I read Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate a few years after I’d seen the magical movie at the Inwood Theater in Dallas. I was trying to get a few years’ distance so I could read it untainted by memories of the images on the screen. I was not disappointed. While I loved the movie, the book was even better.
Each chapter starts with a recipe, which is interwoven into the romance of the story. The quail in rose petals ignites an intense passion in the dinner guests, and chopped onions bring a flood of tears. Reading this book opened my own mind about spice combinations I had not explored before. I discovered cinnamon with meats, when I had only ever considered it for breakfast or dessert.
Now I put cinnamon in my spaghetti sauce and chocolate in my chili, and it seems so natural to me now, even if my mother never taught these things to me in my formative years. And when my dear friend handed me a piece of bacon fudge a year ago, I was blown away at the maple and chocolate flavors that melded so divinely with the crispy, salty pork.
It’s been almost a year since my friend asked why I wasn’t covering the erotic aspects of food in books and movies, and it will probably be another year before I make my way through the topic now that I’m here. Since cannibalism and starvation are behind us, I think we should just sit back and enjoy our food for a while. We’ve earned it.
So I eat a lot of fruit, right? And I believe that the best way to eat an apple is lustily, with great big, juicy chunks bit out of the middle. Same goes for peaches and plums, juice dripping down the chin. I walk around the office eating bananas, and I can’t help but think on what it looks like when a woman slides this long and slender fruit through her lips.
Eating fruit sometimes makes me think of the movie Boomerang. I usually think about it in English, but the French says it even better, I think.
My husband and I adopted a new baby girl two weeks ago, and it’s a whole new adventure for the three of us. Well, actually, there are four of us counting the dog, who’s really had to adjust to having a new member in the pack.
All the while, I’ve changed jobs after 13 stable years, and I’m meeting new people from different parts of the world. While I’ve never traveled to the places where my new friends dwelled, I am learning about history and rubber plantations in Malaysia, agave farming and tequila making in Jalisco, Mexico, and what it’s like for people growing up in Karachi, Pakistan.
Now this new person has come to me with a history and heritage all her own, and I want to know more about where she came from and what she has written in her DNA and her collective soul.
I see the slightly slanted eyes, and I think about pre-historic migrants from China and Russia traveling across the Bering Strait to Alaska and down through Canada, the US and Mexico. I look at her dark hair and creamy skin, and I think of my grandmother, whose Spanish ancestors landed in the new world and joined families with some of the locals. And I stare at her eyes and smile at her smile, and wonder at what journey she will take me on today.
My friend Wade over at Vagabond Journey wrote recently about a formula for making a living on the road. One of the elements for success is a gregarious personality. If you can talk to people, if you’re approachable, you can go far.
In Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell gives us a picture of life on the streets, and in his world, we see the same kind of thing. His Russian friend in Paris could talk himself into or out of anything. His crippled street artist friend in London had great stories to share and made a relatively stable living, despite his malady.
And then there’s Henry Miller. Tropic of Cancer sees him whoring his way around Paris on his charm and wit. Every day is a quest for the next meal, the next lay, and the next couch to crash on.
I admit, I’ve never been one to give out charity for charity’s sake. My heart doesn’t bleed; I don’t buy into the guilt; and I’m always aware of what’s in it for me when I share. Call me selfish, but I don’t really believe anyone can be a pure altruist. I’m just aware of my own motivations.
All I’m saying is if I buy a friend a meal, I usually expect him to pay me with good conversation.
After reading A Hunger Artist, it was interesting to find out that Franz Kafka had died of starvation, a complication from the tuberculosis that tore up his throat from so much coughing that he could hardly eat.
OK, so I realize this is an odd topic for Easter Sunday, but I imagine that Jesus died of something close to starvation, hanging up there on the cross, dehydrating and withering in the sun, bleeding slowly with nothing to nourish him but his conversations with God.
When I started writing, I had no intention of comparing Franz Kafka with Jesus, but there it is. I could delete my words, take them all back, but what the heck. They were both Jewish. They both suffered. They were both misunderstood.
But it’s not about the starvation or the death today. It’s about the celebration of life and immortality. And what better way to celebrate life than with chocolate bunnies? Let’s eat.
