Candles draw hungry and winter-weary

The Happy Eater

March 13, 1996|By Rob Kasper

I HAVE been lighting a lot of candles. It used to be that candles were reserved for weekend meals or semi-special occasions, which were also marked by the removal of the stack of newspapers from the end of the kitchen table.

But lately I have been lighting candles virtually every time the tribe gathers for an evening meal. Sometimes I take the newspaper stack off the table, sometimes not.

There are probably a variety of reasons, some conscious, some not, for my increased fondness for candles on the dinner table.

It might be a reaction to the long, dark winter. The flickering flames of dinner table candles seem warm and consoling, while outside, the winter night seems cold and forbidding.

It might be a reaction to the whopping utility bill we got in the mail. It seems to me that if the United States can bestow most-favored- nation status on its big trading partners, utilities should give most-favored- customer status on families like mine, whose members are reluctant to turn off the lights or shut the back door. It may not save much electricity, but somehow, turning off the kitchen lights for half an hour and using candles during dinner, makes me feel frugal.

There is also the fact that in the dim light of candles, the world gets smaller. When the lights are on you can see the dishes stacked in the sink, the pots waiting to be washed, the briefcase sitting in the corner. The sight of them re- minds you of work that needs to be done, of responsibilities that beckon. But in the candlelight, you see only the evening meal, and the faces of the evening eaters. For half an hour, the rest of the world fades into the background and the dinner table is the center of flickering light and attention.

Food looks better to me in the candlelight. A pink piece of beef looks pleasingly primal. A broiled silver rockfish seems to be slipping me a come-hither look. Even spaghetti seems sensual in the dim light. For tacos, however, I think you should turn on the lights. Even the magic of candlelight has its limits.

Not every member of the family shares my fondness for dim lighting. Years ago when our kids were small, I tried to indoctrinate them. As soon as the kids were out of the highchair and eating something other than mashed bananas, I put candles on the family dinner table.

For a while, candles calmed the kids down. The kids looked at the candles like rabbits caught in the headlights of an approaching car. They were transfixed. Better yet, they were temporarily immobile.

As the kids got older, however, the candle became less of an object of adoration and more of a source of amusement. #F Attempts were made, in the guise of homework, to find the hottest point of the flame.

Later, one of the kids learned how, armed with bravado and a glass of water, he could snuff out a flame with his bare, but water-soaked fingertips. All experiments with the flame, whether conducted in the name of science or self-confidence, were soon banned from the dinner table.

Recently candles became an object of sibling rivalry. One son doesn't like them on the dinner table. His younger brother claims to be fond of them. The older kid, 15, regards candles as too fancy for family meals. He considers candlelight dining another symptom of the family's larger problem of putting too much emphasis on meals. In his view, candlelight dining is like eating supper with his family. These are obligations he should be required to fulfill only a few times a week.

A few days ago I negotiated a pact with the candle-hating kid. Certain family meals would be candle-free. When word of the agreement reached the younger son, the 11-year-old promptly claimed that he could not enjoy a meal without the company of candlelight. He warned that if the family initiated a policy of candle-free suppers, he would take the candlesticks and dine in another room of the house.

So now in the shank of a dark winter, I am considering splitting the family supper table into two zones, one with candles, one without. But mostly I am hoping for an early, very warm, and very bright spring.

Pub Date: 3/13/96

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.