What We Talk About When We Talk About Food
My refrigerator is a disaster.
This morning, the city-dwelling boyfriend complained he couldn’t find the yogurt even though I directed him to the spot: “Top shelf, left, against the side.” And there they were, under 3 opened boxes of unsalted butter, a tub of grated parmesan, a lidless Tupperware with a bit of leftover taco-seasoned chicken breast and half a mango.
“I’m cleaning it out today,” I said, scanning the shelves made impenetrable by wine, beer bottles, eggs and asparagus, a bowl holding half a dozen lemons, two cartons of milk (one whole, one lactose free), apricot and mixed veggie and fruit juice, tubs of grated and crumbled cheese (4 varieties), three types of salad greens, two Tupperwares of cilantro pesto, salsa, almond butter, greek yogurt, sour cream, two huge bags of basil, Pellegrino and diet Kiwi Strawberry soda. Greg and I have been sizing up our relationship, thinking if it might be time to take another step closer to each other. Today, he’s working in Boulder, then coming home to me.
“As long as I’ve known you, it has looked that way,” he said, kissing me.
While my relationship with food is rich and immensely pleasurable, it is also crazy and occasionally dangerous. I’m always planning the next meal in my head. Grocery shopping is a disaster. I get side-tracked by some lovely, end-of-the-season arugula and begin building a meal around it to mimic the peppery greens-topped pizza margherita I had in Rome a few summers ago when I ate slice after slice with a cold Tuscan white and listened to the equally peppery sounds of Italian being spoken around me. Standing there in front of endive and parsley at my local Sprouts, I dream of the chewy crust I will make by gently stretching the dough off the backs of my hands and I start looking for heirloom tomatoes for the pizza, the third kind of tomato I will buy that day. Before I know it, I’ve been in the store for an hour and a half.
I look at people who shop with just a basket in their hands and blanch. I can never make it out without at least half a cart full— five or six of those big reusable bags.
I prepare a shopping list, but some not-to-be-ignored ingredient propels me to buy something else and I’ll be running around the produce strawberries because the first rhubarb of the season is in. Or grabbing sweet pink gulf shrimp (on sale!) for shrimp cakes, and wondering what I can concoct with some fat and sassy golden beets. Bean salad with walnuts and goat cheese? I add those to my list too. The result is that my refrigerator looks as if I’m preparing for war or the end of the world, ready to feed whole battalions.
I want to be ready for anything, especially with food: the unexpected visit from the city-dwelling boyfriend, a sunny Sunday when I feel inspired to make brunch, the occasional blue day when I need a big dose of fat and/or potatoes to calm my brain and make me feel happier and loved.
Food is so many things, and I want my larder, like my closet, to be able to reflect my moods at a moment’s notice.
Some days you wake up and you want to wear the short brown sundress your Aunt cut to length for you along with the strappy gold and faux snake skin wedges, and some days you want the jean skort with the gauzy t-shirt that says “Beautiful” worn with pink flip flops and hoop earrings.
Of course there’s also a psychology reflected in the state of my refrigerator. Worries about not having enough, fear of going without—in all areas of my life. These little gremlins are irrational, but deep-seated and not easily shaken.
I look at Greg who is rushing around, getting lunch and a bottle of water.
“Want to know what’s for dinner?” I ask.
“Sure, because it always changes” he says.
It’s true, just the other day, I’d taken out salmon but switched to steak when the sky turned black and the temperature dropped and I’d had a nasty fight with a sibling. I wanted something bloody and chewy in my mouth to fit my post-fight mood so I seared the steak on the grill, along with some asparagus, then served it with crumbled gorgonzola and tomatoes rinsed in balsamic vinegar and olive oil. The flavors matched my humor which was vexed and a bit dramatic, but a glass of wine and a salad of made with farmer’s market greens and truffle oil calmed me down.
So forget all that food is love crap. Food is mood. I eat to celebrate, seduce, be immersed (and yes, enraged), pay attention, explore, mark, enjoy, and assuage.
Tonight, there will be sirloin skewers and that famous pizza margherita, along with a lovely cucumber, tomato, mint, and feta salad, followed by mango frozen yogurt I’ll make with the Kitchen Aid. I’m chilling homemade muesli with cut Colorado peaches and blueberries for breakfast. Greg and I will sit outside and drink white malbec and talk about his day and mine. Maybe we’ll even dream the future.
Mood? Hopeful. Relaxed. Full.