Here’s an excerpt from At the Table, Nourishing Conversation and Food. It’s from a chapter entitled “On the Road to Social Justice,” depicting Indonesia as it was in the 1970s:
In Jakarta, we live in an old Dutch colonial home with a large walled garden and a grand old mango tree that provides both abundant shade and fruit. From our bedroom window we can see cracked, weed-infested culverts that have never been installed lying in an overgown field at the end of our street–the homes of desperate Indonesians who have come to the city looking in vain for work. Our gardener, who doubles as a watchman, sits beside our high locked gates every night on the alert for intruders and beggars who might slip through our protective perimeter. We find it an uncomfortable experience living inside these walls, attended to by the six servants who come with the house…I never come to like our table in Jakarta. It is too large and the atmosphere too formal, with the house boy serving us, the ayah helping to feed Tim, and the cook popping his head in periodically to check with Dot that the cheese souffle stuffed with shrimp is all right. At first, it is apparently the only dish he is comfortable preparing, and far too often it lands on our dinner table with a depressing thud.
I much prefer our simple little dinner table at our bungalow in the Puntjak, the hills that are an hour’s drive from the capital in the direction of Bandung. Whenever we can, we go there on weekends to escape Jakarta’s oppressive heat and get a little exercise walking around rice paddies and tea plantations…Beside our bungalow in the Puntjak is a clay tennis court where…young boys magically and swiftly appear whenever we walk over for a game of doubles. And immediately below the tennis court, the rice paddies start. At planting time, water buffalo pull simple hand-held ploughs through the muddy plots just as they were doing when Dr. Gunawan Nugroho took me through his village to introduce me to the concept of community development…
Rather than using the embassy bungalow, which comes with a servant, we rent this one with an American/Austrian couple, Sara and Sepp, who have become lifelong friends. Our meals are simple and casual, our conversation loud and happy, and after dinner Sepp will get out his guitar and sing Austrian lullabies to the kids as they fall asleep, and we enjoy another glass of good Austrian wine. Of the five children at our bungalow, only Karen is old enough to participate fully in our dinner conversation, yet we sense how much all of the kids enjoy the hum and the laughter around them, and how it is helping them develop a feeling for the magic of the dinner table.
For more about the importance of mealtime conversation and to read entertaining tales from tables set in different locales over four generations, order a copy of At the Table by going to http://www.penumbrapress.com.