Warmth, No Matter the Season

 Fall's Red Glory at the Old Episcopal Burying Ground, Lexington, KY

Fall's Red Glory at the Old Episcopal Burying Ground, Lexington, KY

Today's drip-and-chill in central Kentucky makes some of my loved ones grumpy. Winter has our place in its sights, if not yet in its icy grasp.

I tried to find a beloved old magazine story that would have helped me say what I'm thinking as fall changes to winter. No amount of googling turned up the story, which I may have twisted to my own ends as I've revisited it in memory across a lot of years. Here is how I retell the story to myself these days.

A harried, successful, food-obsessed, fashion-aware, urbane young writer goes to her low-key brother's house for dinner. He greets her with a hug at the door of his small apartment. The place smells good and feels warm. Intriguing music plays softly on a sound system.

Brother has handled dinner already, so he gives Sister his full attention, asking questions, listening as she talks about her life, talks about anything she wants. At their leisure, they go to the candle-lit table. I think rice and lentil-vegetable soup may have been involved, perhaps a salad and a loaf of homemade bread.

Sister/writer contrasted this meal in her mind with the dinners she usually valued: rich food served in several courses that use lots of extra pieces of silver, matching wines in multiple crystal flutes. What sticks with me is her writer's heart opening to the worn, clean cloth napkins, the not-quite-matched table settings and savory hand-made food, the warmth of her brother's attention. She marveled at how simplicity led to spaciousness, at how completely her brother created an evening that shone with peace and love. She went home committed to adopt what she could of her brother's approach to contentment and delight.

I've cooked a lot for people I love, getting a portion of this formula right, and missing some of the rest. Good house smells? Soft music? Candles? Check/Check/Check. Available cook with abundant energy for hosting the guests without distraction? Not so much.

I'm prone toward too much complexity in meals, and to focusing more on the wonders of the food than on the miracles of companionship and conviviality that food facilitates. I see occasional glimpses when a dear friend stops by and we share a pot of tea, or when a dinner proves unexpectedly easy to prepare, leaving precious attention available for the other person or people at the table.

As winter comes, and as pressures mount in many kitchens to produce holiday meals and treats so extraordinary our loved ones are stunned into silence, I want to learn from the brother in this story. I want to cook and offer good food while also placing value on the richness of conversation and the warmth of connection.

Perhaps you agree, or perhaps you find the whole notion chilling rather than warming. Perhaps you have insights, suggestions, or cautions to share. I welcome them all.

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