Diana Waring, in her homeschool book called Beyond Survival, tells the story of being gifted with time spent at her friend's resort (a homeschool mom's dream come true). She writes about the beautiful and delicious food served in the resort's fine dining restaurant and then being taken on a tour of the restaurant's kitchen the next morning.
What surprised her was that the kitchen contained, for the most part, the very same ingredients one would find in their home kitchen and pantry. The difference was in the cooking and the presentation of the food that made it a resort experience.
While this was one of my very favorite homeschool books, it was this chapter that stayed with me long after the homeschool years have passed. Some of my fondest memories are of dining out with friends and loved ones. I have always enjoyed local diners for breakfast and even my favorite hot dog drive-in place that is open only in warm weather where one can enjoy a cony dog and diet root beer while in the car.
However, it was when dining became an experience that eating was taken to another level. I have many memories of dining in favorite places in Michigan that overlooked the water, my birthday dinner at a tapas restaurant last summer in South Haven, and lunch in an American Revolution pub in Colonial Williamsburg.
I have fond memories of visiting tea rooms with my daughter and granddaughters, pie served at an apple orchard on Autumn afternoons when Stephanie was little, and the simple mountain restaurant we stopped at on the Blue Ridge Parkway on our honeymoon where trout was served "just caught from the creek out back" that morning.
Just to name a few memories from hundreds upon hundreds of such experiences which began with the diner where my mother worked when I was a toddler to just last week when my son took me to lunch at Panera and then to try bubble milk tea for dessert (at the place close by).
I came to realize very early in my mothering experience that children like to chat about their life when there is a table and good food involved. :)
That chapter in Beyond Survival reinforced what I had come to learn about cooking and baking. That the food we love can often be prepared at home with simple ingredients. All the home cook has to do is learn the techniques of preparation and presentation.
Most of us cannot afford to experience fine dining very often. But we can decide to learn all we can about cooking and baking so that in our home kitchens we can prepare delicious food for our friends and family... and just us if we eat alone!
I have rarely prepared a recipe from my favorite cooking shows but I have gained a volume of knowledge about food and technique. My favorite cooking shows to learn from are on PBS where the cooks tend to be good teachers. And I learn something all the time.
For instance, I learned from watching Lidia Bastianich that adding a pinch of red pepper flakes is what Italian cooks do to add flavor to many of their dishes (and more to make them hotter). So one day I got a little braver than usual when it comes to heat in my food and bought a jar... wallah! Italian cooks are geniuses. :)
Another recent experience was learning srirachha can be used in a similar manner. Just last night I added a few drops to a quiche I was making and was very pleased with the result... added flavor but not so much to add a lot of heat.
I'm simply saying this... we all have to cook. Well, most of us. So if we make an effort to learn to cook well, to try new techniques and ingredients occasionally, to spend time in the kitchen when there is free time to try something new, we can put some delicious food on the table for a fraction of the cost of a restaurant meal.
Not to mention it doesn't cost much to light a candle, add a flower in a vase, shine up our favorite plates, pour a glass of wine or sparkling grape juice, and creating an atmosphere. Even if only on special occasions.
Learning to do something well that we have to do anyway changes it from drudgery to delight. Not every day. But far more than not when one has learned the basics, written out a weekly grocery list, set up a pantry over time, and made the effort to become really good at cooking and baking.
Perhaps even making the art of learning a priority in the budget with the purchase of a few really good pots and pans, a few good knives, cooking classes, great cookbooks, etc. Built up not all at once but over years in a tight budget.
I was thinking recently... after being shocked at the price of a grocery store cake... that money spent learning cake decorating skills would be about the price of one or two cakes. And the skills learned would last a lifetime.
For you see, what we are paying for when we go to a restaurant is the entire experience. Which is something I find enjoyable even if I don't go out often these days. But delicious food is possible any day of the week.
The more you learn about anything, the more you actually do something, the better you get at it... most of the time. The better you are at doing anything, the more you begin to enjoy it. And since you have to cook, anyway...
Mentioned in this Blog Post
Beyond Survival by Diane Waring... here (third party). This is a good book even if one is not homeschooling.