I've always been the type of cook who liked a plate to look nice. My mother was always a wonderful cook when I was growing up and she taught me the finer points of both nutrition and culinary aesthetics of not serving a pale, naked boneless, skinless chicken breast shivering on a plate next to some mashed turnips and a serving of wax beans. Her meals were always hearty and filled with color, if lamentably short on desserts.
But actual plating is something I've never really done until the double-whammy of Whisk Wednesdays and Top Chef hit me. All of a sudden, I'm enjoying little finicky details like a flat-leaf parsley and grape tomato garnish, or a sprinkling of paprika and dill weed across the top of a potato salad. (I know the paprika thing is hopelessly stuck in the 1950s days of casseroles baked with chicken, noodles, cheese, cashews, pimiento-stuffed green olives and two cans of cream of mushroom soup, but I can't help it. Just be thankful that I don't make that casserole.)
Tonight we ate a simple dinner of Mexican chili, which the girls and I dished up into our faithful old Pfaltzgraff rimmed soup plates. We laid a slice of Colby-Jack cheese on the top of each bowl, threw a few corn chips on it like a group of little seafarers perched on a life raft in the middle of a bumpy red sea, and topped it off with a sprig of the aforementioned parsley. It looked very pretty, and my husband was appreciative of our efforts. Which made me sigh in relief, because he's a pickier eater than he thinks he is, and I was trying to disguise the fact that we'd run out of our usual cheddar cheese.
I'm also teaching the girls some little niceties of the table, things I left behind me from my mother's training when I had two little ones "helping" and just getting supper on the table took the organizational skills of General Patton. For some time, I've been just throwing bottles of ketchup and mustard out there, along with chips in a bag instead of a bowl, sometimes with a big plastic jug of milk acting the part of a centerpiece. It used to drive me batty when my mother put mayonnaise in a tiny dish and pickles in a tiny dish and croutons in a tiny dish. It made so much extra stuff to wash. If it had been possible to put my frayed nerve endings in a dish, it would have taken a big one.
But tonight, Meelyn, Aisling and I did what we've been trying to do and put jalapeño peppers in a tiny dish and slices of Colby-Jack on a little plate and corn chips in a medium-sized bowl. And decorated everything with parsley, because if you're going to serve your family a cheap dinner like chili made from canned ingredients, the least you can do is make everything pretty.
My husband nodded approvingly and said that everything looked very nice and congratulated me that the girls aren't growing up like wild animals with no manners. He seems to believe that all problems with child rearing can be solved by everyone's sitting down at the dinner table in the evening. Although I could tell him some stories about throwing a buttered biscuit at my father that might change his mind about that.
My personal theory includes flat-leaf parsley.
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