpoint of building on what they already like.

As simple run down of my nuclear family...

My Wife: Grew up in a typical mid-western 1970's household. That meaning, there was alot of canned veggies, ground beef (meatloaf, burgers), ham steaks, etc. When we met, a "Veggie Cheese Melt" at Denny's was haute cuisine.

My oldest son (13): Very much a meat and potatoes kid. Hey, he's 13 - if it is fried, and you can get it through a drive through window, it is what he wants.

My younger son (7): Still developing - the classics like Chicken noodle soup, hot dogs, pizza are what he prefers.

I on the other hand have always been interested in "trying new things" - when I was younger you might have called it "Extreme Eating"...Now that I have a full fledged family and truly enjoy cooking I often need to temper my desire to go full-on with new cuisine with my family's ENJOYMENT of the meal - that's it - their enjoyment of the meal.

With my kids...I look at what they like - I KNOW how good 30 minute delivery pizza tastes to a kid...or how good french fries covered in melted velveeta is...

But I think ... what *is* it about that stuff that gives the positive impact?

Texture? (i.e. the smoothness of the cheese, the crunch of a fry)...Saltiness? (yeah, that's a given)...The experience? (of GOING through the drive through, of having the delivery guy drop it off?)

I think all of those and more. As well put in the other threads; its all about the experience.

My wife now LOVES tapas - things like jamon y queso, marinated mushrooms and olives, she loves sushi, and she will eat anything I make except for octopus :wub: For her, I have realized that while it is important that the food tastes good to her - it is also SO much about the experience...Of knowing that I have our places set, with something I made with my own hands, and selected a bottle of wine, or a tasty beer to go with. I believe THIS opens the mind to try and accept new things (for her) - it tempers the new experience; the fear or hesitation, with the warm "blanket" of a good and enjoyable personal experience. She also knows that if she doesn't like something...I am going to gladly gobble it up, and she can laugh at me and move immediately to a nice dessert I've made :raz:

I could go on and on about my children as well. I think the point is, that as people who enjoy food - we also enjoy other people enjoying it. We have a natural desire to "want" someone else to like what we like - because *we* derive such pleasure from it we want *them* to as well! How nice of us!! I think that for me, I just need to remember that, really. The pleasure of it. It's not a test or a quiz...its not a speech or dictation...its not a crown I am putting on my head...its good stuff; and we all like good stuff; and we all like good stuff even more when we're having a good time.

Edited by oggi (log)

</Oggi>

"coffee should be black as Hell, strong as death and sweet as love" - Turkish Proverb

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Welcome to eGullet, oggi! Great first post!

 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

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Great topic, Chris!.... and Welcome, Oggi!

I think how successful this method is depends in great part on how receptive the other party is to new ideas/tastes. Two examples:

As I described in the Dinner! thread, last night I threw a do-it-yourself sushi party for my 8 year old daughter and her best friend (who's leaving to move back to a part of the mainland that's pretty unsophisticated foodwise). I taught the girls how to make temaki (the cone-shaped sushi hand rolls). Each plate was set with a portion of seasoned sushi rice and sliced maguro (raw tuna). I showed the girls how to take a rectangular half-sheet of nori, hold it in their hand (glossy side down) spread some rice in a square on half the sheet, add a slice of tuna (and other ingredients if they so pleased), and roll it into a neat cone. A neat, fun, "finger-food" dinner for all of us. Tasty, too! And my daughter's friend, who'd never eaten sushi or nori before, asked for seconds.

At the other side of the spectrum, some years ago when Haagen-Dazs was a relatively new and trendy brand, I served my parents Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream for dessert. My mother commented that she didn't see why everyone was making a fuss over it, because it was "just like Breyer's." Now, I know there are people who don't like Haagen-Dazs, but that was not what she was saying. She actually couldn't tell the difference between a rich, heavy butterfat ice cream and a "regular" ice cream of the same flavor. Taste-testing freshly shaved Parmesan cheese vs. the green can would've been equally pointless to her, no matter how gently phrased the "lesson."

SuzySushi

"She sells shiso by the seashore."

