Ritual Meals: What Does Home Taste Like?

As the days get shorter, the shadows longer, and the holidays approach, I've been thinking more about the ritual meals that bind communities together. Just because the act of gathering around a table seems simple doesn't mean it isn't a meaningful and compassionate gesture. We eat to connect with family, friends, ourselves and where we fit into the world . . . So I venture to ask a big question, what does home taste like?

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To me, holidays taste like so much more than the food on my plate. They are imbued with the early-morning dog walks at the beach, cozying up on the couch I used to make into an elaborate fort, plucking lavender from the bush in my parents' garden, sifting through old photos and leaning on the shoulders of old friends as we nestle into another black and white movie. This time of year is about making plans for feasting, enjoying the Autumnal harvest and all the little details that amount to a special, ritual meal.

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I value this Fall season, what I consider to be the best time of all, even more after going without it for a while. What do I mean, 'going without'? This time last year, my husband and I were in the thick of pursuing a life-long dream, living in India -- while our experience was full of intense joy, amazement, utter confusion and gratitude at all the remarkable generosity shown to us, Thanksgiving and Fall in general, hit me like a ton of bricks. It just wasn't the same, 90 degrees, 100 percent humidity, sweating through my tank tops, drinking Frooti (a popular mango juice box) and snacking on custard apples, known as "cherimoyas" in the US, as lovely as those things were.

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And in the end, the day of reckoning, Thanksgiving Day, I flat out had a meltdown. It was so clear that it wasn't about the food I was missing, it was the home, the familial comfort and the ritual of coming together to honor each other and the Earth's bounty. My parents even sent us postcards where they smeared a little bit of each dish on an index card and it arrived, intact, with a description of each tasty morsel. It was awesome, but also heartbreaking. I missed them so much.

So we make the holidays all about the food: who's bringing what, preparing a signature pumpkin pie, green bean casserole with or without onions, etc. -- And it is about the food! But in my heart of hearts, it's about the taste of home and the time we make for each other -- it is this notion that is so wonderful about what's hiding underneath the a thin guise of candied pecans, stuffing and cranberry sauce.

These are images from my parents' place in California, although I don't live there anymore, it's the place where I taste 'home' the most.

Related: Weekend Meditation: Blessings

(Images: Leela Cyd Ross)