The First Time
They were grilled lamb chops, seasoned simply with salt and pepper. Served with saucers of crushed garlic in pools of vinegar and small mounds of rice. I think I was seven. We ate with our hands, on the floor cross-legged and my fingertips were like raisins by the end. I don’t remember there being anything special about that night, just my mom, dad and I in our living room for dinner. It wasn’t anybody’s birthday, not the start or end of anything but it may have been when I realized food could be enjoyed. Lamb chops weren’t a chore but a delight! They were satisfying and I felt like I was participating in the meal. I mean, I was conscious of what I was eating and I appreciated it. I felt like I had discovered a great secret, both the world’s and my own, that we could desire for something deep and grand and then find it fulfilled.
Since then, I have often forgotten about my discovery-too many careless, instant, unloving meals will do that to you. But all it ever takes is something wonderful like a poached egg to remind me.
It was December 2006, I was in France, it was grey, I was miserable.
That summer I had the greedy notion of thinking I could manage both a job and my college work load, and it was all going smoothly until I realised that there would be no time off for the holidays. This would be my first Christmas alone and it didn’t actually seem too dismal at first.
One morning I braved the harsh winds intensified through funnel streets, walked the frosted border of the Seine, head down and collar up, to reach my workplace as quickly as possible. Something felt different; the bells on the butcher’s door were stilled, the colourful arrays of table cloths had not been brought out, the smells of roasted chickens and mulled spiced wines were absent, and the hum of buzzing conversations were muted. My first thought migrated to an opening scene of one of Romero’s movies, my second to the realisation that this was so much worst: It was Christmas day.
On my way home that night, I went to the only open supermarket I could find, bought some poppy seed baguette, a flank steak and a big deliciously expensive bottle of margaux. The grocer asked me what my plans were for the evening and I told him ‘a night at home’ was all; the look that ensued made me feel so alien that I started feeling sorry for myself. He sighed, said that it was unfortunate, gave me a free massive piece of foie gras for my woes and sent me o ff to my demise. That’s when it started; there are times the universe just seems to spite us. I turned on the radio and terrible pop star renditions of Christmas songs seemed to be on loop; I drank; I switched on the television and every channel had some kind of heartwarming program on; a swig; I went on the internet and Google had that annoying Santa hat on the second ‘O’; guzzle, guzzle. There was no running away from the long arm of despondency. I sat there, bottle in hand, steak going cold, watching Wallstreet; it was one of the loneliest days of my life. All of a sudden, the doorbell rang and I knew for certain it was the ghost of Christmas past coming to teach me a life earned lesson. I opened the door and there stood three friends huddled together with plastic bags clinking a way, giving away their contents. They too were home alone and decided it would be best to share in our misery. There we were, two Arabs, a Cambodian and a Filipino, we drank wine, feasted on our free foie gras with caramelized onions and ended up not being so bad.
I would never replace that piece of crunchy bread with foie for a decadent Christmas meal.
Food is about the right flavor at the right time.