[Cheese and wine, November 2008.]
I was watching some silly movie the other night that took place in England. The plot was pretty lame (but yes, the couple got together in the end, as they should have) and I don’t remember who was in it — however, there was a scene in which a family was sitting outside at a white-swathed table in the long, soft English afternoon eating and drinking wine and it looked just marvelous.
It’s no secret I love a party. Heck, I’m already planning the menu for my New Year’s Eve party — which, somehow, has grown to at least 10 guests and counting — even though I am kind of horrified at myself for thinking that far ahead. (For the record, possibly some sort of braised and baked fish; a sweet potato souffle; lots of roasted vegetables of course; other things I haven’t decided on yet except that I think actually it might be revised to be more like small plates and pot-luck … oh, dear g-d, you see how I am.) So when I see what appears to be a perfect scene in a perfect setting (England. Countryside. Lovely grey light. Summer.) I just … want.
What is it about making something special out of a meal? This is the time of year when we’re thinking even more than usual about how to lay the table, what to serve, what time to serve it, who will share the food with us, where we’ll sit down to eat. I still have that little dream of a Thanksgiving set in a clearing in a redwood forest, with an outdoor fireplace, good red wine, cool snapping air, simple, seasonal, healthful dishes, all my beloveds gathered round. The conservation would be lively and comfortable and we’d probably have gone for a hike earlier in the day to whet the appetite (the practicality of how we’d cook all the food is not important I guess). Doesn’t it sounds perfect? One day, I promise.
Of course, something I always must have at any sort of party large or small is a cheese plate. A few weeks ago I’d been cooking and baking all day (my usual Sunday activities, as you know) and as I’d been sampling little bits of whatever it was I was working on I wasn’t terribly hungry when it came dinner time. I’d picked up a few beautiful apples at the farmers’ market that morning and as I am usually well-stocked with cheese I cut up an apple, some cheddar, poured myself a glass of Zin and flopped down on the couch to watch my HBO Sunday night circuit. I guess because I really wasn’t too hungry I didn’t feel like weighing the plate down with bread and I didn’t miss it. The apple, sweet and crisp, was the perfect complement to the sharp cheese, and I was left satisfied but not overfull.
I mean, I wasn’t sitting at a luncheon party in the English countryside but I don’t know, there was something sort of special and sweet about it anyway — maybe because it was a little different than the usual thing and because I put it on a pretty plate and so savored the bite of the apple against the smooth slices of cheese. I’d argue such a plate would be perfectly appropriate on this year’s Thanksgiving table, or at a New Year’s gathering, or even for a Boxing Day snack.
Sometimes I wonder if I like to throw parties for the little ceremonies they involve as well as for the food. You know what I mean: the choosing what napkins to use (I have three options: plain white, from eight years ago when I moved into my first apartment and treated myself to cloth napkins at Pottery Barn; a lovely golden-flowered set, which I picked up on sale at Williams-Sonoma ages ago in Washington; and a set of every-day, slightly faded red ones given me last year for my birthday) and how to fold them, what flowers or greenery to arrange just so on the table, what tablecloth would look best against the food, what sort of champagne would go with the cheese plate, etc. etc. It’s all part of the little thrill of planning I suppose.
I realized yesterday, as I crumbled probably my year’s quota of butter into various baked goods and thought seriously about finding a new recipe for gingerbread, that the holiday season is nearly officially upon us. Gulp. Oh, I’m almost ready, make no mistake, but it did give me pause for a moment. There’s so much to do before the first day of the new year dawns — things I want to do, but still — and dreamily imaging table settings isn’t really the most productive use of my time.
But it sure is fun.