After the Dinner Party: To Clean Up Now or Later
After the Dinner Party: To Clean Up Now or Later
It’s 8 am on this crisp fall day and someone in the house may still be sleeping. It’s hard to tell as the nest empties as some chicks linger on the teetering edge, almost leaving, coming back and flying off again. So I try to be quiet empting dishes from the dishwasher and re-loading and overall taking a look at the messy, aftermath terrain of a family dinner.
Where to start? Why didn’t I do this last night?
Are you yourself a clean it up now or later sort? Barring putting away perishables, there is no in-between.
When I was married and my three sons were young, my then mother-in-law and then husband would cluck at me whenever I said: “Leave it, I can do it tomorrow when I’m fresh”. Both of them armed with some form of harmonized OCD and do-it-now-get-it-over-with insistence, they would plunge into cleaning at 11 pm or later, after the boys had gone to bed and the guests had left and coincidentally when I was most tired. “Think of how happy you’ll be when you wake up in the morning and find the kitchen all clean”. I didn’t care. All I could think of was how to get them to stop, have the mother-in-law just go home and the husband just quit. I like my kitchen that way- I can stand a happy mess.
I went through the motions aka a feeble attempt to help (since it was MY kitchen after all?—?was I not queen of my realm as a chef, cookbook author and keeper of the keys of my own home?), but by midnight, I had to beg off, leaving adult mother and son in a wet-rag and Windex face-off. Everything smelled like Palmolive, Vim and briskness.
The truth was, after cooking, baking, hosting and shepherding three boys throughout it all; I had no more energy and couldn’t wait to sink into bed. The foods were amazing; the occasion was grand and tomorrow is another day. I like to revel for a moment anyway?—?in that vibrational aftermath of clan-meets-food-breaks-bread.
The memory of those days makes me reflect about those of us that clean immediately and those that don’t (we’re a minority, I think).
A table, having taken the weight of glorious family dinner or holiday celebration foods, needs to breathe. It gives its own thanks. It doesn’t mind the telling remnants of its finest hour and finest mission: serving. The soiled dishes, the messy kitchen, the clues of food that nourished body and soul, in essence, the art form of my loving and working life, needs to be still the state they were left when the last guest said goodbye or a sleepy child, full of perfectly roasted chicken and thick slabs of fresh bread, went off to sleep. There is a special vibration imparted by a table and kitchen that have been lovingly active.
To me, a messy kitchen like a dishevelled bride. She’s happy, she’s gladly weary and surrendered. And she is never more lovely. One doesn’t want to fix the tendril of hair on her temple or straighten the crease in the wedding dress or put away the white satin dancing shoes?—?even with their scoff marks of wedding dance use. She is fine how she is, where she is.
So now, certainly not a bride myself nor even a wife, in a day or two, as I celebrate Rosh Hashanah for the first time in my new home, I know I’ll survey my night-after kitchen on Monday morning. As always, I’ll love the disarray and casual subtle way it begins to take order, in bits and small and conscious efforts.
I might start with the dishes or clear the table, shake crumbs out of the tablecloth and fold it for the wash. Later it will hang outdoors and dry in sunlight. I know I’ll appreciate my new energy on this new day, the fresh coffee brewing in tandem with my mindful clean-up. The laughter from hours ago, another world away, still hangs in the air, the half-filled wine glasses give evidence to toasts and raised arms of family love.
I'd sooner get up at 5 am to quietly clean than work until midnight getting it done in some manic effort to ‘wake up to a clean kitchen’.
Why do people clean up beauty and its companionable energy right away?
Why do we rush to remove the tableau of love and food? Why can’t it linger?
What can’t wait until the morrow?
Why do we see “neat” as the only right and temporary ‘messy’ as ‘bad’ or lazy?
The morning after a big dinner I don’t mind the mess. I revel in it. It’s an extension of the warmth and occasion and the blessing I have to have people in my life at my table.
Like I always do, I’ll move quietly and deliberately, respectfully removing each symbol of what has been. I’m never in any rush to ‘clean’ and get things back to how they ‘should’ be in their default state. Plus I’ll have all the energy and leisure to take care of my kitchen in my fashion. (And just so we're clear, if you're the sort to clean up the minute the last guest leaves, by all means - no judgement: knock yourself out).
Author, Master Baker
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