My sister has a ten-year-old who has always been a fussy eater. Perhaps there’s something firing in the synapses that keeps her from eating anything but macaroni, chicken and chocolate, or maybe she’s just figured out how to push her parents’ buttons. Who knows?
In Franz Kafka’s short story, “A Hunger Artist,” our main character puts himself on display with his amazing ability to go a month and a half without eating. He swears he can go longer, but the people who run the show won’t let him go past 45 days. Ah, what self control, what feats of strength. Or maybe he just doesn’t like food, and that makes the whole thing easy.
If only he had been introduced to macaroni, chicken and chocolate, his world would be so much better.
Yesterday was a lazy day of TV on DVD, Web surfing and old movies, starting off with a viewing of The Bells of St. Mary’s. Surprisingly, the movie was half over before Bing Crosby sang his first song. Every time the light and the camera hit his face a certain way, I just knew they were ramping up for a bit of crooning, but usually they were just trying to make him look all fatherly and angelic.
Anyway, the first song in the movie comes around a young student’s essay about the five senses. Father O’Malley equates “common sense” to being able to appreciate the five senses, and then he goes off and sings about it. So it brought to mind the vision of a sunset, the sound of laughter, the touch of silk, the smell of roses and the taste of chocolate.
Of course, we all know that some people don’t have all five senses, and sometimes people are emotionally blocked with hysterical blindness, or physically blocked with a cold or wax in their ears. In the book, Mina, by Jonatha Ceely, the characters work in the kitchen of a wealthy country estate in England, surrounded by all this delicious food, but they can’t truly appreciate even the table scraps.
The main character has recently struggled with starvation, watching family members die from lack of food. The wounds are fresh, and so is the guilt of eating when loved ones have died from hunger. Perhaps this youth would have an eating disorder for life, but I left the book with hope that this would not be the case.
OK, well I’m still not sure what this has to do with common sense, but it’s always nice to hear Bing sing.
There are references to two separate miracles in The Bible, where Jesus took a small amount of fish and bread and turned it into enough to feed a horde of hungry travelers. So what would Jesus do if faced with a thousand hungry pilgrims? He’d wave his magic wand over a few loaves and fishes, and poof, no more hunger.
The rest of us have to be a little more humble in our charity. Maybe we get a little more creative and work together with others. Maybe we learn to do what we can and accept our limitations. Maybe our hearts grow hard and hateful toward those in need. Maybe we try to take the weight of human suffering on our own shoulders and spit disgust at those who don’t do the same.
I’ve often thought about the hard ethical decisions, about what one might do if faced with a desperate choice. I saw the last half of a 1975 TV movie when I was in college, called The Last Survivors, starring Martin Sheen as a man in command of a lifeboat full of shipwrecked passengers. With only a small amount of food and water for each of them, he has to decide which of his boat mates is worthy to live, and which should be thrown overboard.
Jesus would have rained down fresh water from the sky, and his food supplies would be never-ending. The sick and the elderly would be healed and strengthened, and they’d all make it to shore alive.
All I’m saying is, it’s a really hard act to follow.
So God gave Adam and Eve all this great food to eat, but the very idea that there was a tree whose fruit was off limits made them want that fruit all the more. I don’t really understand the psychology of it, but there’s a real thrill in doing things considered taboo. I just don’t like the notion that pleasure must be accompanied by punishment.
But then, that’s my fear as I look forward to Tuesday when I’ll let myself eat citrus fruit again. I’ve eaten so well over the last two weeks — leg of lamb, Alaskan salmon, Cornish game hen, apples, bananas, cherries, grapes, avocadoes. But even so, everywhere I look, I think, “Nope, can’t eat that either.” When I do eat it, what if my food punishes me, stops up my nose, attacks my stomach?
So on the elimination diet you have to take out artificial sweeteners and food coloring. This left me with a dilemma. As on any other morning, the first thing that went into my mouth on that first day of the diet was my toothbrush with toothpaste sufficiently slathered upon it.
As I was brushing away, I realized that the toothpaste was blue and most certainly not approved for the diet. So I’m already failing at this thing, and I haven’t even had breakfast yet.
I knew about Tom’s of Maine toothpaste, so I did an Internet search for the ingredients, decided it was a great alternative to brushing with warm water and baking soda, then went to the drug store to pick some up.
Now, I know this is wrong, but everytime I look at this label: