Sunday, November 4, 2012

What is it about this stuff? Our heroine contemplates food.

“General Galliffet, our host for the evening, explained that this woman, this head chef, had the ability to transform a diner into a kind of love affair. A love affair that made no distinction between bodily appetite and spiritual appetite. General Galliffet said that in the past he'd fought a duel for the love of a beautiful woman. But now there was no woman in Paris for whom he'd shed his blood except for this chef. “ Babette's Feast 1987

I love that quote. I love it because I totally agree that a love affair exists between humans and their sustenance. Think about it a second. Food is able to stir up memories, cause an emotional response, dictate what kind of experience we'll have during that meal as well as afterwards.

A very good meal will make a person fulfilled and satisfied, moaning in satisfaction when they get up. The first bite of something delicious will pull your eyeballs back into your head and your mouth expel the sound of “Mmmmmmmmm......” usually followed by “Oh my god, you have to try this.”

Pilgrimages are made to favorite eateries when one goes back to their hometown or a favorite town. There are various things that were given to you when you were sick, be it chamomile tea or chicken soup or hot jello. Certain dishes that were brought out as a huge treat on birthdays and holidays. How many cold days have people spent outside longing for a cup of cocoa? Fantasizing the entire day of huddling under a blanket in front of the fire hugging a mug of hot milk with chocolate.

Here's a question for you: How do you feel when you go out and the food's bad? The atmosphere can be kinda crappy but if the food's good you put up with it. If the food is bad, even the most gorgeous of rooms will fade out as your brain focuses totally on the horror going on in your mouth.

Even if it tastes good when you eat it, what if you end up getting sick with heartburn? That will mess up your eating memories too.

The Husband once pointed out to me that when my family visits a destination, we talk about the food. While we are at our destination, we talk about food while we're eating food.

He uses the following evidence to back up his claim: He and I were first married and went to Seattle to visit my aunt and uncle who were living there at the time.

The next day, while we were having breakfast, we discussed where we were going to have lunch. Our activities for the day were planned around where we'd be having our midday meal.

While we were having lunch we conversed about dinner. After lunch we'd hit Pike's Market for the ingredients we needed to cook dinner, then went back to Carl and Carolyn's house and cooked.

While we were eating that dinner we talked about what we were going to do for breakfast.

This went on for four days.

He doesn't like to get into the complexities of Thanksgiving and how many trips to the store were made.

When I have conversations with people about holidays or family traditions, the memories always turn to food. How did they prepare the turkey? Did they have homemade cranberry relish or did they have the cranberry log from Ocean-Spray. (Just an aside, the Ocean-Spray company calls it a cranberry log. They once changed the structure of the can so that there were no ridges, it was just smooth. People complained. They wanted their canned cranberry jelly to look like the can. And, I have to add, that the canned cranberry log was easy to slice for the purposes of putting on a turkey sandwich. ) Jokes and stories are told about the foods that were served, how they were served, who made them, who liked them, who made a face when it was put on their plate.

How is it that an inanimate, one that we consume even, has this amazing power over our psyche?

There is a scene in the Pixar film Ratatouille when the restaurant reviewer, known for his unforgiving harshness, takes a bite of ratatouille and is instantly yanked back into childhood when his mother would serve him the same dish in their home in the country. He is so overcome with the emotion of this memory he drops his pen and can only sit in awed silence.

(I happen to have the opinion that if you can remind people of the food their mother cooked, you'll win them over.)

I once asked my cousins what they did for Christmas Eve. They lived in Colorado while I was raised in California. My uncle and aunt both worked for their church, so their winter holiday was taken up with church functions. The first thing they said was that they made clam chowder. My cousin told me a story about trying to make clam chowder for her friends when she lived in Japan. She got the translation for 'cream' wrong and ended up with sweetened condensed milk.

On Christmas Day, my mom would make cinnamon toast on thick white bread with brown sugar that would caramelize under the broiler. One year mama got distracted watching us open presents and forgot the toast. She tossed it out in the yard and we had bare patches in the grass where the charcoal toast had killed it off.

There is a news clip of a woman having an In-n-Out burger at the freshly opened restaurant in Dallas. She'd camped out to have a double-double. When she took the first bite, she burst into tears. Why? It tasted like home. Not just home, but Home. The capital aitch Home.

When Gordon Ramsey was asked what he would choose for his last meal, he said his mum's mac and cheese. Not her recipe, her's. This distinction has to be made because no two dishes are ever the same twice.

Our dear friend Eileen once made us the Nescafe with milk and sugar she drank when she was growing up in Columbia. As she handed us our mugs she said “This tastes of my childhood.”

Me? I remember my mom making fried egg sandwiches whenever we were in the midst of a family tragedy. A fried egg on an onion roll with mayonnaise. Good for what ails you.

Even religion includes food in worship. Communion, passover seder, the wiccan simple feast, the breaking of the fast in the evening during Ramadan, all rituals surrounding food. That which sustains our bodies can also sustain our spirit. Many pagan ceremonies were about celebrating the bounty of food. That that had just been harvested and that which they hoped would be grown in the coming months. The Mayans made sacrifices to the Gods that gave them not only the sun, but their food.

Formal tea parties, fancy dinners, lunch at Mickie D's or sitting down with the fam all have their rituals, the order of operations, the rites to be completed. Set the table, get your food on your plate, give thanks, keep your elbows off the table, use your napkin, don't gulp your milk that sounds disgusting. Breakfast eaten with the newspaper propped against the cereal box, coffee close by. Ben and Jerry's eaten directly from the carton watching a chick flick or a horror movie and stewing about the unfairness of life. All rituals, all part of each person's experience on this merry-go-round made of dirt.

After giving birth to both my children and after my surgery last year what I wanted after I got out of the hospital was taco salad, like we had when I was a kid. Lettuce, cooked ground beef, cheese, crushed tortilla chips and thousand island dressing. Good for my body?

Nope. But it nourishes my soul.

Amanda's beauty tip of the day:  It's said to be a myth, but your skin really will look better if you drink plenty of water.  

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