Some of you might remember the 1970s single-frame cartoon, “Love is…”
I think there’s fame to be found in a comic strip, “Food is …”
We’re in the season of “Food is…”, kicked off by Halloween.
I know it’s not officially Halloween, but here in Podunkville, it’s trick or treat night. And it’s snowing. And it’s 34 degrees. I’ve seen a lot of freezing cowboys, Batmans, Harry Potters and princesses this evening.
For me, the evening began around 4 p.m. and I was a little frustrated. I was planning my schedule for tomorrow and deciding what the heck I need to write in the next few days. Stress planted itself in the back of my neck. You know how sometimes you just want to throw the bills and to-do lists in the air and say, “Screw it! I’m moving to a cabin in the middle of nowhere with no phone or Internet connection. I’ll raise my own damn food, cook everything over a hearth and read books all day.” No? You haven’t thought of that? Hmmmm… I guess it’s just me.
Anyway, I had dinner all planned – gnocchi for hubby; spaghetti squash for me; sautéed mushrooms; asparagus for me; broccoli for hubby; and garlic toast (low-fat bread sprayed with Pam and sprinkled with garlic powder for me, leftover whole wheat hamburger buns spread with light butter and sprinkled with garlic powder for hubby). Yes, it really is that complicated cooking for two, however…you get used to it.
Husband Larry took the first shift of trick or treaters. We thought we’d have very few considering the weather. But oh-to-the-heck-no. Parents parked their SUVs on the snow-covered streets and their children’s trick or treating began in earnest. Larry spent most of the first hour outside while I cooked dinner. Our three dogs went nuts with all the activity outside, but I kept them quiet as best I could with rawhides.
Every once in awhile I could pop out of the kitchen and look outside at the groups of children and hear their laughter. It’s cold, it’s snowing and still, people are smiling. I love the interaction with trick or treaters, the ways parents interact with their kids (“What do you say?” “Trick or treat!” “What do you say now?” “Thank you!”).
I couldn’t wait to take over the second shift. When dinner was ready, I made a plate for my starving, cold husband who sat rigid on the couch and thawing. I sat at the dining room table and paged through Larry’s 1971 Betty Crocker cookbook, the one we had every intention of giving to second daughter Cassie. As I watched for trick or treaters, I glanced over the recipes and was surprised by the ones I recognized that my mother made when I was growing up. Russian tea cakes, various fruit and molded salads, 110 ways to cook duck, beef and chicken. Many of these recipes are omitted from the newer cookbooks and I’m not sure why. A few dietary adjustments – less oil, salt, things like that – would make them viable in today’s cookery, I’m sure. It’s like the older recipes have gone underground, like they’re illegal now in today’s “healthier lifestyle.”
Food is, for most of us I’d argue, comfort. Food holds memories and feelings in its fibers and sugars and fats. To me, the smell of roasted potatoes and the warmth they bring to the kitchen is almost as satisfying as their taste. The taste of candy corn reminds me of 5th grade and how I lost a molar biting into a handful of them at my friend’s house while watching reruns of “Gilligan’s Island.” (Full disclosure: I bought a bag of candy corn two weeks ago and – yay me! – three-quarters of the bad is still left. Yes, I’m that disciplined. Oh who am I kidding? Three-quarters of the bag is still there because I keep it in a cupboard I don’t open every day and I forget it’s there. I’m not disciplined. I’m forgetful.)
Back to my point. I took over the second trick or treat shift and read the cookbook and handed out pretzels and Goldfish (and bubble gum. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I love bubble gum. And I only chewed one piece of apple gum and one cinnamon gumball. That was the extent of my Halloween indulgence. Promise.) I chatted very briefly (because it was so freaking cold) with the kids and their parent/parents/guardians, and felt that old familiar camaraderie, the unifying “thing” that runs through the Halloween trick or treating experience. We go door to door, dressed in costumes, and saying “Trick or treat!” and we get something dropped in our plastic pumpkin or pillow case. We say (usually), “Thank you!” and then go home and dig through the loot. It’s a few moments, maybe an hour or two tops, and yet a ritualitistic part of our culture. It’s expected, it’s what we do. It’s welcoming and soothing. When I think about all the times I took my kids trick or treating, I’m comforted. Those were really fun times.
Yeah, Halloween involves candy and scary things, and candy and scary is usually one in the same. But if we think about food in a larger context – its personal history of our lives, the way in which we see it and smell it and taste it in our minds – it begins to take on a life of its own. Food doesn’t need to be ingested to be appreciated. We can read about it and think about it. Reminisce and contemplate.