Just Plain Foolish

Just a chance for an old-fashioned, simple storyteller to say what needs to be said.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The simple joy of breaking bread

Food: it's one of the most basic pleasures people have. I have fond memories of making a quick stir-fried pasta on a smuggled hot plate in my dorm room. Three of us consumed that illicit feast, all sitting on the narrow bed, grabbing pieces of pasta, tomato, garlic, peas, and olives from the shared plate with our chopsticks (I had chopsticks enough to go around, but only 1 fork.) as we talked of all kinds of things. I remember clearly everyone grabbing for the last piece of chewy brown garlic as we finished, and all of us laughing about it. Those two women are still dear friends of mine, our friendship cemented over hundreds of shared meals, from that simple pasta made from leftovers, to holiday meals and wedding feasts. Both of them will tell you that I am one of those "Food is love" people. I cook for people as an expression of love, and I enjoy cooking. And I deeply believe that sharing food is one of the things that bonds individual people into community.

I don't think it's a coincidence that the Last Supper has such resonance, even today. Everyone likes to eat with their friends. We gather to talk, to break bread, drink wine, and talk. We share - it isn't my bread or your bread, it's bread to share, a bottle of wine to share, a pot of stew or veggies or whatever to share. And in sharing, we're saying your needs are as important as mine. We each take what we need from the common pot, and pass it on. And I love potlucks. At a potluck, we each bring something to contribute to that common bonding experience, just as we do to the conversation. And the person who brings something basic, like a dish of rice or potatoes has brought something just as necessary to the dinner as the person who brings the pickled baby artichokes.

Following my brother's recommendation, I read Skipping Towards Gomorrah by Dan Savage. In this book, he attempts to experience all seven deadly sins by choosing a representative action for each. For gluttony, he first decided to go to a fat acceptance conference, but didn't find what he was looking for. So he went someplace I would have thought was the obvious starting place: a big box restaurant with seriously oversized portions, where he proceeded to eat his way through way too much food of very low quality. As I read that part, I noticed the way he emphasized the essential emptiness of the area: it was in the middle of an enormous parking lot, and was almost reduced to a place where trucks brought low quality food for people who came in cars to consume. And I thought about such a place, where each person eats from a platter rather than a plate. Where is that experience of communal eating? And how much of it proceeds from the experience of communally preparing the food?

This weekend, as we prepared dinner, my mother and I sat at a corner of the kitchen table and shelled peas together, with my husband helping from behind me. Later, my sister and I picked berries and shared them with each other and the rest of the family straight from the rasperry canes. We had sliced tomatoes, blood red and ripe and juicy, tasting *real*, with that smell that only sun-ripe tomatoes have. I've just sent out a message to some friends, inviting them to Do Nothing next weekend, as well. It's time to reconnect with people, taste the summer fruits together, share a loaf of bread, watch the rain fall, and just be.


Blogger Little Black Car said...

Oh, there is nothing like eating with friends (especially, for some reason, when you're in college. Must be that collective poverty thing).

My band-mates and I used to get together on Sundays for lunch and music. Half of us lived in dorms and had no refrigerators so we'd make salad or something the morning of. One guy didn't cook. At all. Two were die-hard vegetarians determined to include tofu in every meal. One guy was actually a great cook and had his own place, so we sort of relied on him for the big stuff. He was sort of a nut but I was completely in love with him because he played the fiddle and always smelled like fresh basil.

I remember one meal that consisted of homemade whole-wheat cinnamon rolls, fried tofu (very much like Styrofoam packing peanuts), fruit salad, spinach salad, Cheerios out of the box, and cold grits. Yes, cold grits. Our guitarist later wrote a song called the "Cold Grits Blues".

Good times.

6/27/2006 1:11 PM  
Blogger Plain Foolish said...

I had the biggest dorm fridge they'd allow, maybe something like 4 or 5 cubic feet - exactly enough freezer for a carton of ice cream and 2 ice cube trays.

It was the smallest size you could actually put a gallon of milk in without dividing it into 2 half gallon containers, but I never did because I didn't need that much milk, and it would have meant that I couldn't keep much else in there. And I was the one who cooked for everybody. I know at least one of the people who ate that day reads this blog. I owned a pan - you could have anything so long as I could cook it either in an electric hotpot (allowed, but we weren't supposed to cook things in them), in the skillet (not allowed, but I was reasonably discreet about the whole thing), or in a toaster oven (not allowed, but hey, the RA wanted cookies, too.)

Ugh. Cold grits. Sorry, but those were begging for the skillet and some butter - fry 'em up like cold cornmush. I sometimes think I made more out of leftovers than I did original meals for the leftovers to come from. If we sent out for pizza, I'd keep the dipping sauce containers in the fridge, and they'd go into other dishes as flavoring agents. The Woolworths had discount spices, and when I ran out, I'd use the containers for storing wild food that I'd scavenged.

I grew up vegetarian, but my family didn't do much tofu. There are some forms I like (yummy inari) but very few.

When I got a room in a rundown house with 2 other women, I remember once offering my mom and a general's wife that was with her a snack of fried rice and reconstituted milk, because that's what I had. (The fried rice would have had zucchini, tomatoes, and wild garlic in it...) They turned it down and took me out to eat. (Though the general's wife commented to my mom that her kids never offered a snack when she came to visit them.)

6/27/2006 1:53 PM  
Blogger Little Black Car said...

I'd eat fried rice. I have issues with reconstituted milk, but fried rice never goes to waste around here.

I had one of those plug-in hot-water pots. You would be surprised what you can cook in those without setting a fire if you're really, really, careful.

6/27/2006 2:05 PM  
Blogger Plain Foolish said...

I'm not fond of reconstituted milk either, but I was trying to be independent, and mostly living on my job - which was a part-time deal paying just above minimum. My room was in a slum - there were a few small holes in the wall that faced outside, so I taped a piece of cardboard over them and put a poster over that. I lived on rice and "seconds" - the ugly or damaged veggies from the farmer's market, plus whatever I could scrounge by knowing my edible plants. (Actually, doing the last part is kind of illegal, since I didn't own the land, but it wasn't like I was taking ginseng - mostly I was taking wild garlic and spring onion - stuff that grows like crazy and lots of landowners pay good money to get rid of.)

And no, I know how much I cooked in my hotpot. Those things are really nice.

6/27/2006 2:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember that garlic. I think of that meal every time I chop the stuff.

I seem to recall also that you introduced me to eggs Benedict (which I actually finally made myself -- hollandaise is only scary when you think about the cholesterol!), and I remember one meal that involved peas, vinegar, pasta and other fridge remnants prepared in a skillet of some sort. Darned if I remember what all went in, but I remember that it was good.

I think you more than anyone else introduced me to the notion of food as shared blessing, of cooking as fun. My mom says that given her culinary skills, it's a miracle that a daughter of hers can cook. (She doesn't give herself enough credit, methinks.)

7/21/2006 5:07 PM  

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