I’m not the first (or even the fiftieth) person to write about food and how the act of eating together is far less about the food than it is about the experience, socialization and community. Whether you eat alone, with one special person or share a meal with many, the experience can be equally poignant. Though I didn’t realize it until a couple of years ago, food has always been a very important part of my life.
I’m one of those people who says “My mom is the BEST cook” and truly means it. The thing is, with my mom, other people say it about her too. She really is the BEST cook. Even though I know Albuquerque isn’t B’s favorite city on earth, he never complains about traveling there because he knows it means at least a few days’ worth of my mom’s cooking. He was lucky enough to grow up similarly. His house was the house everyone went to in the summer and knew that his mom would feed them well. Over the past four years, we’ve tried to duplicate some of our mothers’ recipes. We’ve managed to satiate our own need for nostalgic comfort, but it’s never quite the same.
I wasn’t raised an emotional eater. Eating wasn’t the answer if you were sad or down, but food was one way that my family always expressed love. We shared meals. We enjoyed it, but never used it as an emotional crutch. It was never the expectation that you clean your plate or eat foods that you really didn’t like. If we occasionally felt like eating dessert first, well, then that was ok. As a result, I’ve always been able to enjoy food without going overboard or obsessing over it.
Eating, and restaurants in particular, became a much more social experience for me and an active interest after moving to Seattle. Since B and I were both new to the area, we quickly discovered that Seattle’s endless wonderful restaurants were a great way to get to know the city. That’s when we started Thursday dinners. It was something to look forward to if the week turned stressful (as it often does for us at work) and it helped keep our desire to eat out constantly in check. We knew we had Thursdays. It’s also one way we connect with each other. When we’re at home, there are commonly two Xbox360s, four computers, two cell phones and a Kindle going at any given time (not to mention a host of other electronics). Though we’re both guilty (one of us more than the other…ahem) of sometimes having the cell phone on the table at dinner, we take that time to minimize distractions and have real, dedicated conversation. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had a decision to make and B has asked, “Do you want to just talk about it over some wine tonight?” Away we go to one of our favorite spots.
As anyone who has made the move to the Pacific NW from somewhere sunny (as we both did) can tell you, it's not the passive agressive people that are the hardest adjustment, it's the weather. For all the times I’ve said “It’s not that bad,” I’ve also gone home and shut the blinds and turned on all the lights just so I can pretend that the weather outside isn’t as ugly as it really is. Most people spend the winter season eating and hibernating, or as my friend Ethan calls it, “putting on your winter coat.” While hibernation is certainly a tendency here in the winter, I tend to eat more in the summer. Summers in Seattle are SO short that the draw of happy hour on the various patios around the city, seafood dinners and food festivals are just too much to resist. There is always the perfectly acceptable (if not mildly abused) justification of “we don’t have much longer to do this.” Though the autumnal solstice is barely 24 hours behind us, the weather in Seattle started pretending Autumn arrived a few weeks ago. So as the weather changes, my eating habits have as well.
That brings me to the September 28th Thursday night dinner at Paddy Coyne's in South Lake Union. Paddy’s certainly isn’t known for their food. They are more likely known for their quiz night or their selection of Irish beers on tap if they are known at all, but I love it there. They serve this Guinness braised beef stew that just makes me happy. The staff is friendly and funny, the music is a little too stereotypically Irish, the lights are always low and the fireplace is always going. So, despite the fact that the décor might be a little cheesy or that the Irish bartender, Joe, always talks me into one too many whiskeys, we continue to go there, seeking respite from the dreary skies that will follow us well into July. For me, Paddy Coyne’s food is truly reflective of where it’s cooked – warm, comforting and blissfully ordinary.