Updated: Aug 21, 2020
Long before I understood the symbolic meaning of the Thanksgiving holiday, I was thankful for the food. An appreciation for food and everything about it from where it was sourced, how it was prepared, how it was served and perhaps most important of all, how grateful I needed to be for it was an undeniably vivid part of my childhood. Is it any wonder that I would grow up and marry a man that would become a chef, and that in him I would witness the same deep-rooted passion and love of transforming good food into great meals, just as I had first witnessed with my father, the unofficial chef of our family. And while my Dad's culinary education was not formal; not one from a prestigious academy that earned him a degree, one could say that perhaps his was the best kind of food education, taught in the soulful southern kitchen of his beloved grandmother, my great-grandmother Lacie. Lacie McNair's skills went well beyond the kitchen, but it was there that I believe she did some of her best work.
How was it possible to have 4, 5, sometimes 6 different dishes cooking at the same time? How did she even do that? And how was it that at the end of it all, after spending so many hours in a slightly cramped kitchen with a very old stove and a screened door that led to the back porch where she occasionally stepped out "to get a little fresh air, Baby!" the perfect meal was revealed. Everything was hot, including her always made from scratch golden brown biscuits, and the entire house was flooded with aromas that made the modest brick dwelling feel palatial.
Like my very patient husband, and my far less patient father before him, my amazing great grandmother Lacie made more than a few attempts to share her gift for rattling pots and pans with me; however, the simple truth is, I lacked the patience to ever become a good cook. What I was really, really good at, was "dressing" the table. My great grandmother trusted me to place every item that she created with so much love and care on her kitchen table, in just the right place, and I was always rewarded with a big hug and a "Yes... beautiful job, baby girl!" I thought I had found my calling. Well, someone should have told my Dad about my mad skills with culinary placement because he had no intention of letting me dress HIS dinner table. Even when I managed to gently remove a dish from his hand and get it out to the table before he could, he would take a look at my work, as if surveying a piece of land he owned, he would smile at me, and then 9 out of 10 times, he would make just a slight adjustment.
As the years passed, I came to realize that my pursuit of perfection in an environment that I could fully control is one of the very things that fueled my obsession with miniatures. And while I'm rarely the one creating miniature food, I know exactly where to source it, where to place it, and how to tell the story of the time and space in which it will be there for the taking.
With my great grandmother I felt like I always got it just right, and that filled me with so much confidence. With my father, I felt like I could always do better... like I never quite got it right, and that pushed me to keep trying to improve. And with my husband, he's happy to let me place the food as I choose to, but we've always divided setting the table with each other and with our children, so it's a shared source of pride in getting his delicious cooking off the plates and into the bellies of our family and friends. I am thankful to each and every one of them for providing me with up close and personal experiences that grew my love and respect for good cooking and great food.