When I was little living in Japan, we were fortunate enough to live in a beautiful old Japanese home that also had a big garden. We had a gardener to look after it, and he was an old Japanese man who would come to work dressed in his very traditional clothes and Jika-tabi/outdoor shoes. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jika-tabi
What fascinated me about him, was that every lunch time he would produce a lunch box carefully wrapped in cloth and sit down on the lawn to eat. First he would untie it, then ceremoniously lay out the cloth before him to use as a table-setting or placemat. Each small compartment of his food that emerged from the box was then very deliberately laid out on this cloth. Attention was given to spacing of the individual portions and placement of various types of food. Lastly he would set out his chopsticks on the mat, and lay out a little napkin. Sometimes he would rearrange this 2 or 3 times before reviewing it and then, deciding it was to his liking, would begin to eat. It was magnificent!!! This man in the garden who was dining alone, on the grass, would not begin his meal unless it first looked perfect. A memory that will never leave me, and has influenced the way I present meals (even when I’m eating home alone) ever since.
You may have noticed from my photos that my food tends to be very colorful. This is no accident. These photos aren’t taken of food that is for special occasions, or has laid out nicely just for photos, it is the food I eat at home every day and the way I like it to look.
In a restaurant for example, the first thing you are most likely to say when you see food whizzing past is ‘oh, that looks good’! Other than smell, sight is the first sensory reaction we have to our meals, and so it makes sense to me, that it should be an exciting and pleasurable one, increasing your desire to taste the food. It is true what they say after all; first impressions last.
Colour is a big factor here, and I also believe that you are more likely to get a thorough nutritional spread across your meal if you are not eating foods that are all of the same colour. If you look at your plate and it doesn’t have green, add some, if it only has green and the brown of a meat, add colour (which will result in flavor too!) like tomatoes, capsicum, carrot! Not to say that all your food need look like a rainbow, simplicity is also wonderful, but if you make sure there are a few different colours on your plate in every meal you are off to a good start.
Texture is also really important. An extreme example of this is thinking about how appetizing it might be to sit down to various bowls of pureed food. No thank you. I like to have lots of different shapes and sizes in salads or in any meal. I once had a fruit salad served to me where every piece of fruit was cut to the same size and shape. It still tasted the same I’m sure, but i didn’t have the same desire to eat it. I like big chunks of some things, small slices of others. So if in a green salad you have leaves and slices of capsicum or other crunchy veggies, perhaps slice a few really fresh mushrooms for a change in colour and in texture, or add a sprinkling of nuts, some olives, big chunks of cucumber, something softer like a few pieces of roast vegetable.
My mother would never let any plate leave her kitchen and go to the table unless it looked beautiful. Any splashes of sauce would be wiped up, and nothing looked casually plonked on the plate. This was just for our family dinners, and when we were kids. But this practice of making sure your food looks presentable (no matter what you are making and no matter who for) is a great habit to get in to, so that you get more pleasure out of every meal. I promise you, the food will taste better, if your first thought that it looked good.
As a very quick example of all the above; last night I was home alone while my husband was away overnight on business. I couldn’t be bothered ‘cooking’ up a meal (although often I still do!) so I made a very simple, quick but extremely healthy and delicious dinner. A salad that was topped with a whole can of tinned Wild Red Salmon, and a dollop of the pesto I made last week. Drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and a sprinkle of salt and freshly ground black pepper…delicious! I took a quick snap, above, so you can see what dinner looked like at Elisa’s Table last night.