Personal Rituals–Dinner


You’re allowed to buy a roasted chicken–just make it a good one

You can’t possibly ask me to go without having some dinner. It’s absurd. I never go without my dinner. No one ever does, except vegetarians and people like that.

― Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

According to the old saying, you’re supposed to forget about dinner, but I find that hard to do. Dinner punctuates the day, and without it, the day feels ragged and unfinished.

As Judith Jones does, even when I’m alone, I make an effort. Dinner is a moment for quiet elegance—a cloth napkin, a glass of wine, lowered lights—a plate of pasta and a salad, some sautéed chicken livers and a piece of crusty bread, an egg simmered in some herby tomato sauce. And a scant glass of wine.

With Jones, dinner is a sleek finish to the day. The all time best home cook, Marion Cunningham, also appreciates the solo dinner and treats it as a cozy time. She writes, “Sometimes eating supper alone feels private, quiet, and blessedly liberating. You may eat anything you want; you needn’t be conventional. I liked a baked potato with olive oil and coarse salt and pepper followed by vanilla ice cream, which proves to me that money doesn’t buy a good meal. One night not long ago I had freshly baked cookies and milk, and found that uplifting.” With recipes like Creamy Rice, Chicken Smothered with Mushrooms, and Posole Salad Soup, I picture the sofa, a blanket, and a Cary Grant movie that I’ve seen a hundred times and love every time.

chicken after

On your own–be as messy as you like. You’ll just have to clean it up.

But my favorite take on dinner is Rust Hills on dinner parties. Hills was the longtime fiction editor at Esquire magazine, and a brilliant curmudgeon. His 1972 book, How to Do Things Right: The Revelations of a Fussy Man is my desert island read. He is a man with standards for everything from rigging a sailboat to taking children out for ice cream. He gives excellent advice on how to be good (or, more importantly, make your family think you’re good) and how to make the perfect milk toast (I can’t enjoy wet bread, but I appreciate his meticulous approach).

Hills also gives advice on throwing a dinner party—which, even 40 years ago, were facing extinction. According to Hills, “What did away with the big dinner party in this country was the end of the servant class; what did away with the small dinner party was the end of the wife class.”

Hills laments the loss and takes the responsibility of guiding you to its resurrection with a brilliantly simple approach: skip fussy courses and serve one big dish like a boeuf bourgignon, along with good French bread and good wine. Dispense with appetizers and splash out on a dessert. And, per Hills, no bread balls.

But I kind of like bread balls. My brother I would pick apart slices of bread, roll them into balls and munch on them in front of Saturday morning cartoons while waiting for my parents to wake up and provide a real breakfast. Inevitably, the bread and/or the cartoons would get boring and we’d start pelting each other. That usually woke up the parents.

I suppose the adult equivalent are flying champagne corks or the knocked over wine glass. I have a stock of party plates and glasses that are made to be broken. I want exuberance, gesture, and if in pursuit of the punch line, a broken plate results, who cares.

So come on over to my house, and bring your best stories.



About Appetite for Books

read, cook, eat, repeat
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