Rod Dreher had a great post on his blog last week where he excerpted New York Times food critic, Pete Well’s, Q&A session about food and pleasure. He also provides a link to another reader’s pictures of his favorite Paris market. After reading both posts, I got to thinking. While I don’t necessarily condsider myself a hardcore “foodie,” in the sense that I don’t spend every waking hour wondering what I’m going to eat next, I enjoy cooking when I can do it at a leisurely pace, and I definitely appreciate a good meal, carefully prepared and beautifully presented. I love stories about food and food history, and I especially love gardening even though I don’t do much of it these days. But when I step back, what I think appeals to me most of all, as it probably does with most people, is the connection between food and memory. When I think back to some of my most favorite meals, I can’t necessarily tell you what I ate, but I can definitely tell you how I felt during the meal.
One summer when the girls were young, I think it was 2005 (Geez, that was a long time ago!), we rented an apartment in Paris for three weeks. The place was pretty small: one bedroom, one bathroom, a living room area where the girls slept on the sofa bed, and a kitchen the size of a linen closet. Every morning, Warrington went down the the bakery on the next block to buy croissants and espresso. He didn’t know how to speak French, and the first few times he visited the bakery, the women who ran it laughed at him as he pointed and gestured. But he kept going back and by the end of the first week, they were charmed by his bumbling attempts and by the time we left, he could walk in and they’d practically have his order ready.
After breakfast we’d head out to explore, but no matter where we went, somewhere in Paris or beyond, we always made it back to in time to hit our favorite markets. Bread from one shop, strawberries from another, a fresh chicken (minus the head, please) from here, cheese from there. I don’t know whether it was because we were going to a handful of different shops where everything was new and different rather than pushing a shopping basket up and down supermarket aisles, but It never felt like a chore. Our meals were simple, but the flavors, as I recall were always bright: the butter more buttery, the tarragon more pungent, the bread, well, breadier, and the cheese creamier and smoother than anything we ever had at home.
The pleasure was in the eating for sure, but it was also in the hunting and gathering.
Speaking of food and pleasure, I shared this episode of This American Life with a friend recently. It’s about a Francios Mitterand who, for his last meal, ate an ortoland, the rare French songbird. Okay, maybe you can take the idea of food a pleasure a bit too far.