If there is one thing I have learned while traveling in Mexico, France and the UK during the past two years, it is that the locals do things right at midday. Lunch is a time to be enjoyed. A great respite in the middle of the day. In Mexico, the kids take two hours off from school for it. In France, even the most humble of local bistros serves a three or four course affair that everyone from workers in muddy boots to the local ladies enjoy with a free flowing bottle of wine that is placed on the table when you arrive. In Britain, weekday lunch is just as likely as in the US to be a pre-wrapped sandwich or a take-away carried back to your desk from the local fast food shop but it can also be a relaxed time at a pub with friends over cottage pie or fish and chips and a pint , or a nice business oriented sit-down affair in Edinburg or The City of London with wine and all the trimmings. And Sunday lunch, particularly the traditional Sunday Roast, is almost sacrosanct. The point is that in most cases lunch is still taken seriously.
My grandmother began cooking lunch just as soon as the breakfast dishes were cleared. There was generally a main course of some sort of meat, and potatoes or sweet potatoes, sometimes both, or maybe beans, at least one green vegetable and usually some stewed fruit or a Jell-O salad ,and maybe even macaroni and cheese or chicken and dumplings. A big pot of vegetable soup filled with chunks of beef was always a favorite. Homemade biscuits were alongside with butter and molasses, an extra one often serving as dessert.
On Sundays there was always a special cake or pie as well. Dinner was that big meal served on Sunday and supper each night was whatever was leftover from lunch Lunch was often referred to as dinner even on the weekdays. Only on Saturday might a sandwich be considered adequate at noon. And then supper might be oyster stew or fried fish or a time out at my grandfather’s club.
In the Sunday London Times, AA Gill, wrote in his regular “Table Talk” column that “We are all remembered and revitalised by food.” Having just attended the funeral of a restaurateur friend, Gill posited about food that is comforting, satisfying and evokes memories, particularly a good lunch, and he got me to thinking.
Food is all about memories for me - my grandmother’s table, the recipes my family shares, how can I adapt something I loved as a kid to fit my new healthier and perhaps even vegetarian eating preferences. Food is emotional. Just like Jews set a place at Passover for the prophet, so are each of us joined by those who came before when we sit at table. Shared food is communion. And during this week called Holy Week, Christians the world over celebrate the sharing of food at “The Last Supper” in many ways - festivals, feasts, sacraments, pageants, family dinners. Everything we take the time to put on our table says something about our heritage, our ancestors and even what we want to pass on to those who follow. Food is our history and our legacy. It is emotional, and metaphysical as well as sustaining.
So, as Gill says ,we should all “Eat more lunch.” Take that time to stop and savor what is going on around us. Listen carefully to what that co-worker or friend is really saying, Hell, give yourself time to hear what you are really thinking.
Personally, I won’t go as far as Dr. David and advocate the return of the three martini lunch. Although I do love a good martini - or two. Based on the thoughts of James M Schlessinger, Jr, “A martini is the staff of life.“ And former president Gerald Ford once said that, “The three martini lunch is the epitome of American efficiency. Where else can you get an earful, a belly full and a snoot full a the same time.”
Personally I would be more likely to end up like Dorothy Parker if I had martinis at lunch,
I like to have a martini,
Two at the most.
After three I’m under the table,
After four I’m under the host.
But I do advocate a nice glass of wine, or even sharing a bottle with your lunch companion as a way of better enjoying the food, opening up the conversation and perhaps lingering a bit longer at table.
Think of how much better all our lives would be if we took those two hours midday to unwind, breathe, relax and eat lunch.
As I continue to develop my new blog Ciel’s Vegetarian Pantry, I hope to concentrate on making food a memorable and important part of every day. Give it a try and let me know how it goes.
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