“So, tell me about the food.…”
Almost every conversation I have with people I love eventually comes back to the food.
Julie and I have traveled around the world, danced in places we never expected, and lived in several separate cities. And whenever one of us returns from travels, the first question we ask is, “What was the most memorable meal?” This summer, she has been experimenting with Vietnamese spring rolls in rice paper she buys at Uwajimaya on jaunts to the city. And when I go to visit her on Vashon, we sit on her sun-drenched deck and eat small slices of cheese on fresh-cut fruit and drink glasses of wine. And talk about new recipes.
Amy loves cupcakes. If I want to make her happy, I find her photographs of cupcakes online. When I was taking the photo of my birthday ganache cupcake, I looked in the lens and knew that Amy would approve. That’s when I kept it. Amy’s apartment is always impeccably clean, and the dining room table lovingly decorated with small plates of delectable morsels. No one ever goes hungry at Amy’s parties. When I go to visit, she’s found something new I have to try: homemade microwave popcorn in a plain paper bag with two staples; lemonade with rosewater; and the Moosewood low-fat cookbook, which has sustained me through several seasons.
Meri makes noises when she eats, like me. Not grunts or burps, but little moans of appreciation. She revels in the chance to explore the Market with me (for those of you who don’t live in Seattle, that’s Pike Place Market), searching for treats in little rabbit warrens of stores, and buying fistfuls of dahlias during the summer. I can try any new recipe on her, and she’ll tell me when it stinks. (That isn’t often.) She makes the meanest ceviche I’ve ever eaten. We sample wines and laugh while eating hors d’oeuvres. We’ve eaten hot dogs outside the Met in New York, blackberries off the vine in Discovery Park, and samples at PCC with equal delight. I trust her taste entirely.
Dorothy talks about Trader Joe’s with the same obsessive fervency that I do. We compare dips and discuss the merits of mache in bags. She’s constantly cooking, then calling me to tell me how the latest dish turned out. We decide what olive oil to buy and figure out how to make salads with white balsamic vinegar. When she talks about food, she waves her hands in large circles in the air, and her voice speeds up. We jabber together about tastes and smells and sticky toffee pudding. This weekend, she made fig-ginger jam, from a recipe in the August Cooking Light just for the hell of it, and gave me some. Oh goodness, she has the touch.
When Carol found out that I couldn’t eat gluten, she spent hours online, researching every ingredient she hoped to use in the picnic she planned for me. When I thanked her for taking such enormous care—and I could barely eke out the words, because I was so moved—she gesticulated, and her eyes grew wide: “Are you kidding me? It was great. I learned so much!” For my birthday, she bought me volcanic orange sea salt and herbs de provence.
Jessica and I sit in her kitchen, up against the counter, facing each other, eating away and talking our hearts out. She brings me oddments she found in New York and messes up the names of everything. We wax poetic about salads with twenty vegetables and lemon juice as the base of the dressing. The day after my horrible car accident, in which I nearly died, she walked into my apartment with a sandwich from Macrina Bakery. For my birthday, she sent me a recipe for gluten-free chicken noodle soup. She introduced me to Mariebelle hot chocolate, and for that alone I am grateful. And so much more.
Tita has been cooking for me for over twelve years. Every birthday, she made me a cake from scratch. This summer, she made barbeque sauce by hand, so we wouldn’t have to rely on any bottled ones with lurking gluten. She brings me chocolates and coffee. And she still cooks out of a Wisconsin farm cookbook from the 1940s. And it all still tastes so damned good.
Sonora bought me the most beautiful Indian cookbook I have ever seen, and inscribed inside: “Now go cook up an Indian storm!” Expect chicken pilau, vegetable biriyani, and chickpea flour parathas recipese on here soon. I will be cooking up an Indian storm, right after she and I spend the afternoon at an Indian grocery store in Bellevue. Even though she doesn’t cook that often, she knows how to appreciate food, fully. As she said last night, when several friends were over here: “I know how to eat. And I will!”