My eGullet Foodblog: A Tropical Christmas in the Suburbs

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This is such a good topic. I remember when I was a picky eater too, so I guess it's easy to understand that people have to develop their own tastes for things. I couldn't eat eggs except the medium hard boiled yolks, no onions, no raw tomatoes, to think that I came from such humble beginnings to be utterly fearless when trying new things. I owe a debt of gratitude to everyone whom I ever sat down to eat with for showing me the limitless pleasures of all types of cuisine. I remember the first real ethnic dinners at my parents' friends, church dinners, friends' parents houses in my small town, how they really shaped my likes. How could there be such good food? Here I thought Chinese food was so interesting, how shocked was I that Chinese food could be so different from the one horse place I grew up with, which the owners still cook today, and is still good for what it is. There is so much out there that I do still get disappointed when people aren't willing to try unagi, but I don't let it take away my enjoyment.

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Lots of interesting posts -- and, yes, welcome, Oggi!

At the other side of the spectrum, some years ago when Haagen-Dazs was a relatively new and trendy brand, I served my parents Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream for dessert. My mother commented that she didn't see why everyone was making a fuss over it, because it was "just like Breyer's." Now, I know there are people who don't like Haagen-Dazs, but that was not what she was saying. She actually couldn't tell the difference between a rich, heavy butterfat ice cream and a "regular" ice cream of the same flavor. Taste-testing freshly shaved Parmesan cheese vs. the green can would've been equally pointless to her, no matter how gently phrased the "lesson."

Suzy, do you really think that your mom would have had that same response if you had put a scoop of each in a bowl? I'm not being cutesy here; this is a real question. Call me a cockeyed optimist, but my experience suggests that the prevalence of people who can't distinguish flavors, textures, and so on is a lot lower than we think. And while I think that many people would not necessarily taste the difference between shaved and the green can, I think that more people can taste the difference between the styles of Breyers and Haagen-Daz.

Interestingly enough, Breyers wins some taste tests; I think that Cook's Illustrated picked it first once.

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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A couple of weeks ago, my sisters-in-law and we hosted a 50th anniversary party for my in-laws. This was almost totally a mid-western crowd. This would be a crowd that was raised on scalloped potatoes with ham in the church basement, or meat and cheese platters from the local market, with squishy buns thrown in for good measure. And, let's not forget the carrot and celery sticks with ranch dressing.

My SIL's put me in charge of food. So, we had little mozzarella (fresh, from a local cheese maker), grape tomatoes and mixed olives. Fresh Pita from Holy Land, homemade hummus and tabouli. A platter of assorted marinated veggies. A greek salad on the side.

One of us stood by the table to explain some of the things that some of these people might not have eaten before.

It was unbelievably popular, and for those who had not tried some of these foods before, eye opening and well appreciated.

Everyone said that the occasion was made more special not just by the company or the setting or the beautiful weather, but by special food. My FIL (with whom I have had an off and on cantankerous relationship) was moved to tears by the fact that I made the food myself, and thought "outside the box."

I love introducing people to new food. The first time my best friend's son had larb (he must have been 10), his eyes opened wide and he said "now, this is food!"

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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Chris, thank you so much for starting this thread.

It's funny how easily the intimidation factor plays a part in discussing food with those who might be new to its exploration. There was a time (and it still happens) when friends were afraid to ask me over for dinner because they were scared to death to cook for me. I would gently remind them that I also eat hot dogs, hamburgers, etc. -- and that I botch a meal more often than they might think.

I would also point out that years of practice and lots of mistakes are what improved my skills, and more than once I have felt like an utter novice while watching a chef in action.

What I try to do in such situations is really let my enthusiasm shine through, to help explain methods if they ask, or to (gently) offer a tip while they are preparing the meal.

One of the greatest compliments I ever received was from a dear friend of mine, who said, "You know, Jen, I never really thought about food before, but your passion has really sparked this curiosity in me, and now I look at the colors, the textures -- I am really starting to love this." I think I cracked the biggest smile of my lifetime.

If our excitement is what encourages people, and our desire to show them helps foster that pursuit of knowledge, we are doing a great thing. I applaud all of you who take such an approach, and hope that our collective impact makes a difference.

Edited by Jennifer Iannolo (log)

Jennifer L. Iannolo

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Food Philosophy. Sensuality. Sass.

