Chloe Shorten on Placemats and Peacekeeping
Spotlight! Chloe Shorten takes over the MUP blog today with her touching homage to tradition and the family table.
Setting the table is one of those jobs I recall from my childhood that used to make me wince. I got it out of the way as quickly as I could and had a list in my head: placemats, plates, napkin, knife, fork, pudding spoon, glass, jug, salt and pepper.
There were seven of us, two-left handers who needed extra elbow room, and we somehow squashed around the table in the kitchen in an alcove with windows on two sides. One wall held a giant whiteboard, with all the logistics and lists a family of that size needs. The other wall, a pin board with all the notices, forms, calendars, timetables and the occasional lecture-y newspaper article. Very subtle.
These were noisy affairs, nourishing dishes, rices, meats, casseroles mostly, in large dishes. Steamed veggies, some of which got tossed surreptitiously out said window. The ‘boys’, all three almost six-foot tall, were very hungry all the time. I can’t remember fights over food or portions but I do remember everyone hated the middle seats because you spent the dinner passing the sauce.
Talking about the day ahead or the day remaining, laughing or bickering: it's what I remember most about the ritual of daily life.
Now I take some trouble to set the table, every second day one of the kids will set it, usually the youngest.
It’s usually missing half the cutlery or the water jug but she tries hard. I have a collection of tablecloths including ones from my grandmothers, an aged, almost-sheer white linen one that she ‘tatted’ herself in the fifties.
There are batiks from her trip to Malaysia, Marrimekko striped ones from my mum and the classic picnic checks. When I set the table now I use the time as a bit of a meditation, thinking about the ritual moving around the table, each setting by rote.
Sometimes I put a trinket or curiosity on the table to provoke Clementine’s interest. A Hopi kachina doll from my parent’s trip to the US in the seventies, three porcelain wise men from Bill's mum, glass birds from Gozo or even little figures of Egyptian deities. These distractions help on the days the kids are ratty and want to pick fights.
I use a bit of creativity to keep people at the table interested, rather than having the telly on. They like to do more than one thing at once so I let Lego or pictures or scripts come to the table if there is something to show and tell.
We don’t all sit down each night, as Bill is away a bit or doesn’t get home till late, the eldest has school commitments that go late. So it’s sometimes five, occasionally three and usually four at the table. Even if there is an extra setting, we leave it there.
With treasured recipes, Chloe Shorten wants to show how eating together as a family offers more than a meal: it can nourish relationships and nurture your children.
To celebrate the forthcoming release of Chloe Shorten's The Secret Ingredient: The Power of the Family Table, Chloe has put together a very special deal to share with our readers!
Pre-order The Secret Ingredient: The Power of the Family Table and you'll receive:
- A copy of the book signed by Chloe
- A very special price: $34.99 (RRP $39.99)
- An exclusive video featuring Chloe with a special message!