Posts Tagged dining

Lentils and Love

22 March 2011

I wish I could attach a “scratch-n-sniff” plug-in so you could get a whiff of the heavenly aroma wafting through our kitchen right now.

Mom and I are making lentil soup. Athough this may not sound very exciting, we are cooking up memories to last a lifetime. The windows are open for the first time this season, letting in the fresh spring breeze, birds are chirping cheerfully, our Korean neighbor is kneeling over her vegetable garden, and I’m enjoying learning from my mother how to fix this simple and delicious dish.

As the lentils simmer on the stove, I’ve been thumbing through the 456-page tome on French cooking that I received yesterday and came across this beautiful quotation by Chef Henri Faugeron:

“If the science of nutrition is an act of the mind, the art of nourishing one’s neighbor is above all an act of love.”

An example is given of a prominent French chef of the early 1900s whose friend, author Marcel Proust, often came to dine. The chef would fix grand meals for the writer in exchange for one of his fabulous stories. And once, when Proust was out of sorts and had no appetite, the chef made it his mission to entice him by making a special omelet stuffed with fresh, minced truffles cooked in cream sauce. It worked: Proust devoured the meal and was full of gratitude towards his friend.

What a wonderful concept! Food as a way of sharing love with a friend, a neighbor, a loved one. Those of us who love cooking sharing with those who do not or have not. Those who love eating filling our hearts with contentment as we watch them taking pleasure in the food we’ve prepared.

How blessed we are. Every day we have the opportunity to share this little act of love with one another.

Lord, help me cherish today. Help me to be thankful for a nose that can smell, a palate that can taste, ears that can hear, eyes that can see, and a mind and hands that can work together to make something nutritious to eat and to share.

(Click here to see our French lentil recipe)

10 Tips for Dining in China

30 September 2010

If your idea of Chinese food is based on the corner takeout, prepare your taste buds for a shock when you travel to China.  The food is fresh, flavorful, and usually made with great pride. It is often spicier than in the US, too, so beware of those treacherous little red peppers!

Tip #1. Remember that in China dining is about more than food. The Chinese love to eat, but it’s about more than that: for centuries sharing a meal has been an important way to establish “guanxi” (gwan-shee), or good relationships. 

Tip #2. Sample all the dishes set before you.  You’ll be seen as rude and offensive if you don’t try the dishes prepared for you, no matter how exotic or strange they may seem. If you have severe allergies, be sure to let your host know ahead of time.

Tip #3. Let your host order for you. Most American Chinese food has been adapted to the Western palette and renamed, so you probably won’t find your favorites on the menu. Be open to the dishes your host thinks you will like.

Tip #4. Eat as much as you like. In restaurants and homes, several dishes are brought to the table for all to share. The host will order for you, and there will be enough food to satisfy everyone around the table. Which leads us to the next tip …

Tip #5. Don’t balk at sharing from a common dish. This is something Westerners find a little hard to swallow (no pun intended). Using chopsticks, each person selects from the food that is placed on a large revolving tray in the middle of the table and brings it back to his or her plate. Join in.

Tip #6. Don’t clean your plate. Cleaning your plate is not seen as a compliment to the hostess in China. A clean plate indicates that the host has not provided enough food and that the guest is still hungry.  A bit of uneaten food on your plate says, “I’m so full I can’t possibly eat another bite.”

Tip #7. Praise the food. But don’t say it if you don’t mean it! Your hosts will be watching you carefully to see what you eat and how much you eat. If they perceive that you like a certain dish, they will insist you eat more of it, order more of the same, or order it the next time you go out. Chinese have great memories for such things. 

Tip #8. Be discreet if you don’t like the food. Try to find something you like and eat it slowly and consistently. Make sure there’s always something on your plate. Rice is usually safe, and with the variety of dishes ordered, you can usually find at least one or two other things that you’ll like.

Tip #9. Thank your hosts. Telling your hosts what you liked about the meal will mean a lot to them. Say, “Xie Xie! Hao chi!” If they try to put more food on your plate, cover it with your hands and decline, “Bu, bu, bu! Xie xie! Who chi bao le!” (No, no, no! Thank you. I’m full!)

Tip #10. Allow your host to pay. At the end of the meal, guests will sometimes make a gesture of reaching for the bill but, though appreciated, everyone knows that the host will insist on paying: it is a matter of honor, as paying the bill is seen as a symbol of generosity and hospitality.

Paris Basics: The French & Their Food

14 September 2010

A Culinary Love Affair

Anticipating a trip to Paris? Some cultures eat to live, others live to eat. Here are some basic things you should know about the French and their relationship with food.

Mealtimes

Mealtimes are quasi-sacred to the French. Schoolchildren have the option of going home for their hour-and-a-half lunch break or eating a multi-course  meal in the school cafeteria. Many mothers (and sometimes dads, too) arrange their schedules so they are at home with their kids at lunch.

Montmartre CafeMeals are served in courses: the first course is the entrée, which Americans would call an appetizer or starter course; the second or main course is called plat de résistance and is usually accompanied by vegetables or other side dishes. The main course is followed by a cheese or yogurt course, then by dessert or fruit. Fresh bread is served with every meal.

While Americans often drink coffee with their meal, French diners drink theirs with, or after, dessert. Here’s another notable dining difference: no ice in beverage glasses! To order ice, just tell the waiter “Avec glaçons, s’il vous plait” (“With ice, please”) with your order.

Free refills are not a French concept. You pay for every drink you order.

Dining OutRestaurant a Montmartre

The concept of proper service in restaurants differs greatly between the U.S. and France. In many restaurants in the United States, the wait staff receives only a crash course before beginning to serve customers. To the French, waiting tables is an art that requires the most rigorous training: professional French waiters must go to school for several years, pass difficult exams, and participate in challenging competitions before entering into full time service.

The French waiter is trained to be as discreet as possible and anticipate diners’ needs in the most unobtrusive manner. The American way of serving usually centers on relationship building (“My name is Megan and I’ll be your server this evening”). To the French, such familiarity can be offensive. The French tend to see the American waiting style as overbearing (“Is everything okay? Can I get you anything?”).

Often in America the wait staff performs duties with a good tip in mind. French servers are salaried and do not expect to be tipped. They are paid to perform their duties then disappear into the background in order to allow patrons to enjoy their dining experience.

There is much to love about Paris—the romance, joie de vivre, art museums, architecture—but each visitor will leave with a unique impression of the City of Light based on individual experience. Knowing as much as you can about Paris before you go will increase your chances for good experiences and pleasant memories. Bon voyage!

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