Mary has been baking bread for over fifty years. Even though she has never made a gluten-free loaf in her life, I’m sure I’ll figure out how with her help. At 74, she’s still in the pool every morning, exercising. And talking about food. After a year and a half of bobbing together in Hydrofit, we still haven’t made it through a class without talking about food. She brings me potato salad she makes from scratch, early in the morning before we see each other. She’s treated me out to lunches at Ray’s Boathouse, just for the hell of it. She directed me to Central Market and told me where to find the best fresh eggs in Seattle. (A + J Meats; pass it on.) She’s more alive than most of the 30-year-olds I know, and I have to think that much of that is because her tastebuds are still working so well.
And those are only some of the Seattle friends. That doesn’t count anyone outside this city. Like Sharon, who has been my best friend since we were 16. We simply cannot have a single conversation without talking about cooking in her infinitesimal kitchen in LA or La Brea Bakery bread (okay, I miss that) or the best afternoon tea. We have road tripped across the US, spent time in Alaska, wandered around Europe together, and driven down the coast of California. And in all those trips, there wasn’t a single breakfast in which Sharon wasn’t already asking, “What’s for lunch?” She has a voracious appetite for life, and that’s part of the reason I love her so.
I once met a young woman in New York City, a thin, wan girl with no discernible personality. She sat next to me at an enormous table on the roof of a restaurant in the Village. Warm air blew off 6th Avenue, and we were all delving into dishes of Mexican food. She sat with her hands in her lap. I thought perhaps she didn’t have enough money for the check and quietly offered to help pay. She demurred.
“Becky doesn’t like food,” Sharon said to me, in between bites of her quesadilla.
“You don’t like food?!” I turned to this young woman.
“I don’t know,” she said, as she twisted her hands in her lap. “I just don’t understand why people talk about food all the time. It’s just.…food.“
It’s as though she were speaking moon-man language to me. Still, I struggled to understand. “Isn’t there any food you enjoy more than others?” I asked her, hoping.
After a long moment of thinking, she said, “Cereal?“
We didn’t talk the rest of the evening. I wasn’t mad at her. We just didn’t have anything to say to each other.
I don’t understand people who don’t love food. People who view food only as sustenance. People who don’t cook and lavish their attention on every step of the process. People who don’ t moan when they eat mango ice cream with fig-ginger jam on top.
All of my friends have voracious appetites for life. Food is only the physical manifestion for the way we eat up our days, savoring the last tastes, and discussing them afterwards.
And that’s why, when I received the celiac discussion, and found out I could only eat gluten-free foods, I knew I’d be okay. Oh sure, there was an adjustment period, but it was brief. Because all I had to do was take down all my cookbooks from the shelf, research online, and start cooking. But mostly, all I had to do was call my friends.
So if you don’t have foodie friends, find some. Life just isn’t the same without them. And if you can’t find any, let me be one. I’ll be glad to talk with you about food. Have you made blueberry crisp before? After all, it’s blueberry season, and I hear that PCC has some gorgeous organic ones on sale right now.….
15-oz can of pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup shredded monterey jack cheese (I used the one with jalapenos in it; old school)
1/4 cup crushed tortilla chips (Garden of Eatin’, gluten-free, according to Whole Foods)
2 tablespoons fine chopped green onions
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro (I used much more than this)
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 large egg white
° Mash the beans, partially. I used the food processor and pulsed for a few beats. Then, add all the other ingredients. The mixture will be fairly wet. You may want to add more tortilla chips.
° Form into patties (this amount should make about 4 or 5, depending on the size). I suggest you make them small. Add some heart-healthy oil (I used olive oil, of course) and heat the patties on medium-high heat. Do not turn them for awhile. The first one I made turned out gloppy, because I was so eager for it to be done. Treat them a little like pancakes. Don’t turn the first time until you sense they are browned.
When they are done, top with the following avocado spread:
1/2 large avocado, fully ripe and mashed
1 large plum tomato
2 tablespoons chopped red onion
juice from one lime
salt to taste
These proportions are mine, loosely based on the recipe. Their recipe calls for fat-free sour cream, but almost all fat-free or low-fat sour creams have modified food starch, and thus gluten. And you don’t really need it anyway. This makes a chunky, guacamole-like sauce, really thick and gorgeous to eat. Dollop at will.
You’re going to enjoy it.