While they'd enjoyed making Turkish and Thai food, tabbouleh and pad Thai were new to them. Italian food they knew, Italian food they loved. Making noodles and meat sauce themselves doubled their delight.
But the pleasure in the making was nothing compared to the pleasure in eating. Sauce streaked their faces, their mouths erupted with noodles, forks were forsaken in favor of fingers. Caught up in eating and talking at once, they gargled and gurgled and giggled. As the kids departed, dazed and grinning, the Common Threads coordinator muttered a note to herself -- "Table manners."
Well, yeah, in the words of Cole Porter, it ain't etiquette. As one girl chattered on despite her mouth bulging with fettucini, I almost said something, but didn't want to be the etiquette police. And I didn't want to break the spell, sloppy and unlovely as it might be.
Alex Kapranos, the pretty lead singer of Franz Ferdinand once told me, "The conversation you have over a meal far outshines something you'd have at a party or bar. Some of our most romantic experiences, our most social experiences, happen over meals. You have to talk to each other, you want to talk."
Personally, I have trouble talking and eating at the same time. But watching the kids yesterday makes me think it's time to learn. Marching about in the carapace of adulthood, I forget about the whole sensual delight of eating. Yes, there's the spectacular taste of food -- a truffle omelet in Paris from my pre-vegan past stands out in muscular memory -- but there's the whole tactile full-body experience, as well.
An apocryphal story I like has an Englishwoman in Bombay admonishing an Indian gentleman for eating with his fingers. "We eat with silverware," she said, and you can imagine her superior tone, her pursed lips. "Madame," he replied, "it would be like having sex through a sheet."
I'm not advocating a ban on table manners, for myself or anyone (Alex K, may I add, is a very tidy eater). Social nicities can be learned. Joy can't be. Nor can it be faked. These kids have plenty of deadly dinners with coworkers ahead of them, many dull family gatherings. We all do. Neatness counts. But sometimes, giving yourself over to the moment and the meal counts more.
Here's a marinara that's heavy on the veggies, light on the effort. Chop your vegetables fine if you're of a refined nature. Personally, I like a chunky sauce, one that's not afraid to tell you what it is.
Serve with your favorite pasta. Eat with abandon. Wipe your mouth. Swallow before you speak.
Very Veggie Pasta Sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped (I used a tabasco from my garden, but a jalapeno works fine)
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 zucchini or yellow squash, chopped
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1 rib celery, chopped
28 ounces diced tomatoes
1/2 cup red wine
2 bay leaves
1 big bunch basil, chopped or torn
1 bunch Italian parsley, chopped or torn
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion, red pepper, jalapeno, garlic, zucchini, mushrooms and celery. Saute until vegtables are softened, about 12 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add diced tomatoes, red wine and bay leaves. Stir well and reduce heat to low. Cover pot and let simmer for 30 minutes.
Fish out the bay leaves, add chopped basil and parsley. Stir well, salt and pepper to taste. Serve over pasta.
Serves 6 to 8. Keeps for days in the fridge, freezes beautifully
Coming up next -- the (artichoke) heart of the matter.