We’ve been away this week, in San Francisco and Las Vegas, and I am going to tell you all about it a little bit later. In particular, I will tell you about good olive oil, and a twist on anchoïade with sardines that will be perfect for eating on crostini with summer’s pitchers of sangria and large bowls of olives. Not today.
I made a soup today from recipe that I learned watching a cooking show in my hotel room in San Francisco, when everyone else was asleep and I was too tired to shower or put on pants just yet (little do you know that by pants, I mean leggings, which are nothing like pants except for the leg tubes you thrust your feet through). At that point, my stomach still mostly agreed with me, though after a day of bad airport burgers (the waitress told me afterward that the secret was microwaving) and plenty of happy hour libations, things were due to turn.
And I get why my grandma used to say “travel is broadening.” I love America, and I read all the time about how good the food is there. But for some reason, when I’m there, my diet consists almost exclusively of bread, cheese, seafood, meat, and beer. Heavy on the meat and beer, and man, if you could deep-fry beer I think I’d give up because that would itself be manna. Occasionally a tomato-based cocktail for nourishment, and more often than necessary a corn-dog or doughnut. Maybe it’s because vacations are a time to eat what you don’t get at home, or maybe nothing with lentils ever calls to me louder than anything with tartar sauce.
In any case, whenever I come home from a trip, a wholesome meal is the first thing I want. It comes before unpacking, just after sprawling on the floor for scratches behind ears and haunches, hers, and scratchy kitten kisses on the paws, mine. As I was chopping the carrots and testing the wine for freshness, it occurred to me that it is as much the food of the meal as it is the ritual that I take comfort in. Food is love, and not just in that “I eat to feel love” kind of way, which is supposed to be a sign of sadness or disordered eating. Personally, I think there’s nothing wrong with eating to feel the love of a piece of cold roast chicken from the refrigerator after midnight, or of a soft coddled egg for dinner on a Saturday night you’ve chosen to spend alone, or of the kind of chocolate you absolutely would not share – there is love in those things, for sure.
But food is also love in a different (and depending upon how you look at it, healthier) way, one that ties you to the idea of a place, a feeling of home. I believe that no matter where I am, if I can cut a ripe tomato, a piece of soft cheese, and a hunk of crusty bread, I am home. No, correction. In part. I believe that no matter where I am, if there are tomatoes and soft cheeses and bread and someone you like to share it all with, that is home. The looking forward to sharing a rather basic part of your existence with another person, in something so intimate as eating, is as rewarding as the melting of the flesh of that tomato into the chewy centre of the bread inside your mouth. I think that is why I like dinner parties – some of my best fun happens around a table of like-minded eaters, and the wine needs to be plentiful and only pretty much palatable to tie it all together.
We gather around food. At the end of a day in which I decide four times to spend my next paycheque on airfare and bugger off, it is reassuring to know that when I come home, and to my senses (ish), there will be a pot and a few ingredients and a knife, and a rather nice-looking other person to fantasize about San Francisco or London or Berlin or Seoul with. At the end of today, we ate an easy soup over steamed cabbage, the bowl rung with a little bit of good olive oil, shared a glass of less-than-palatable red wine, and talked to each other.
And that’s the thing. The talking. The sharing of ritual, of basic needs such as eating and company, and of more complicated needs like dirty jokes, witty banter, and tipsiness. Of getting to know a friend, a roommate, a life partner or a meantime someone a little bit better – the closeness of sitting an elbow’s length apart, just talking. Food is love, and not in that sick-squicky Hallmark way that makes you throw up just a little at the back of your throat. It is because food, most especially food that you create for yourself and another person, creates a feeling of home. I want you to eat – and I made this for you – because I like you.
So, come over. And if you’re too far away or are allergic to cats or uncomfortable with awkward sexual advances, invite someone to your place. You don’t have to make anything fancy – far better if you don’t, actually. The effort, your display of caring, will be more than enough. And you will feast marvelously, because at that point, it’s impossible not to.
Which reminds me. Food is love, and Nick is asleep, but there is a cat here who has been on me or between my feet since I arrived home eleven or so hours ago. It could be time for a cuddly moment of kippered herring, a fresh toy dipped in catnip, and a round of sedatives those of us who would rather not drink any more of this wine.