Cooking Connection: The Difficulty With Manners

Goodlifer: Cooking Connection: The Difficulty With Manners

“Back then restaurants would make you anything you wanted,” my father has a way of making the things he says and does sound reasonable.

“So you just demanded tomato soup?” I smiled, pushing him gently.

“Well they made you anything you wanted. It was more like eating in someone’s kitchen back then. They didn’t have all these chain places.”

“I see, so that wasn’t being fussy. It was just being selective, I guess.” Technically it’s not a lie, but the fact remains that my father regularly demanded tomato soup and noodles at each meal, to the near total exclusion of all other food. As an adult his palette only expanded slightly, including various meats like steak or pork chops. Throughout my youth my father and I butted heads at the dinner table. It wasn’t about politics or social issues, rather we fought about menu selection and table manners.

In contrast to his outright refusal to eat seafood of any sort, I refused to eat beef—I have to date not had a steak in over twenty years. I embraced rice over noodles and pastas. The differences in our palettes often only further exacerbated sharp contrasts in our approach to eating.

At a very early age, I developed an aversion to having food on my hands. The story goes—I was far too young to remember—that when sitting in my high chair, I would put my hands into the air any time food got on my fingers or the side of my face. I would then protest any attempts to continue feeding me, until my face and hands had been wiped clean.

This fear of food on my fingers developed through early childhood into a dedication for using utensils. I ate pizza, corn on the cob, fries, and everything else with a fork and knife in hand. As a kid, this behavior was embraced as cute by most, except my father who seemed generally irritated both by my commitment to silverware and my careful inspection of the silverware at the start of every meal. As I got older, my fear of dirty fingers went away, but the habit of using silverware for everything remained. To this day, I will cut an apple into pieces and eat it with a fork.

Strangely, this behavior—driven by a fear of getting smoosh on one of my fingers—led to the perception that I was essentially an elitist asshole whose use of fork and knife existed only to rub my dining partners’ noses into the stain of their poor manners. My father took particular offense to this behavior. When I would observe a dirty fork or knife at the table, he’d rip it out of my hands and give me his utensils—often committing himself to using food-encrusted silverware.

I always laughed it off, but in my mid-twenties I started to realize how much our little tiffs over food and table manners had affected our relationship. The first time my parents met my wife, Kristen, was at a restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island. Their flight was late and we ended up in at a small diner. My wife often recalls the first question my father asked her, “Does it bother you when he inspects the silverware?”

“No.” she responded shyly, later confessing that she’d never noticed. The funny thing was, I had stopped doing it when he wasn’t around. In a very real, though unconscious way, my silverware inspection was one of many silly ways I used to get under his skin. I’ve dropped the routine now, even in his presence, and recently I’ve lifted my prohibition on pasta, though I still don’t eat beef.

I often wonder how many small ways we have of getting under the skins of those around us. Sometimes these little behaviors can become habits that continue on long after the original fight has been forgotten. In honor of letting go of silly habits and purposeless digs, I’d like to share a pasta recipe that I now prepare regularly at home.

You’ll need the following:

2 full sized cans of organic tomato sauce
1 can of artichoke hearts in water (not in oil)
1/2 small jar of capers
3/4 cup of white wine (select a flavor that you like to drink)
3 Tbs. of Italian Olive Oil
8-10 cloves of garlic
Salt & Pepper
Misc. Veggies, I often use
– Zucchini
– Portabella Mushrooms

Step One: Heat the oil over medium-high heat and then add the garlic.

Step Two: Once the garlic scent fills the room and it’s lightly browned, never dark brown, add the zucchini and mushrooms (chopped as you like). Lightly cover in pepper and add salt to your taste.

Step Three: After the veggies have taken on a slightly cooked appearance, add the can of artichokes. Add the white wine and capers, adjust the heat to a health simmer. You want to cook down the liquid mixture (which should fill about half of the skillet now) until it’s only an 1/8 or 1/4 of an inch deep.

Step Four: Having cooked down the liquid, add the two cans of tomato sauce and stir. Simmer for fifteen minutes.

Step Five: Add basil generously to your sauce and begin making your pasta. The sauce should stay on the heat for no more than five minutes.

Step Six: Serve over fresh, warm pasta and enjoy!

About author
Alexander Hogan occupies his days teaching and conducting research as a professor of political science. Like many of us, he searches for the balance and peace in a hectic, materialistic world. He is a passionate home chef and foodie who resides with his wife and impressive house plant collection in Houston, Texas.
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