Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A long, rambling post that can be summed up in three words: Food Is Love.

We were fortunate enough to attend an amazing dinner last Friday night with some good friends. It was a collaborative effort between a local restaurant and a local wine shop; each course on the menu was created to be paired with the delicious wines. The best part was that the winemaker came from Tuscany to attend the dinner and talk about each of the wines. It was fun, and really inspiring to meet someone so passionate about his business.

I’ve never been a huge Chianti fan, but I was a fan that night. We ordered a mixed case, if I remember correctly- though I was a bit fuzzy-headed by the time the coffee was served. I can see why they collect the order forms at the end. What a racket!

Mike and Liz: Wheeee! We'll take a case of each!

Bank Account: No! They didn't mean it! ABORT! ABORT!

Seriously, though, enjoying a long dinner with good conversation is one of my favorite things in the world. But my relationship with food goes beyond that.

When we travel, I take pictures of what we eat in restaurants. I'm drawn to movies and books that feature cooking or eating. I'll sit and devour a cookbook like it's a beach novel. The aroma of garlic cooking in olive oil is my favorite smell in the world.

Unless it's fresh basil. I go back and forth.

Some of you may understand this: food is so emotional for me. It’s not just something I use to fill my stomach. It’s an art. It’s a gesture. It’s appreciating everything nature provides, and the ways in which people can enhance it. It’s all tied up in feelings and memories.

I remember when my husband and I were newlyweds, and I was slogging home one night from my exhausting social work job. I had finally reached our apartment and was heartened by thoughts of the dinner Mike was making that night. Lasagna, maybe? Shepherd's pie? And then I walked in and found… something else. I can’t even remember exactly what it was. It was a perfectly acceptable dinner. Pasta and Prego, or some such. A normal, everyday dinner that millions of people would eat on any given weeknight. So you can understand why Mike was baffled when my eyes filled with tears.

“I appreciate that you made dinner,“ I said. “But I want you to put some thought into it! I want it to mean something!”

“What's it supposed to mean?” he asked, bewildered. “It’s dinner.”

No, it’s not!” I burst out, surprising both of us with my vehemence. “When I cook for you, when I cook for anyone, it’s an expression of love! When you just throw it together without thinking about it, it means you don’t care!”

Obviously, I eventually realized that this was my way of thinking. This is how I approach cooking for others. If I like you, I'll happily spend an entire day making crostini and butternut squash-stuffed ravioli and tangy cranberry salad dressing. If I want to send you a sign of my disdain, I will feed you instant mashed potatoes and canned whipped topping.

(but even if I really hated you, I don't think I could do that)

Thankfully, Mike is a pretty forgiving and understanding man. And we're still married. And he makes a mean baked eggplant.

And since food (in my eyes) is a form of communication, food is meant to be shared. This is probably why I hate to eat alone.

To date, I have never, ever eaten in a table service restaurant by myself. This makes me feel mildly ashamed, like I've missed some major milestone of adulthood. But to see someone eating alone fills me with a most ridiculous sadness.

I know that person is probably perfectly content to sit peacefully, reading his book or people-watching. He is probably thrilled to have time and a table to himself. And yet I can’t help imagining myself in his chair, a plate of linguine in front of me, a basket of soft bread to my left, and an overwhelming sense of moving aimlessly through my meal, no one on the other side of the table to anchor the experience.

I like to talk about what I’m eating. I like to share what's on my plate, and taste what's on yours. To exclaim over the peppery bite of the arugula, the perfectly-seared scallop, a surprise of toasted pine nuts. I have been known to moan when I'm really enjoying something. I'm sure that man eating alone is probably goddamned thrilled to not be my dinner companion. Shut uuuuup, he'd probably groan. For the love of God, will you just shut up?

Good food doesn't have to be fancy or expensive. One of my most memorable meals from our recent trip to Ireland was in a tiny roadside cafe near Slea Head. It was just bowls of vegetable soup and brown bread. But I had a head cold, and the hot soup felt wonderful as it slid down my throat. I remember lowering my face into the fragrant steam, breathing deeply. We gazed out the window at the ocean while we ate, and my ceramic bowl was the perfect shade of turquoise blue.

Not everyone gets it. Just as I can't imagine dropping $400 on a double-handled Roseville vase, or investing months in rebuilding a classic Ford Mustang, others may not understand paying thirteen dollars for a bowl of soup, or visiting three stores to find the perfect Clementine oranges.

A friend once accused me of being a show-off. We'd eaten dinner together in a restaurant, and I'd gotten excited about an appetizer we shared. "Like you thought you had to explain it to me," she grumbled later. "As if I'd never eaten tuna before."

I felt awful that she'd seen condescension in my words. But after mulling it over, I decided that she probably didn't know me as well as I'd thought.