Home of the Culinary Podcast Network

Never trust a woman who doesn't like to eat. She is probably lousy in bed. (attributed to Federico Fellini)

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Marlene's story was perfect. I think people are so used to convenience food, processed food, not-really food, that it can be really eye-opening when they eat something "real", even just a taste. Side-by-side comparisons are often educational, and sometimes life-altering.

I made some puff pastry "pies" filled with proscuitto, parm reg, a little dijon, sauteed leeks, and asparagus for an in-law lunch a while ago. The simple usage of quality ingredients, allowing the flavours of the proscuitto and parmegan to be tasted, was so well received. Not necessarily "life-altering", but appreciated enough that my MIL ended up making them for some other party a week later. :biggrin:

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This would be a crowd that was raised on scalloped potatoes with ham in the church basement, or meat and cheese platters from the local market, with squishy buns thrown in for good measure.  And, let's not forget the carrot and celery sticks with ranch dressing.

I quoted Susan, not to pick on her, but because after reading her description of "church potluck" food, I said to myself "But I like scalloped potatoes and ham!" Not that I have a problem with introducing my friends and family to new foods, but I sometimes think I get a little too caught up in preaching about the "cult of food" to those who aren't interested in listening.

It's like a friend of mine who loves golf. He's on the links every weekend, driving range a couple times a week, and most vacations involve golf. I know I look at him the same way some of my friends look at me when I wax poetic about the butt I smoked last week, the artisan cheese I picked up at the market or the week I'm spending with my wife visiting Okanagan wineries.

I feel the only people in my life who I am obligated to share this joy with are my children (my wife comes along for the ride willingly :biggrin:) It is my job to introduce them to all the varied aspects of life ... including food. But in the same way my friend can't make me like golf, I can't make my kids like good food. Fortunately they do ... and my little world rejoices :laugh:

However, in the spirit of Susan's post and this thread, I can tell you my wife & I did turn Christmas dinner on its ear a couple years back. It was less about wanting to introduce "good" food, and more about wanting to get rid of some of those dishes that appeared purely out of tradition, yet nobody seemed to like. Everyone really enjoyed the dinner, but the following Christmas, when it was my aunt's turn to host, the same old meal returned.

My point? I cook and eat for the joy it provides me and those I love. I'm not trying to convert anyone. I just want to have dinner.

A.

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Actually, Arne, one of the reasons I chose the menu I did was because of my father-in-law. He has said repeatedly after having dinner at our house, "you serve such interesting food. And, it's really good." He has implored my MIL to think more outside the box, but she cooks the way she does, and he's not about to step into the kitchen.

And, I wanted a menu that could sit out on a hot summer day better than meat, cheese and mayo-based stuff.

It has been fun to watch my FIL expand his taste horizons now that he's in his 70's.

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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I cook and eat for the joy it provides me and those I love.  I'm not trying to convert anyone.

Nor am I, nor, it appears, is anyone else on this thread. I certainly know that there are those among us who, like your golf friend, foist their interests and pleasures on everyone within earshot. That's not what folks here are doing.

In proposing the thread, I was interested in dialogue, in talking about food in ways that are grounded in sharing and experience, along the lines of Oggi's post. I specifically juxtaposed the conversations about tamales with the ones about the salads precisely for this reason. Dialogue across differences, not dismounting from our high horses to toss the hoi polloi leftovers from Per Se, is the point.

Put differently, were I to visit Susan (with you in tow :wink:), I'd delight in learning how to make, understand, and eat scalloped potatoes and ham!

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Marlene's story was perfect. I think people are so used to convenience food, processed food, not-really food, that it can be really eye-opening when they eat something "real", even just a taste. Side-by-side comparisons are often educational, and sometimes life-altering.

It was a nice moment, and I'll be honest, if she really couldn't tell the difference, I'd have used hers. Why? Because I wasn't interested in hurting her feelings. I just put the two in front of her and let her decide for herself. To give some context, until recently, my brother did all the cooking in their house. He's a damn good cook, but he wasn't going to hurt her feelings either. It's been very frustrating for him because he can't do the things in the kitchen he used to and he knows she's trying. She's had a lot to cope with in the last few months and she's had to start learning how to cook as well. For me to make fun of the fact that she didn't know the difference between fresh and "canned" parmesan would be unbelievably cruel.

