“When you fall in love, recognize it as impermanence and let that intensify its preciousness.”
We had only been dating for a week. I invited her for dinner: I had the reckless desire to feed her a delicious, sensual meal. The day before, I sent her an email, asking her, as I usually do with dinner guests, to tell me her allergies, her dislikes, her food-isms. She left a message on my voicemail, reluctantly divulging her dislike of salmon, not wanting to be a pain. I was, at that very moment, at the supermarket, where they’ve just started selling organic salmon. (It’s a bit of a compromise, this organic salmon; wild is better for the environment, but that is harder to find in this land-locked city). I had been planning to make grilled rosemary salmon on a beet-wine coulis from my much-loved Salmon: The Cookbook (Whitecap Books), mushroom risotto, salad greens tossed only with olive oil, lemon, and kosher salt, and a raspberry crisp for dessert.
I picked up the message just in time. I almost burst into tears. It wasn’t just about food. I was overwrought, nervous. My heart ached at the prospect of opening up to someone again. I called Sandi, who, meaning well, suggested I make mashed potatoes and mushroom sauce. Say what? Sandi has a way of making off-the-wall suggestions in times of crisis.
I did an about-turn. Went home, pored through my old Moosewood cookbooks and a couple of recipes I’d seen on my favourite food blogs. To hell with sensual. I decided to go all retro-vegetarian and rustic, and went shopping again.
Why is that first meal so important? “Isn’t there some way you could just enjoy the experience instead of getting all crazy about it?” Sandi had said, exasperated, but meaning well. She was nervous too. Sometimes the prospect of a new lover is as hard on one’s friends as it is on oneself.
But that first meal, when a person you like quite a bit enters your kitchen with all of their vulnerability written on their face, is a meal you’ll always remember. The list of ingredients will sit in your recipe journal like a ghostly imprint of desire. Food, patiently mixed and blended into an ambrosial cloud, will enter an expectant mouth. Crisp and shapely textures will impact upon her tongue, bid for attention, trying not to be snappish about it. Wine will make savvy connections, build bridges between flavours.
In the end, the raspberry crisp, the only dish to survive the menu-switch, was the big winner. It was also the simplest. Fresh raspberries with a touch of sugar. The topping was from Shuna Fish Lydon’s (of Eggbeater) repertoire, that I had made ahead, it was stored in the fridge. We had it with vanilla ice cream, at midnight, and then again the next morning, with tea.
Really, I think I could have fed her some bread and cheese and she would have been fine.
The complexity of it all was me, metaphor for all my expectations and fears. It can be painful, to have all that hope and insecurity running through you like an electric current, so you distract yourself with a million details.
The simplicity of it all was what the Buddhists would call “the principle of harmony.” A happy appreciation of basic ingredients. Accepting impermanence, just being in the moment.
Cooking and eating teach me so many things, not the least of which is to keep things simple.