12 March 2008

Food and Sensibility

I have an interesting relationship with food.

I have always been slim, except for two months right before college, which I'll get to in a moment. A combination of an old-fashioned childhood, common-sense parenting and obedience made me try everything, like most things, and never have to worry about gaining weight. Rather, I was the shortest and skinniest kid in class all the way up to tenth grade, when I shot up to be tall and skinny.

My mom, bless her femme au foyer heart, made decent food every night, packed our lunchbags in the morning, and surrendered the weekend kitchen to Dad. A true homemaker, she shows her affection by providing and nurturing. She never liked cooking, but did it and did it well. As she always said, "Veg, meat and starch at every meal, the dinners are ideal."* Predictable, yes, but my family never pretended to be anything else.

We ate dinner together every night, most of the way through high school. The dinnertime conversation ebbed or flowed, according to our loquacity of the evening, but was always familial and cordial. So food was a comforter, a sustenance, a conversation, and a source of love.

*Well, she never actually said it, but I bet she will now.

Then I went to France, gained weight, obsessed about it surprisingly little, went to college and danced it off in a few months. Then I went back to France, probably gained less weight than I thought I had, came back, broke up with a boyfriend, took an overload of courses one term, stressed myself out, and briefly flirted with anorexia.

I wanted to lose my French weight, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I liked food too much, liked the taste of it, the warmth and comfort, the sociability of it, the feeling of satiety, and the adventure of trying new things. So I shook myself out of it by discovering ways to de-greasify dining hall fare: steam salad bar veggies in a microwave, crack the free peppermints over vanilla ice cream, and assemble your own 'grilled" cheese sandwiches in the toaster. Talk about cooking on a budget. I also took fewer credits the following semester.

Even though I had lived in France, the place where they invented meals as an excuse for conversation, I never really *got* the connection between the two until I had gained enough confidence to be able to hold my own in such a conversation. I've written before about the "Wednesday Girls' Night," and I can't think of a more enjoyable way to spend an evening than with friends around a table of good food. I don't want to go to a bar, just give me a casserole. I loathe the idea of a bachelorette bash at a club; give me a potluck with my friends and a sleepover and we're good.

But it was another meal that made me turn the corner and look the label of Foodie in the eye. A friend and I had started spending a weekly meal together, sharing our photos and memories of abroad over a glass of wine and a plate of delicious. At one point he served me a cold three-bean salad that was sublime, yet simple. I have never been able to recreate it, although I've tried. In return, I introduced him to eggs Florentine, one of my favorite go-to fixes. Anyhow, I was hooked on good food, well made.

Since then, whether I'm cooking for one, two or twenty-seven (cf: last Thanksgiving!) I try to cook the best I possibly can. Lately this has meant eschewing processed foods in favor of original sources. Just as I felt utterly granola for joining a yoga spa, I feel organic and earthy for dropping half a grand on a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Every two weeks starting in June, we'll get a full basket of fruit, vegetables and eggs, all straight from a Long Island farm. (No kidding, the contract makes sure these durn city-dwellers understand the food may have DIRT ON IT!! Gasp!) I can't wait for it to start. I'm already planning on canning my own tomato sauce from the reddest, ripest tomatoes I'll ever eat that I didn't grow myself and filling the house with the fragrance of applesauce cooking down.

I can't think of anything else that I spend so much energy and time on, try to be creative with, or take more pride in doing well. Cooking is a challenge for me, and the moment that I get to sit down at the table with my Frenchy is the moment I wait for all day. We quietly talk over the day's happenings, the news, share ideas for handling work problems, and just be. And food continues to be the reason for intimate moments, for nurturing and for enjoying life. There's nothing better than a good meal.