Food

Every Sunday, when I have the chance, I listen to Cartalk at 3pm on JPR. I adore Cartalk with a vengeance, and remember with fondness Sunday afternoons at my father’s house, where we would do the prep work for dinner while disagreeing with Click and Clack’s over the phone diagnosis, only to be proven wrong on stump the chumps. Every week without fail we would labour over the puzzler and send our results in, and we never won anything. But it was a household activity, since I was in school then and he was teaching then. It was the signal–Sunday afternoon, time to wind down and get ready for work or school the next day. I nursed many a hangover over Cartalk which working on my French homework. Working in the service industry as I do, I don’t think of weekends in the same way anymore, but I enjoy a lazy Sunday when I can steal one. This will be my last one for quite awhile, in all probability. I usually stick around from 4-5 to catch NPR as well, and about three nights a week I listen to both NPR broadcasts, 4 and 5. To tell the truth, I’m not entirely sure why. I read a lot of news sources–NPR rarely delivers some bon mot that I missed in the day’s news browsing. Sometimes there’s a good special interest story.

I think my habit of listening to NPR also stems from growing up in my father’s house, because we would listen to NPR while preparing dinner. For some reason, whenever I hear the NPR theme song, it takes me back to an evening in late summer, eating pork chops, baked potatoes, and corn with my father. We had probably spent the day at the beach, and were seated in front of the battered wooden table in front of the french doors to nowhere, eating our porkchops and listening to NPR. I don’t even remember who was President then, or what the major breaking news was. I have no explanation for this memory being associated so strongly with NPR. I’ve eaten countless and varied meals while hearing NPR, but for some reason this is the meal that I remember. Indeed, the memory is so strong that as the opening notes blare out of my speakers, I can taste the porkchops, feel the buttery potato on my tongue. We did eat a fair amount of pork chops when I was young, but it was far from the only thing we ate–spanikopita, cashew chicken, roast fish, and all sorts of foods figured highly in my childhood.

I hadn’t had a pork chop in years. First I was vegetarian, and then vegan, and then I just wasn’t a big fan of pork. Which is odd, since the thing that finally pulled me off the vegan bandwagon was a delicious wild boar*. Perhaps the distinction there is that it was boar, rather than pork. I tend to prefer game to domesticated animals, and always have. My father’s girlfriend eats a lot of pork (when she eats meat), because her particular sect of Buddhism abstains from beef. I’m just…not a fan of pork. I can’t really put my finger on why.

At any rate, a few weeks ago I was at the Bistro reading The Coming Plague and Nick strolled by and commented on the provocative title.

“It’s one of my favourite books,” I said. “I’m just reading the part about swine flu. Did you know that they suspect swine flu was responsible for that really bad epidemic in the teens?”

“So I take it you won’t be having the pork this evening,” he replied.

When Kris ambled over to take my order, I felt as though I had been possessed. The words spilled from my mouth before I could contain them, surprising both of us.

“I’ll have the pork loin,” I said, “sauteed, with dijon tarragon sauce.”

“Would you like mashed potatoes or polenta with that?”

“Mashed potatoes, please,” I said.

As he left to put in my order, I reeled. What had I been thinking? Why would I order pork, a meat I generally disdain? Especially after my conversation with Nick, it seemed doubly odd. Perhaps he had been beaming porky thoughts at me while we spoke.

When my plate arrived, I must admit that it looked lovely, despite the large lump of the other white meat resting in a pool of dijon tarragon sauce. Hesitantly, I lifted my knife and fork and set to, only to discover sheer culinary bliss. The pork was tender and splendid, flavourful, with just enough sauce to make it superb and leave a dash to spare for the mashed potatoes. The sauce, a far cry from the warmed applesauce of my childhood, was still delicious. Perhaps my stomach had been craving simple, straightforward earthy fare, because I noticed it was unusually well behaved over the next few days. I don’t think I’ll be eating pork by the bucketload, but it made me consider ordering the carbonara sometime soon. (Another childhood favourite, come to think of it.)

Perhaps for me pork is a reminiscent food. At that instant, the dish almost brought tears to my eyes. I suspect it’s not going to be a frequent order, and I probably won’t be climbing out on a limb of pork product exploration, because I still don’t fancy the meat all that much. But on cold winter evenings when I’m feeling nostalgic, I have a new comfort dish.

With Cartalk, on the other hand, I always think of falafel, in pita bread with avocado, lettuce, and tomato, drizzled with tahini sauce. This memory makes somewhat more sense, as it was a joint culinary attempt by my father and I after I became vegan, and a tasty one, to boot. I haven’t had falafel in quite a while either, come to think of it. Maybe I’ll have a falafel party.

I would imagine most people have distinct food associations with events or moods. Every now and then I find myself waking in the middle of the night with some unidentifiable flavour in my mouth, and I try and puzzle out what it is. Last night, for example, I found myself with the flavour of vegetable gratin in my mouth. This stems from an experience several weeks ago, when Ailish and I went to eat at the Bistro and ordered from the choice menu (I had the ubiquitous fish of the evening, grilled, with soy-ginger sauce). The vegetables that day were a delicious gratin, crunchy and flavourful and divine, which we never saw or heard of again, a source of consternation and sorrow to us. Ailish even promised Jaimi that should it ever become an entree, she would order it in spades. Especially as winter draws to a close, the chances of finding this divine concoction on my plate again this year is slimming, and I have been experimenting with assorted root vegetables, with varying degrees of success. I suspect that my largest challenge is my oven, a notoriously recalcitrant bastard. But I could be wrong. I’m not so good with these new fangled electric ovens. Jeffrey Steingarten wrote an excellent paean to potato gratin, and I have used his recipe with superb results (once with purple potatoes, which added a degree of excitement to the dish).

I am concerned with the general state of gratin consumption in this nation, actually. Gratin, in all its delicious and varied forms, appears to be an endangered species, and someone needs to address this. I believe it’s been getting a bad name because of the triplicate evils of fat, carbs, and dairy. I’m really rather tired of people fussing about their food so much. These self punishing diets are turning us into a nation of sourpusses, who stare dourly at our more liberated brethren as they tear through creamy pastas, savory salads with an array of festive vegetables, scrumptious curries, and other delicious offerings. Only the other evening I was gleefully attacking a piece of steak which approached the size of my head, and I could feel the censuring stares of my fellow diners as they nibbled disconsolately at house salads and grilled fish. Good god people. If you’re going to eat, EAT. Food is a joy and a gift, especially when tasty and fresh and lovingly prepared, and you should be appreciating it. The inevitable result doesn’t have to be tens of excess poundage, or bloat. The end result should be mellowness, peace, happiness. I suspect, for example, that if Mr. Bush was eating more delicious food and less food pyramidically correct fare, this whole war in Iraq wouldn’t be happening. Down with low fat pale imitations of food! Up with rich deliciousness in moderate portions and enjoying life!

*And yes, I was sick for a week afterwards, and yes, it was totally worth it.

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