I don’t recall ever truly suffering from hunger. In fact I may have suffered more from never going hungry for long. My thoughts about hunger now, at least on a personal level, are more from the perspective of the person responsible for feeding a family, even though I’m not solely responsible for that these days now that my kids are grown. Still, much as I want to reject traditional gender roles, I can’t reject the connection with all the generations of women who came before me, doing whatever it took to satisfy the hunger of their families.
It startles me, sometimes, how much just the smell of flour, or my untidy drawer of spices and herbs, makes me feel a link to my mother and grandmothers and all the long chain of grandmothers reaching back to the ones who dug tubers out of the ground with forked sticks and figured out which plants were edible and which had medicinal uses.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m infinitely grateful that providing meals doesn’t have to be the main focus of my life. I wish it didn’t have to be the main focus of anyone’s life. But we still have bone-deep connections to those ancestors. whatever our gender--and I do fantasize about cave-women who could also hunt and defend their families when saber-toothed lions threatened--who managed to find (and later cultivate) the food that allowed them to survive and pass along their genes to us.
Actually, maybe I fantasize and/or worry too much about such survival skills, which I don’t have in any great measure. I don’t get the whole zombie apocalypse deal, but I do speculate fairly wildly about how to manage if a major glitch in our system should occur, say a long-term collapse of the electric grid. Even gasoline for transport can’t be pumped these days without electricity. Where I live there are flocks of wild turkeys, and deer and the occasional moose—but how many people could they feed, even supposing we could hunt them? I do know something about raising vegetables, and preserving, but what I raise wouldn’t feed a family for long or very well.
Enough about my peculiar obsessions. I probably get them from my mother, who hoarded canned goods, and spent her first waking moments every day worrying about what to plan for dinner, even near the end of her life when she was too weak to do more than try to tell my father how to cook whatever it was. This was a woman who had been a teacher, and then a head librarian still remembered in town for all she accomplished, but the instinct for feeding her family was what lasted the longest.
Instead of the angst of satisfying hunger, let’s move along to the fun part of eating. I’ll close with a bit of food play from “Crème Brûlée”, a story I think will appear in a food-themed anthology called All You Can Eat.
Raf plucked an oyster on its half-shell from the bed of ice chips and raised it toward me like a salute before tilting the sweet juice into her mouth. I did the same. We managed a simultaneous sliding of the oysters themselves across our tongues and down our throats, swallowing in perfect synchronization, then licking our lips. And grinning.
“The sauce is worth trying, too.” I spooned a bit of chipotle mignonette onto another oyster, then licked it slowly off before sucking the slippery morsel into my mouth.
“Mm.” Raf tried it, even more dramatic in her licking and sucking. “Not bad, but not the very best sauce I’ve ever tasted.”
A sound at my shoulder like stifled laughter erupted into a snort. Audrey, bringing the scallops ceviche in their little avocado boat. I pretended not to have heard. As soon as she was gone Raf raised a questioning eyebrow and jerked her head in the direction of Audrey’s sashaying butt.
I raised my hands in exasperation and shook my head. “Audrey’s a good kid in her way, but a one trick pony, and that trick is getting her posterior paddled by any means necessary. Once in a while I’ll indulge her, but I make her earn it. Last time you were here that’s how I bribed her to let me wait on your table. There’s nothing more between us.”
We finished off the last two oysters sedately, though we were close to laughter, before turning to the contrast of tender scallops tangy with lime and jalapeńo and the buttery luxury of perfectly ripened avocado. I could almost forget the memory of young Juliana sampling the same dish with a high degree of suspicion.
Raf must have been thinking of Juliana, too, or maybe she read my mind. “Funny how much better food tastes when you’re with someone who really knows how to enjoy it.”
I still wouldn’t ask what had become of the girl. “Maybe we should have ordered lobster, too, for the full Tom Jones effect.”
‘That’s exactly it! When I said something along those lines to Juliana, she had no idea what I was talking about. Never heard of Tom Jones the movie, much less the book, or even the singer who lifted the name.”
“Ah, youth,” I said. “Just the same, she was certainly a tasty bit of arm candy for a stroll around Provincetown.”
“She was, wasn’t she.”
Past tense. So my unasked question was answered. The entrees arrived just in time to save me from having to respond. “It’s not too late to add some lobster,” I said.
Raf grinned but shook her head. “Better not bite off more than we can chew.” She plucked a mussel from the cioppino tureen, yanked open its shell with her fingers, and ran her tongue around the interior. I joined in the game with a quick twist to tear duck leg from duck thigh, brandishing the drumstick at her before sinking my teeth into the meatiest part. Purple plum sauce ran down my chin and hand.
“How about a baby calamari?” She held one out on her fork and made the tentacles seem to dance in the air.
“Aw, how cute.” I held out the duck leg with the bite I’d taken out of it uppermost. “Slip it right into there.” The tiny cephalopod made it from fork to drumstick to my mouth. It went as well with my plum sauce and pecan pilaf side dish as it would have with the cioppino broth.
Now I come to think of it, a scene like that is obscene rather than erotic when our topic is honest hunger, but it’s what I’ve got, and it’s now after midnight, so I’ll post it, allow myself a couple of spoonfuls of fat-free yogurt, and call it a night. I’ve already planned what to cook for dinner tomorrow.