Saturday, April 18, 2009

Feasting

I'm thinking of food tonight, of gastronomical delights that melt in your mouth and endure in your memories.  I'm not one of those live-to-eat people, the way Beve and our oldest daughter are.  Beve starts thinking about dinner when he's put his breakfast dishes in the dishwasher.  In the early days of our marriage, he used to call me early in the day to ask what I was planning for dinner.  I was almost always baffled by the question.  I'd barely gotten around to feeding the chublets their Honeynut Cheerios, still had Top-ramen to make for lunch and he was salivating at the idea of dinner.  I tell you, it was hard going in those days when I actually had to have dinner ready on schedule, with three hungry birds and one large hungry bear to feed.

I'm also not a person who eats by the clock.  My mother, pre-Alzheimers, was like this.  She could have a large breakfast at 10:30 am, be stuffed to the gills with food, but the clock striking noon always made her head to the kitchen.  And dinner, no matter what had come before, was always at 6 pm.  Many the battles I had with her because I just wasn't always hungry when the clock told her it was time to eat.  And Beve was just telling me today of a man who eats every day at 4:30 pm.  No matter what.  He might be going out to dinner with friends an hour later...it just doesn't matter.  His clock within is connected intimately with the clock on the wall. 

I haven't been a success in the kitchen, and I might completely forget the time, and therefore, not have a meal organized at a reasonable hours, but Beve and I have had some pretty sumptuous meals along the way in our lives.  Just this February in Mexico, we had a primerib dinner to die for, some very authentic Mexican (do you catch my tone when I write that?).  We've eaten Indian curry in India, and pico de gao homemade by an amazing cook in a Mexican lodge on a hill in the Baja. That same woman, Angela, also made us nopale tamales one night, and I'm here to tell you, I had no idea cactus was so delicious.  Reindeer in Finland, fish and chips in rainy London-town.  And the friets (otherwise known by Americans as fries) in Holland with the--wait for it--mayonnaise sauce.  I'm telling you it was muy lecher, as the Dutch say--or very tasty. We've had salmon that was swimming in an Alaskan bay just minutes before, and pig roasted in a pit in Hawaii.  And we've had great time and fellowship around all those tables, I can tell you that.

But the best meal Beve and I ever had came at the end of a long weekend of cooking for others. Maybe that was why it tasted so good.  Maybe it was the beautiful scenery out the windows--the setting sun out over the salt water of the Canadian gulf islands as we sipped our wine and ate.  I think it was both of those things and more.  While Beve and I sat on an upturned log on the beach, we watched our friend in high boots, take a large bucket and shovel and paddle his canoe out to his longboats anchored in the shelter of a small island.  When he returned, his bucket was full of mussels he'd dislodged from the sides of the wooden boats.  He simmered them in fine Scottish whiskey, made his own spinach pasta, and served them up together.  We sat at their large table under a candlelit chandelier and ate, and talked and enjoyed the simple bounty fresh from the sea.  Whenever I think of that, it epitomizes the banqueting table for me.  Extravagant because the food was created with such thoughtfulness.

At that humble, rich, glorious table, our friend read this blessing:

O Lord, refresh our sensibilities.  Give us this day our daily taste. Restore to us soups that spoons will not sink in, and sauces which are never the same twice.  Raise up among us stews with more gravy than we have bread to blot it with, and casseroles that put stache and substance in our limp modernity.  Take away our fear of fat, and make us glad with the oil that ran upon Aaron's beard.  Give us pasta with a hundred fillings, and rice in a thousand variations.  Above all, give us grace to live as true men--to fast till we come to a refreshed sense of what we have and then to dine gratefully on all comes to hand.  Drive far from us, O Most Bountiful, all creatures of air and darkenss; cast out the demons that possess us, deliver us from the fear of calories and the bondage of nutrition; and set us free once more in our own land, where we shall serve Thee as Thou has blessed us--with the dew of heaven, the fatness of the earth and plenty of corn and wine. Amen.

From The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Farrar Capon

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