Food, glorious food!
Hot sausage and mustard!
While we’re in the mood —
Cold jelly and custard!
Peas pudding and saveloys
What next is the question?
Rich gentlemen have it boys, in-di-gestion!
Food, glorious food!
Eat right through the menu.
Just loosen your belt
Two inches and then you
Work up a new appetite.
In this interlude —
Once again, food
Oliver! -Lionel Bart
I love to eat. Constantly. If I am not eating I am thinking of food. You too? I figured. Eating makes us happy in a way nothing else can. Dining not only fuels our bodies and senses but is a superglue binding our memories and emotions. Those endorphins are furrowed right into our little taste buds.
When that combination of hot peach cobbler and sweet ice cream hits my tongue, I am right back in 1966, huddled around Grandma Sander’s kitchen table with my sister Jan and Roger and Howard Sanders. We are playing a game; I don’t remember it, just the flavor of her cobbler and ice cream like I have a bowl of it right here. I can feel the affection of those old friends and hear the music we sang. “Make the world go away, get it off my shoulder.” Cochran, Hank 1960
Think about a time you tasted a new flavor that made your toes curl. A friend walked in when I was ill with the first Starbucks cup I had seen and said, “I think you will really like this.” It was a Chai tea latte. Oh, Momma! Starbucks can make you fly around the room.
We feel tied to certain dining spots too, those with ambiance and flavors matching our tastes and sensibilities. Recently I trekked to my favorite Sushi house and could not believe my eyes! It had sadly been converted to yet another of the two hundred insipid Tex-Mex restaurants in the area. Once more, quantity wins over quality.
The first time I went to my little Thai diner I ordered Massaman curry. I asked the waiter, the son of the owner/chef, (forced into servitude and wanted to be elsewhere) if the chef would add “something green” to the curry-broccoli, snow peas, anything. He stared at me blankly and wrote down my request. Shortly after he returned reporting “She don’t want to.”
When he brought my curry dish, sure enough, something green! From that day on each time I went in he smiled and questioned, “Something green?” The hostess at that same restaurant greeted us each time with the combo honorific “Mamsir!” in a very shrill comedic nasal voice.
Once in a while dining both delights the pallet and gifts us with a treasure. Living in Tulsa, I went to Oklahoma City to visit my friend Daphne. At Steak and Ale in one of the four dining rooms, I looked up to see my Dad across the room having dinner with a friend! He had driven up from Southeastern Oklahoma. We had no idea the other would be in Oklahoma City that weekend, much less that night, in that dining room at that same time. Sweet serendipitous moments. . .
Dining does not always deliver sweet memories. Eating out alone one night I became increasingly uncomfortable because the woman’s husband at the table next to me kept grinning at me, ignoring his spouse. She noticed too; the hurt on her face stung me, partly because I was embarrassed for her but also because I knew that pain. I had struggled through meals like that.
I was seated adjacent to Governor George Nigh and his wife Donna one night enjoying some crab claws. Until, one stubborn, slippery little fugitive slipped out of my hand, flew across the table, banked off the wall right behind the Governor’s head, and hit the floor with a thud! The look he gave his wife was, yep they seated us by the rednecks again! The complete walk-of-shame.
Cookies are a big staple for me. At some restaurants, like the 501 Cafe, I order cookies first. These are not ordinary cookies, these are Italian Ricotta cheese cookies, a special iced recipe. I’ve been known to drive across town to get one. Lisa taught me to make them, but mine emerge from the oven dense biscuits with chunks of granite inside.
I grin each time I think of snacks on the porch at my cousin Fredda’s lovely mountainside home in Colorado. She, Mom and I sat on the porch feeding Tassy, her pet squirrel, enjoying the beautiful view, drinking Sangria, and laughing uncontrollably; Fredda was at her comedic best. Everything was funny that day.
My sister Jan and I were at a neighborhood fish house having oysters on the half shell one night (I was eating oysters; Jan was pretty much gagging at the sight.) when I bit down on something very hard. I thought I had lost a filling, but when I looked down into my napkin there was a big pearl. I still have it.
A peanut butter sandwich that smells like a combination of horse hair, sweat, and the great outdoors, topped off with a warm cup of water and a couple mashed flat cookies is one of my favorite dining memories. This, courtesy of Dad, atop a mountain overlooking the old swimming hole at Beavers Bend State Park in far Southeastern Oklahoma. We would ride all the way up in the morning and have lunch up high, overlooking the Mountain Fork River. Best lunch ever.
When I was a kid supper did not begin until after the nightly inquisition. Dad loved to quiz us on geography, science, and vocabulary before dinner. Who can spell syncope? What country is Dusseldorf in? What is a chrysalis? What are the symptoms of Anaplasmosis in bovine? He threw in a few math questions too; I try not to think of it. Math! No wonder I was thin.
One taste of an excellent pecan pie makes my heart ache for my Mom. I think of the hands that skillfully prepared our meals; her cooking spoke a language of its own. Holidays are different now, but as I eat the turkey I see Mom in the kitchen buzzing around and hear Daddy begin his table prayer with “Our Gracious Heavenly Father.” Sweet childhood, sweet innocence, sweet siblings.
Meals at the Valentine household were a mix of exquisite flavors and appetite-slaying vivid Veterinary pathology. About the time the gravy from the roast hit your tongue you would hear Doc on the phone “Curtis, it sounds like the cow has a prolapsed Uterus; don’t let your Collies lick and scratch it; that could cause infection!” “Do you see discharge around the area?” Good times. We developed thick skin or went to bed exceedingly hungry.
The most meaningful meal I have though is not at the table but on my knees, the Eucharist meal. Eucharist means “to give thanks.” We do this with the bread and wine, a physical sacrament, and a purposeful surrender of our egos and dogged determination to live life on our own power.
A lot of calories get used up before anyone sits down to consume. But more importantly, a lot of talk happens first, news exchanged, secrets revealed across generations, paths cleared with a touch on the arm. I have given and received some of my life’s most important hugs with those big oven-mitt potholders on both hands.”
–Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life