Dinner time is my favorite ritual of the day. At our house it is a big deal. We are a family who eats together. We often eat in the dining room. We do use the good dishes and table linens. (My daughter is great at making tablescapes and placecards.) We burn through candles like crazy. At least once a week, we clear the table and play games immediately after eating. It is a very rare occasion that we eat out. Why do we need to? We have different zones in our house that we have designated as different restaurants.
Depending on the mood we are trying to achieve or what's on the menu, we eat in different rooms. Often the kids get to choose. For instance--the kitchen table is pub food, comfort food. We call that The Blue Bottle. The dining room is higher end with French and Italian specialties. That's called Chez Julianne. (Julianne was my name in French class.) Downstairs around our bar is Jasmine's (named after a pug we once owned). It features dim lighting, jazz music, and great steaks, fondue, and tapas. And the outdoor arenas? We have the upper deck which is Giovedi (the Italian word for Thursday). Mark and I used to put the kids to bed early on Thursdays and have date night on our deck on balmy evenings after his golf league. This is the place for awesome grilled seafood with a glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or Pittsburgh Steak salads. (For the uninitiated--that's a salad with french fries! MMMM!) Our lower patio, comfortable seating around the chimnea, is The Whale and The Mermaid. This is named for the kids, Jonah (the whale) and Maren (the mermaid). We write the menu on our huge chalkboard. Everyone helps to set the stage.
I like to cook, and our kids are great about trying almost anything and finishing most of what's on their plates. I start the process weeks in advance; making up a menu and writing it on our wipe-off board along with appointments, doings, etc. On nights when we have things going on, I try to make a meal that can be made ahead and either reheated or served from the crock pot. I am meticulous about using what is on special or in season, varying the menus, and using leftovers creatively. I never have to think about what to serve; I can concentrate on cooking--which I love. It is probably the most zen thing that I do--even above painting and writing. Last night we had roast rosemary and garlic chicken with buttermilk mashed potatoes. The night before was lamb chops in fig compote with thyme tamales. Both were dining room dinners. But tonight will be turkey burger sliders on waffle fries, so that will be in the Blue Bottle.
Looking ahead, our spring schedule has the potential to be quite hairy. Both kids look to be starting new time-intensive activities. My husband is starting a new job that is a greater commute than his present employment. But we have great conversations around our table. Everyone is relaxed. So we will try to continue the tradition as best and as often as we can--making a big ta-do when we have our first alfresco dinner of the spring. Dinnertime with my family--it is something that feeds more than just our bodies.