40 in forty: find the pretty

I used to scoff when Tom said I didn't taking my plating seriously enough.

"Em, there's a reason plating earns you points on Top Chef. Presentation is important." 

He was right of course -is right- and while I've never used the tweezers I bought for strategically placing micro greens atop a just-seared filet (in fact, I used them to attempt to remove a tick from Nutmeg's neck and then rapidly disposed of them), I have started to pay more attention to how I arrange food on a plate.

 sautéed mushrooms with parsley, garlic, cinnamon and thyme; part of tonight's dinner.

sautéed mushrooms with parsley, garlic, cinnamon and thyme; part of tonight's dinner.

When I've spent a long time preparing a dish, it seems fitting to plate carefully. But I've also found that gussying up a sandwich makes it taste even better and that some foods are so drab that they need all the beautification you can offer.

There's a reason spectacularly designed and photographed food appeals to enthused Instagrammers.  There's a reason fancy restaurants don't send sloppy plates to diners' tables. There's a reason people sort through the apples on display, turning each over and around to check for bruises or blemishes, choosing those that shine and beckon with flirty eyelashes.

On a micro level, food has become about so much more than sustenance. From a macro perspective, beauty is always appealing. 

Beauty sometimes gets a bad rap, but I believe that derives from it being equated with or actively demonstrating vapid superficiality or false promises. 

Some beauty is utterly random: a double rainbow that seems to arc across the world; supermodels; children in unadulterated joy; the wild, vibrant hues of tropical fish and birds, colors humans can only try to replicate but never quite manage. Sunsets, the views from the Atchafalaya freeway, the way the light bounces off Roman exteriors, peonies.

Beauty often grows from passion or commitment too: to a canvas, a garden, the perfect stiletto, lacy underthings. A moment frozen in time by a patient photographer, the one cookie from a dozen that is perfectly round and whose chocolate chips are evenly distributed, the lily shoot I found today in my front yard, from a bulb I'd planted hopefully several weeks ago.

And a sense of what is beautiful often evolves with greater understanding of what any given thing can offer.

Take earthworms. I imagine I gave approximately zero craps about earthworms before I started gardening and composting. I sure as heck did not consider them pretty. But spend some time watching what they do, and how they make our earth and gardens infinitely healthier. Understanding that because of the worm's appreciation of decaying matter and the bacteria helping the rotting process along, we get aerated soil and an environmental means of disposing of our food waste. Those industrious annelids are, in fact, stunning.

 a tulip in my yard

a tulip in my yard

Beauty softens the heart, speaks to the soul, widens the eye, encourages imagination to soar. We are drawn to pretty things for a reason, and the more we pay attention and allow ourselves to be moved, the richer our lives become. 

An easy starting point is on your plate. Make it lovely, eat well, tend to yourself and your loved ones. Find the pretty.

 grilled peaches with burrata and mint

grilled peaches with burrata and mint