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[T]he dinner party is a true proclamation of the abundance of being—a rebuke to the thrifty little idolatries by which we lose sight of the lavish hand that made us. It is precisely because no one needs soup, fish, meat, salad, cheese, and dessert at one meal that we so badly need to sit down to them from time to time. It was largesse that made us all; we were not created to fast forever. The unnecessary is the taproot of our being and the last key to the door of delight. Enter here, therefore, as a sovereign remedy for the narrowness of our minds and the stinginess of our souls, the formal dinner for six, eight or ten chosen guests, the true convivium—the long Session that brings us nearly home.

— Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection

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Joint attention is an actual experience that we have. By contrast, the attentional commons is best understood as a purely negative principle, by analogy with the “precautionary principle” invoked by environmentalists. The point of being aware of the attentional commons is not to make it happen but to refrain from damaging it; to be aware of the valuable absence that creates space for private reverie, and indeed for the possibility of those episodes of joint attention that arise spontaneously and make cities feel full of promise for real human contact.

What this boils down to: Please don’t install speakers in every single corner of a shopping mall, even its outdoor spaces. Please don’t fill up every moment between innings in a lazy college baseball game with thundering excitement. Please give me a way to turn off the monitor in the backseat of a taxi. Please let there be one corner of the bar where the flickering delivery system for Bud Lite commercials is deemed unnecessary, because I am already at the bar. The attentional commons is an idea that I hope will catch on among those who are in a position to make such sanctuaries happen: building managers, commercial real estate developers, and interior designers. Here is a modest proposal: Could the Muzak be made opt-in rather than opt-out? Once every twenty minutes, somebody in the room would have to deliberately hit a button to restart it, and thereby actively affirm “Yes! We want some emo in here!”

— Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming and Individual in an Age of Distraction

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Cheese is at once a testament to the Creator’s ingenuity in providing enzymes and bacteria that will do fearful and wonderful things for milk and to man’s audacity in the face of some pretty forbidding stuff. The blander varieties, of course, are hardly more alarming than milk itself; but the farther reaches of the subject put even brave men to the test. There are cow’s-milk cheeses which will convince you that someone has dragged a whole barnyard indoors, and goat’s milk cheeses which taste as if the goat sat in them. There is something grandly faithful to the real being of creation about strong cheese. Good Limburger (with onions and rye bread, by all means), noble Liederkranz (America’s greatest cheese), French Münster, ripe Reblochon, vile Livarot, and all the deceptively pretty, shockingly flavorsome goat cheeses recall man to the humbleness of his grandeur and the greatness of his low estate. The first man is of the earth, earthy. If I had only a single temporal blessing to wish you, I would not hesitate a moment: May you be spared long enough to know at least one long evening of old friends, dark bread, good wine, and strong cheese. If even exile be so full, what must not our fullness be?

— Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection

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We are being flooded with matter about which nobody gives a damn. But the really frightening part is that the attitude begins to rub off. No home can be built without that love of detail which is the hallmark of care, yet we seem to be getting less and less able to bother. People cannot be fed without detail, children cannot be taught manners without detail, wives cannot be kept happy without detail. But in our superspirituality, we expect that a handful of good intentions and a headful of bright ideas are quite enough to make a home. The truth is, though, that matter will break us unless we love it for itself and start paying some very careful attention to its demands. We are not angels; there are no disembodied intelligences in my household, we are all things here, from the raisins in the cake to the father at his table. For the likes of us there is no middle ground between care and catastrophe.

— Robert Farrar Capon, Bed and Board

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In fancy restaurants it is even worse because the server has to take you through the evening’s specials, which are described with a sumptuousness and panache that are seldom less than breathtaking and always incomprehensible. My wife and I went to a fancy restaurant in Vermont for our anniversary the other week and I swear I didn’t understand a single thing the waiter described to us.

“Tonight,” he began with enthusiasm, “we have a crepe galette of sea chortle and kelp in a rich mat de mer sauce, seasoned with disheveled herbs grown in our own herbarium. This is baked in an inverted Prussian helmet for seventeen minutes and four seconds precisely, then layered with steamed wattle and woozle leaves. Very delicious; very audacious. We are also offering this evening a double rack of Rio Rocho cutlets, tenderized at your table by our own flamenco dancers, then baked in a clay dong for twenty-seven minutes under a lattice of guava peel and sun-ripened stucco. For vegetarians this evening we have a medley of forest floor sweetmeats gathered from our very own woodland dell.. ..”

And so it goes for anything up to half an hour. My wife, who is more sophisticated than I, is not fazed by the ornate terminology. Her problem is trying to keep straight the bewilderment of options. She will listen carefully, then say: “I’m sorry, is it the squib that’s pan-seared and presented on a bed of organic spoletto?”

“No, that’s the baked donkling,” says the serving person. “The squib comes as a quarter-cut hank, lightly rolled in payapaya, then tossed with oil of olay and calamine, and presented on a bed of chaff beans and snoose noodles.”

I don’t know why she bothers because, apart from being much too complicated to take in, none of the dishes sounds like anything you would want to eat anyway, except maybe on a bet after drinking way too much.

— Bill Bryson, I’m a Stranger Here Myself

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Perhaps this is the place to warn you against an excessive zeal for cleanliness when it comes to ironware. Properly seasoned, iron is one of the greatest cooking materials in the world, but the average American housewife has been so brainwashed that she commonly scours off the cooking surface without thinking. Woks and iron skillets should be rinsed and wiped, never washed. If someone comes along and tells you cleanliness is next to godliness, the proper answer is, “Yes—next. Right now I’m working on godliness.”

— Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection

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Capon on cooking for children:

There is always the hope that they will, late or soon (be prepared for it to be late), actually sink their teeth into mushroom, parsnip, Swiss chard, or celeriac. Be bold, therefore. Feed them, yes; but do not cook for them. Cook for yourself. What they need most of all in this vale of sorrows is the sight of men who relish reality. You do them no lasting favor by catering to their undeveloped tastes. We have not acquired our amplitude for nothing. No matter what they think, we know: We are the ones who have tasted and seen how gracious it all is. What a shame if we were to hide that light under a bushel.

— Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection

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