Feb. 24, 1999: Eats

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""Author’s Note: I recently came across a trove of old letters and stories from decades ago. I like some of them. Hopefully you will too.

I go through fads in my reading. For a while I read almost nothing but detective or spy novels. Techno, noir, crime, or dark comedy, it didn’t matter. All that mattered was the wonderful atmosphere that those books seemed to have. I read entire collections of some authors–Le Carre, Higgins, Deighton, and Greene among others.

When I had tired of that genre it was on to travel, or technology, or some other thing. These days my tastes have run to food writing (no pun intended). The way people write about food is very sensuous. There are hundreds of words cooking (again no pun intended) up imaginary visages of wonderful meals and cozy kitchens. I can sit and read magazines, books, menus, even bottles and boxes to get my minimum daily requirement of atmosphere. Besides, it dovetails nicely with my current obsession with food in general.

Feta and Fresh Spinach

I wasn’t an early foodie. I was picky as a child, and while Mom was a good cook, she wasn’t a fancy one. Ours was not a table where you found foie gras or mesquite grilled chicken on a bed of feta and fresh spinach. In fact, I doubt Mom even knew what feta was. However, our table was different in other ways that probably did have an influence on my feelings about food.

For one, I was in high school before I ate a store-bought piece of bread at home. Several times a week Mom made bread. I loved to come home and eat it right out of the oven with freshly melted butter.

She typically began preparing for Christmas in September by making all manner of goodies. There were cakes and pies, candies and fudges. There were honest-to-God gingerbread houses topped with homemade gum drops and freshly whipped creams. At Easter our dinner always came with fresh hot cross buns. Our condiments–ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise–were also frequently from the kitchen and not the store.

I grew up with a rich tradition of food and when my tastes matured in early adulthood (I began to eat peas when I was 18) I took it from there. Today I eat almost anything. I am allied with no particular cuisine. A leg of lamb, sushi, red beans and rice, or a nice curry all hold an appeal for me.

I Basked in Basque and Fell in Love with Falafel

I indulged my food impulses for many years because I traveled. There was wonderful tortellini from a Naples hole-in-the-wall. Rich tea-smoked duck in Washington’s Chinatown. I adored fresh-made sandwiches, full of butter and carpaccio, from a little shack at the side of a Sardinian airport. I basked in Basque and fell in love with falafel. I dined at street vendors from Seoul to Rio. There were delicious roasted, chocolate coated nuts from huge copper pots in downtown Buenos Aires and luscious Brahma bull hump in Brazil. One Christmas I was rewarded with a huge box of cookies from a German restaurateur simply because I was away from home on the holidays.

Of course, all that eating took its toll. Except for early childhood, I was never a skinny kid. When the hormones came upon me in my teens I ate like a linebacker. Over the years it caught up with me. I don’t think I’m grossly obese, but I don’t have to hold onto anything in a stiff wind if you know what I mean. Lately, the doctors tell me that I’ve developed high blood sugar. Not of quite the diabetes stage, but high enough to take action. So now I try to watch what I eat.

On bad days it is a supremely arduous task. I hate the measuring and the counting. Did I eat the requisite number of breads? How can I squeeze in another fruit when what I really want is another helping of chicken? None of these are questions that a person should have to ask, but I do. Well, usually I do.

On good days it is a bit of a challenge, but also a bit of fun. The counting makes me plan ahead. I find that flavors are more robust and that the challenge of working in the right servings is entertaining (perhaps a chicken and apples dish to squeeze them both in). I’m trying out new recipes for the first time in ages.

Food is a wonderful thing. I like to eat to enjoy and not eat as a way to avoid dying. For now I’m still immersing myself in cookbooks and other food books and having the time of my life.

Give Us Some Choice Words