|Shopping for greens in Africa.|
I'll open up a can of Hunts tomatoes with my Swiss Army Knife and take a sip of the tomato broth and it's like lightning shoots through me. My eyes snap open and I'll go "Mmmm" and squirm with delight. I have to laugh. No matter what is going on, I can wrench a mini-Mardi-Gras out of myself with one mouthful of tasty eating.
Shopping for food is one of the top ten things I've done with the hours of my life.
As a writer I spend a lot of time alone, which I hate. I like being around people, even while writing. Headphones give me all the privacy I need. But for the most part, I live, and write, alone.
When the day's writing is done, I bolt. More often than not, I am going to a supermarket, a farmer's market, or a produce store.
Just gazing at stacks of red, green, yellow, and orange peppers uplifts my soul. When I get news of cancer or the end of a relationship or another job application rejected I heal the wound by looking at Florida juice oranges stacked next to California navel oranges stacked next to pomelos stacked next to pink grapefruits stacked next to ugli fruit. Prickly pineapple skin, shiny, heavy ripe eggplant, beets as roughhewn as Yul Brynner's skull stubble, the slosh a good coconut voices, the scents of cilantro and anise that waft free of their filigree leaves and seduce you from several aisles away: these colors and textures, sights, scents and sensations are my gauze, my sutures, my mantra, my loving arms.
Mind – I am not a foodie.
I didn't even know that foodies existed till I interacted with them on the web.
I was reading and posting on an internet discussion site and I "met" a woman who seemed to love food as much as I do.
The weird thing is that I realized we could never be friends. She struck me as a tightly wound career woman who didn't laugh or loosen up with strangers and maybe rarely with people she knew.
After a while of being around foodies in internet environments I realized that people like me, who love food, and foodies, have different DNA.
I almost never share recipes – I rarely use recipes. My mother taught me how to cook. Not a cookbook. I can't imagine watching a TV cooking show. I've never ordered a specialty food for myself from a catalogue. (Once sent a friend some cinnamon from Penzeys.) If I told you where I got my kitchen utensils, you might shrink back in horror. Hint – I've been low income for a long time. No sabatier knives in my kitchen. And I'm not above dumpster diving when a tenant moves out and tosses everything, including kitchenware.
I once made a German chocolate cake over an open mahogany wood fire in an African rain forest. It was someone's birthday. I put sand in the bottom of a metal drum and put the cake pan on top of that and covered it up. That sums up my approach to utensils. If it works, it works.
But this, I think, is what really separates someone like me, who loves food, and who is not a foodie, and a foodie:
The most delicious meal I ever ate was plain, boiled white rice served with a naked, low-rent hot dog.
My Uncle John (Jan Cerno) made it for me for lunch one day. We were in his cottage in Slovakia, on the land he worked as a subsistence farmer and beekeeper. He didn't speak English, I didn't speak Slovak, and we didn't converse while eating our rice and hot dog. I didn't even know it was coming. He gestured me to him, sat me down, and put the food in front of me: more or less how you feed a dog.
The meal of white rice and hot dog was delicious because I loved Uncle John so much.
That's what it means to love food and not be a foodie, I think. And if I got it wrong, I would love it if a foodie corrected me.
This is another difference between someone like me who loves food and a foodie.
I get the impression, from the way that they talk, that foodies assess food as valuable if it is expensive, rare, and if it takes a great deal of time and effort to prepare.
I think food is delicious and valuable if it is fresh and if it is real. Often, for food to be fresh, it has to be local, which makes it not so rare, not so expensive.
When I lived in Nepal, I used to pay so little for a fruit called nashpati that the price of one nashpati was not even one whole American cent. Biting into a nashpati offered you the sensation of biting into the essence of spring in the Himalaya: they were that fresh, fluid, firm, fragrant, alive. And they were so cheap and abundant they were almost free.
I found them in America. Here they are called "Asian pear." They can be really expensive, a thousand times what I used to pay for them in Nepal. And, that extra price doesn't make them more delicious. I don't buy them here. It's just not the same.
A former self would have spanked me for that expense. I think I allowed it to myself because of the bad news this year. It was a question of, If I don't taste this now, I may never taste it.
I was at Corrado's, picking through the cheeses, looking for something new and affordable. Sometimes you can find really good cheese at really affordable prices. In late summer, 2011, I found St. Agur at Corrado's for five dollars a pound. St. Agur is a double cream French blue cheese. Just thinking of how good it tastes I practically drop to my knees. My breathing deepens and evens out. My solar plexus relaxes. I could meditate for an hour or I could spend thirty seconds thinking about my tongue and palette making contact with one wad of St Agur cheese. Five dollars a pound! Back in late summer, 2011.
So, the other day I was seeking a comparable find and I came across Moliterno Pecorino infused with black truffle paste. Sixteen dollars a pound.
Mushrooms are real big for Eastern Europeans. My Polish-American dad used to bring home wild mushrooms. He would go for a walk on a highway margin, in a city park, and, where others saw just grass, just bare branches, he saw pounds of prize morels or puffballs or oysters or sheep's head.
I've heard of truffles. Given that I love mushrooms so much, I figured I'd really, really love truffles, the essence of mushroom-ness.
Could not wait to get home and taste it. The ultimate fungi experience!
Got home. Unpacked bags. Put everything away so there'd be no distraction. Changed into cheese tasting gear (not the street-dirt-stiffened clothes I'd been walking in.) Breathed deeply, psyched for my first taste of black truffles.
Report: A very fungi-taste. Sort of perfumey, clingy. A cloud of fungi essence. It was okay.
And that was it.
It wasn't my ultimate fungi experience.
I've eaten wild sulfur shelf I've found, picked, and prepared myself. I prefer that.
In Poland, I used to eat zapiekanki, baguettes sliced and covered with buttered mushrooms and cheese. I prefer that.
And, of course, I cherish the memories of eating the mushrooms my late dad brought home in big, leaf strewn bags, from highway margins and public parks.
And that's why I'm not a foodie.
But, again, if any foodie is reading and I've gotten your tribe all wrong, please feel free to correct me.
|Uncle John (far left) cooked me one of the most delicious meals I have ever eaten.|