I love ham and scalloped potatoes. (well ok, I could pass on the scalloped potatoes). I'm not a fancy cook. But I do take my time and I use fresh ingredients when ever possible. I don't make a big deal about what I cook or how I do it, but whenever a guest is interested, I'm always happy to share information and tips.

Am I a better cook than most of my friends and family? Maybe, but define better. I have a friend who's husband thinks she's outstanding in the kitchen, but whenever we go there, I eat before I go. then I politely accept whatever's offered and nibble away. Who am I to insult them?

It's all in the eye of the beholder or eater, in this case.

Everytime my son tries something I make that he hasn't experienced before and likes it, I rejoice quietly inside (like Arne). Last night I made Carnival corn, and my son ate three quarters of it. He'd never had it before.

Now, my brother's SO has asked me to give her some cooking instructions. I'm thrilled, and I hope I can do it without coming across as being superior or condensending. Next week, I'll spend every night at their house with a cooler full of food and ingredients that I'll haul up there, and make dinner with her every night.

And if she doesn't get it? Well I'll have had a great week with family sharing food and laughter and the joy of being together.

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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I run a small cooking mailing list for players of an online game. It runs the gamut of experience from former professionals to raw beginners....and it's been a joy to watch a number of people who joined "just to get a few new recipes" get turned on to the whole food experience thing.

Just the other night one person mentioned that he'd seen Emeril make a roux, and wondered what it was and what you'd use it for. Rather than treat it as a stupid question, we actually had a great discussion on how it was made, what everyone used it for, how it's the base for a great smooth gravy and the best homemade macaroni and cheese, flavorings to make quick sauces...and I think the original question asker is probably going to give it a whirl soon.

I don't want to convert the world...the world doesn't want to be converted. I just want to help those who want to learn, and to keep on learning myself (the ex-professional is the reason I can now make decent stocks).

Marcia.

Don't forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he wanted...he lived happily ever after. -- Willy Wonka

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  • 1 month later...

Bumping this up a bit, with a few new thoughts....

I've been realizing that I'm dreading Thanksgiving and Christmas this coming year, in part because I don't know quite how to approach the intersection of traditional expectations with the sorts of hopes I have for meals to which I devote a large amount of energy and time. I can't imagine that I'm alone -- and from conversations with Jewish and Muslim friends I can imagine that the coming holidays present similar concerns for other folks who weren't raised in Christian households.

So how are you going to handle this problem this coming year? Are you accepting dry brisket, turkey, or lamb as something you'll have to accept without comment? Or are you hoping to promote some discussion about those dry striated muscle cells?

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I guess I'm lucky. I'll be going to a dinner for the 2nd night of Rosh Hashanah at my godmother's. There was a time when she wasn't much of a cook, but though my parents are still better cooks than she is, my godmother has developed a talent for executing North African recipes well, so I'm guessing she's be making some kind of chicken tagine again, and I'll be happy with that.

For Passover, I go for the first seder to my cousins' in Teaneck, and my cousin's wife makes an excellent, non-dry brisket with tasty gravy and lots of caramelized onions. I really have nothing whatsoever to complain about in her cooking. Her matzo ball soup is very good, she makes her own gefilte fish, which is much better than store-bought, etc.

As for the second seder, well, the only thing my vegetarian cousins make well is egg salad, and because it's by far the best thing to eat there, they always should make more of it than they do. Protose steaks are yuchy, but they don't make me eat them. But I'm not there for the food, but because I like them and it's worth having bad vegetarian food for one night in order to spend time with them. Good food is important to me, but it's not the only important thing in life! :smile:

Oh, Thanksgiving? I usually spend that holiday with my parents, though occasionally at my godmother's. My parents nearly always cook food that's worth celebrating, anyway, or did until recently (my father hasn't had enough time and energy to cook much lately, nor does my mother cook often at this stage in her life). Sometimes, I've gone to my godmother's for Thanksgiving, which is also quite acceptable in terms of food and a pleasant place to be. I recall writing in a thread about Thanksgiving that what that holiday -- and, really, all holidays -- are really about is being thankful to have the chance to spend another special day with loved ones. Celebratory food is part of that, but what's most important is sharing.

Edited by Pan (log)

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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