The post the other day got me thinking about food. Then again, this time of year itâ€™s hard not to think about food, as in our Mediterranean climate the cornucopia opens in June and keeps on flowing until the first frost in October. A drive to the Freedom post office to pick up my mail (the PO box is on the web site, by the way, if you want to write me) takes me past the following: a vineyard, orchards growing persimmons, walnuts, and various kinds of apples, strawberry fields (forever), bush berries (raspberries, the local specialty olallieberries, and blackberries), cut-flowers, flower bulbs, rose bushes, the startlingly fragrant celery, various oddities the farmer wants to experiment with, and always, various patches of organic leafsâ€”chard or kale, theyâ€™re too small to tell yet, along with lettuce. All in five miles.
So itâ€™s hard not to think about food, growing, fixing, and consuming.
The other day I was reflecting on the perfect meal, what I would serve if I wanted to say, well, everything. I may have been thinking about it because Iâ€™m going to be doing a family celebration here in October, with new family, old family, and far-spread family, and with that kind of thing, you want precisely the right balance of formal and fun: something easy, but not so easy it says you didnâ€™t want to do it yourself so you had the thing catered. I once had a hundred writers/editors/etc at the house for a buffet dinner, when BoucherCon was happening in nearby Monterey, and achieved that balance by laying out the makings for burritos and allowing everyone to make their own.
But perfect meals? Looking back, Iâ€™ve found those depend on variables out of control of the kitchen.
Two perfect eating experiences come to mind. The first was with a friend, in London, back in the late Eighties. She and I were staying in Oxford, but went down to London for a day of wandering and a night of theatre (a Sherlock Holmes play, in fact, with Brett and Hardwick) and beforehand, we went to dinner at an upstairs place overlooking Covent Garden. I ordered the most gorgeous appetizer Iâ€™ve ever had: Pear baked with Stilton cheese. Absolutely simple, incredibly balanced, smooth and textured (a Bosc-type pear), the sweet wrapping itself around the powerful cheeseâ€”God, to die for.
The other perfect meal involves fruit, too, come to think of it, although I donâ€™t know if it counts as a meal. My two kids and I had taken the Chunnel train to Paris for a few days, and the morning before we were to return, we went to Fauchon. Fauchon is a series of shops that sells various foodstuffs, one shop dedicated to cheeses, one a fruits-and-vegetables, the sort of fruiterer where the customer is not permitted to touch, merely gesture royally at the white raspberries or the starfruit, and the staff swaddles the produce as if they were nurses in a newborn nursery, and offers the package to the customer. The kind of place that normally makes me want to poke things with a brutal forefinger just so see the faces turn pale, but for some reason this time just amused me.
So off we trundle with our precious packets, fight our way across town to the fast train and settle in with the countryside flying past in a blur. And we unwrap our packets, and have our picnic on the plastic Eurostar table: strawberries, but not the sort of berries the size of a babyâ€™s fist and just as pale that are sold here, but fraise de bois, tiny red gems no bigger than your little fingernail, that explode in the mouth with essence of strawberry, sweet and musky and hinting of the nurtured ground they were grown in. And then the peaches: flat peaches, such as weâ€™re beginning to see around here (called, for some odd reason, galaxy peaches, or the rather off-putting doughnut peach.) Soft skin, parting easily with the fragrant white flesh (because theyâ€™re ripe, and when was the last time you bought a ripe peach, one that wasnâ€™t covered with bruises? Oh, I see the point of the salesmenâ€¦) and a tiny round pit at the center.
They probably had to scrub the tables to get our drool off them.
Any of yours come to mind?