When planning your menu, visualize how the food will look on the plate. Color and textural contrasts are as important as flavor variations, but when you are cooking for yourself and your family, the simple, unpretentious dishes will be most appreciated. I almost always survey green vegetable. If you don’t serve tomatoes beets or carrots, a cherry tomato, a strawberry or a garnish of contrasting color such as a black olive or a lemon wedge adds interest to the look of the plate.
I will never forget going to a friend’s home for dinner many years ago. We were served creamed chicken, mashed potatoes and canned creamed corn. This colorless menu was on relieved by being served on a beige plate. A sprig of parsley come or even some cranberry jelly comer would have whet my appetite. It takes a great deal to make me lose it but that night you had my imagination failed me. Dinner was so dull. I couldn’t taste anything at all.
A variety of taste treats is the spice of life. We all can become deadened to taste if we don’t have surprise flavors in our everyday food to add some zip. After you’ve read some cookbooks and learned the basic principles of cooking, there should be a certain amount of serendipity.
Experiment with your basic menus. Add ginger, scallions and Greek olives to your chicken one night, the next, nutmeg, bacon and sour cream to your spinach. Then add a touch of soy sauce to whatever you have in the wok. Carrots are delicious with fresh orange or tangerine juice squeezed into the butter, plus a pinch of cinnamon and a little brown sugar. Shredded raw carrots with herbs in a lemon and sour cream sauce. Plan basic menus so you have all the necessary ingredients to work with before you start to cook.
Food discoveries often occur almost by accident, and are quite simple like the flavor of mint lemon ice or almond lobster salad.
There is far more to the eating ritual than good food. The body responds to the subtle nuances of the surroundings because eating is both a physiological and psychological act.
Set the stage at every meal. An architect from NY said “If you build a good room, then you can eat in it.” Intimacy, calm and a sense of privacy are essential, which means that where we eat should be places of refuge. It’s wise to avoid TV, telephones and other harsh noises while eating, because such things cause a general stress reaction, and this kind of confusion prevents one from really tasting the various flavors and also from digesting the food properly.
The ambiance and the place where you actually set your table or trays or organize your picnic is an important part of the ritual of eating, and should be carefully considered even before you plan your menu or begin to prepare your meal. Light is a real tonic. One of the ideal places to eat is outdoors, alfresco, but when this isn’t practical, at least be sure to eat where there is as much natural light as possible. In the evenings, use candles or dine by firelight.
In summer I enjoy a table set in soft pastel colors that blend with the sky and flowers. In fall, when there is a crispness in the air and the leaves turn crimson, I prefer rich yellows, oranges and soft greens. Colors have seasonal moods and opening up to the changes broadens your range of sensuous experiences
The more you vary the way you stage a meal, the more pleasure you will have in the daily rituals of eating.