Sunday, November 9, 2014

NaBloPoMo 9: Adding Love to Food

This won't be the first time I've written about food, especially cooking, on this here blog of mine. But as I've been gone for ten days, my hands are itching to cook while my brain has still been fiddling with my post about Problematically Attractive from the other day, and I got to wondering how those are linked.

I've always been bothered by the touchy-feely-ness of food tasting better because it was made with love. Yada, yada, yada, sounds like a load of hooey to me. Even when I've written about nearly the very thing, I've not been terrifically comfortable with it. I'm the sort of person who doesn't understand the science, but I'm comfortably certain it's there. So how do the same basic variables combine differently dependent on the presence of love?

Well, attraction is an aspect of love, isn't it? And this is what got me thinking.

I don't mean to take away the magic, from Gretchen's cooking or my own, but I got to wondering about this. Problematically Attractive is attractive not because of some mysterious something in the air, not because his eyes are imbued with love, but because of the particular, particulate attention he pays to every piece of what you say and do.

Isn't it the same with food?

When I am tired, when I am cooking so that I can eat something so that I can continue with my day (or crash in a heap with the couch and Netflix), I pay only enough attention to keep my fingers uncut and unburned (most of the time). The onions are rough-shod, the meat is cooked unevenly, the spices are unbalanced. It's just food, sustenance. It's not bad, but it wouldn't bring anyone back for lukewarm seconds.

But when I am cooking for therapy, or for people I want to love or take care of, it's an entirely different thing. Like Problematically Attractive, I consider and ponder and weigh and embrace each element. The onions are cut to thirds and then shaved paper-thin, their water soaking into skin and bamboo board. The pan is heated well, just slicked with oil, and the meat is timed by its shifting sizzling, not a mental timer. The spices are combined in my little glass bowl, saturated with olive oil to meld them better. The wooden spoon corrals the contents like a gentle hand instead of a handy stick, and in so doing the pieces are folded in but not broken, combined but not mashed.

This isn't really magic, not at the end of the day. It's practiced skill and basic culinary knowledge, but more than either it is attention. It's watching, it's giving care, it's listening. Just like purposeful flirting, it's making the food important even if it wouldn't be otherwise. The commonplace carrot is turned sweet and perfectly forkable; the unremarkable chicken breast is crisp but still juicy, swaddled in just enough spice. Each finds its place on the plate, and the spoon is tucked in carefully so as not to break the spell.

Because maybe there's a little magic mixed up in there somewhere, too. Who's to say that wooden spoon isn't part magic wand? That magic that floats across the table from an attentive man is the same magic (or a close cousin) steams up from the plate, curls around your tongue and tells you that this wasn't assembled but made, not for just anyone, just for you.

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