Those who know me best know I am not exactly a culinary wizard. There have been bland beige roast chickens, biscuits you could pound a nail with, and let's not forget the time I cracked two ribs while making cookies. Some even take issue with my assertion--one backed with hard data, by the way--that toast is a perfectly acceptable dinner. (You know who you are, I won't out you as a foodie snob in public.) It's not that I don't like good food; I am a champion eater. Too skilled, perhaps, as I tend to finish whatever food I have prepared in between thirteen and fifteen minutes while in front of the tee vee. (Unless of course i just eat standing next to the stove, leaning on my ghastly teal green counters and rinsing the dishes even before I have swallowed my last bite.) Mike was an amazing cook, and we ate better than any two marginally-employed people deserve. I just didn't quite appreciate how vital sharing good food with other people really is.
A lot of my life these days revolves around eating with others. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, munching on pizza through a movie; slurping ramen in a cozy little noodle house; sitting with friends new and old around a table groaning with savory dishes; unsucessfully balancing messy burgers at a pub; sharing a thermos of hot chocolate on a mountainside; smelling biscuits cooking over an open fire; and nibbling delicate french pastries; many of my best times of late have included food and friends. A friendship becomes fast and firm when you stuff fistful of shoestring fries into your mouth while laughing. A story takes life if it's told by a person wildly gesticulating with a bit of bread. Generosity can be summed up in these six words: "Oh, you've GOT to try this!" It's a weird trick of physics that when a table is placed between friends, it dematerializes and takes up no space at all. Over these many months I've learned that while feeding is solitary, nourishment requires company.
And its this communal aspect that allows me to understand at last what the hell people were talking about when they gushed about the joy of preparing food. When I cook stews for sick friends, I am stirring my wishes for health and healing right into the broth. It becomes as crucial an ingredient as salt or onions. When I bring a pie to a dinner, even a not-very-good-first-attempt-at-a-pie, I am saying to them, "you are important to me and so I got into this thing up to my elbows and had flour in my hair." (I actually make really good cookies, I swear it, and I almost never interrupt the proccess with a trip to the ER.) If a friend and I decide to work our way through a new cookbook together it isn't just a desire to master a decent curry or hone one's knife skills, but also to spend time together in a warm spice-scented kitchen having the kinds of conversations that seem possible only when everyone's hands are occupied with a shared task. Maybe it's because I essentially had a private chef for decades, or maybe I'm just dim and slow to cotton to things, but now at this late date I suddenly know that if I love my friends I need to cook with and for them, eat alongside them, and nibble off one another's plates. As I end several days that verged on gluttony, but which were brimming with hilarity and heartfelt conversation, I realize just how important this is. We need to make bread for and break bread with those we hold most tightly in that other crucial internal organ just north of our stomachs: our hearts.
So I'm gonna keep trying, and keep cooking, and probably we will be reduced to last-minute orders of take out with some frequency, but you are all invited over for toast! (And other stuff, Foodie Friends, I promise.)