As I'm typing this I'm eating a salad of baby spinach, walnuts, dried cranberries, sliced red pepper, and feta cheese. I made the dressing last night, a simple blend of canola oil, mandarin orange juice, and white wine vinegar. I've been looking forward to it all day.

It's delicious. I just had to tell you.

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Blogger Bearette24 said...

I remember that picture! And the rooster potholder...

7:02 PM  
Blogger kj said...

oh liz. i totally agree. this post is so damn, well, honest! it helps that you write so well--but you're talking about a LOVE AFFAIR!

9:35 PM  
Anonymous linda from nj said...

Have you seen the movie Waitress?
All those pies!!!!!!

9:17 AM  
Blogger BabelBabe said...

i LOVE eating out by myself. maybe i am abnormal. or maybe i am just thrilled to be eating in peace and quiet : ) i have always been like this, though....

and now i am hungry....

8:33 PM  
Blogger Caffeinated Librarian said...

Liz, you know I love don't take this the wrong way...BUT...

I've never understood people who said that they feel sad when they see people eating alone. I'm often one of those people eating alone or going to movies alone, etc., because as an only child and a single woman, if I waited for other folks to want to do things before I did them, the only thing I'd be able to do is sit around my house and flip channels all day, every day. And THAT would be something you COULD/SHOULD feel sad about. Not every experience has to be shared with another person in order to be enjoyed.

However, that's not what you're talking about here - you're talking about love language, which is totally a different thing and IS much better when it's shared. My best friend Jordan is like you with the "food is love" thing, whereas to me food is just food. So even though I try to understand, I doubt I ever really's like trying to read French when all you took in high school was Latin: you can get the gist but not the finer points. Now if your love language was music, like mine, then THAT would be a different story. *grin*

Speaking of which, maybe your feeling bad for people eating alone is just a case of...


People who need people...(Come on, sing it with me Liz!)


IIIIIIIIIIIN the world..."

You're welcome. ;-P

9:24 PM  
Blogger Kay said...

This post makes me wish that I could actually cook.

I have to agree somewhat with Caffeinated Librarian -- eating with other people is a luxury that I don't always have. Though unlike CL, sometimes it does make me sad because I do believe that food is best when shared. You're lucky that you have someone like Mike to share it with.

And also? Cutest. picture. EVER. seriously.

9:44 PM  
Blogger Liz said...

"Were children...
Needing other childREN...
And yet lettiiiing our grown-up PRIIIIIIIDE
Hide all the need inSIIIIIDE!"

Take it, Caffeinated Librarian!

I agree with you, CL. I don't really assume that people eating alone are sad, that's just projection on my part. There are lots of things I like to do alone, but eating out isn't one of them.

p.s. you and my husband should hang out. He speaks your passion. :)

Kay- I hadn't thought of mike as a luxury, but he is. Thank you for the reminder.

7:08 AM  
Blogger Liz said...

Bearette- the rooster potholder is a classic!

kj- I had a feeling you would understand. ;)

linda- I haven't seen that one, but it has gone to the top of my list!

Babel- I don't think either one of us is abnormal. I might feel the same if I had 3.75 kids.

7:11 AM  
Blogger katze said...

I speak the same love lanaguage. And it shows in our ever-expanding waistlines, which makes me feel guilty, because if my expression of love is actually just causing us health problems and (for me) angst over body issues, then what kind of love is *that*?! But there's just something about the act of finding lovely tastes and textures and then sharing them with someone, nourishing my loved one physically, as well as spiritually...

And as far as eating alone in a sit-down restaurant, you should go at an off hour and sit in the lounge or at the bar. Chances are, especially in the DC area, that your server/ the bartender will have lots to talk about and you meet the most interesting people. Only works if they're not juggling a full section ,though. I don't mind eating utterly alone, either, so long as I have a book or a newspaper to read. It can be kind of nice to just relax and be alone, enjoying a nice meal at your own pace.

8:44 AM  
Blogger Liz said...

katze- I've actually been thinking that I might go out for a solo dinner as a personal challenge. Stay tuned for the riveting coverage...

3:32 PM  
Blogger Caffeinated Librarian said...

If it is any consolation, the way you describe food is a lot like I feel about music. If I like you, one of the first things I'll do is spend hours making a mix for you, carefully selection and downloading music, making sure they're in the perfect order.

I did that for a guy I was dating once and he, in return, made me a copy of a cd he a store bought cd - straight in order, no changes. Much like your "pasta and Prego" reaction, I was just crushed because to me there was no thought put into it, no LOVE! It's hard to make that shift mentally, to realize that the things that sing in your soul don't do so for least not to the same degree.

10:38 PM  
Blogger bdogg_mcgee said...

I loved this post - all the descriptions of food reminded me of "Farmer Boy." :)

One of my favorite salads at the moment is a mixture of baby spinach and romaine, with thinly sliced red onion, roasted sliced almonds, pomegranate seeds, and poppyseed dressing. Pure heaven, I tell you!

12:04 AM  

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