“It is a wonderful seasoning of all enjoyments to think of those we love.” (Molière)
One afternoon when he was about 16, my youngest son arrived home from school, crossed the threshold into the house, stopped, drew in a long, noisy breath through his nose, then exhaled with deep satisfaction and said: “Ahhhhhhhhhh! It smells good!” (pause) “It smells like love.”
I don’t remember what was simmering in the kitchen, but I know that I smiled and thought: He’s right; he understands perfectly. His words gave me such a sense of happiness. And he WAS right, wasn’t he? At a very basic human level, food is how we express our love for each other.
It seems like the right time of year to consider this. I think we’re likely to be a little more receptive to it, because the best thing about all the Holiday craziness is that we allow ourselves to be festive and to put the sharing of food at the centre of our celebrations.
I decided to search through the Library’s catalogue to see what space it affords books about food, and I’m happy to say that my online search using the words food and cooking turned up hundreds of books, some fiction and the majority, non-fiction. Most, of course, were cookbooks.
But be forewarned: in this blog post, W doesn’t mean Weight Watchers or Wheat Belly, P doesn’t stand for Paleo, and G won’t be Gluten Free. I won’t be writing about ways of eating to melt fat away and I won’t be striving to be sushi slim. I can honestly say that I don’t particularly want to eat to beat fatigue, power up health and feel ten years younger (though the latter would be nice). Also, this blog post won’t be about the science of superfoods, and rawlicious won’t necessarily mean delicious. I won’t be trying to convince you to join the quinoa revolution, and I don’t think I’ll ever be convinced that oatmeal is all that outrageous.
I’m interested in the books that celebrate food as a means of human connection: food as joy, as pleasure and as a shared experience, and the library has many of these in its collection.
There are home grown chefs, like Anne Desjardins (who cooks at L’Eau à la Bouche) and Martin Picard (founder of the celebrated restaurant Au Pied de Cochon), who have also weighed in with books that leave you drooling and eager to head out for a wonderful, convivial evening of dining downtown.
Some books caught my attention because of their irresistible titles, like:
The adaptable feast : satisfying meals for the vegetarians, vegans, and omnivores at your table, by Ivy Manning (now THAT’s inclusive!);
Love in a Dish, and other culinary delights, by MFK Fisher;
And of course The Book of Chocolate (need I say more?), by Nathalie Bailleux.
And then, there’s that wonderful term comfort food, which suggests that there are flavours and dishes capable of evoking memories of home and contentment, and that there are times when cooking for a loved one is the best kind of nurturing.
Anne Gardon’s Comfort Food fast: easy and elegant fare that soothes the soul certainly fits the bill, as does Christy Jordan’s Southern Plate, classic comfort food that makes everyone feel like family, which is probably not a celebration of lean cuisine.
Our personal connection to food is manifest in many books that are part (auto)biography and part culinary adventure.
One of these is Elizabeth Bard’s Lunch in Paris: a love story with recipes. The summary of Bard’s book begins like this:
“In Paris for a weekend visit, Elizabeth Bard sat down to lunch with a handsome Frenchman–and never went home again.
Was it love at first sight? Or was it the way her knife slid effortlessly through her pavé au poivre, the steak’s pink juices puddling into the buttery pepper sauce? LUNCH IN PARIS is a memoir about a young American woman caught up in two passionate love affairs–one with her new beau, Gwendal, the other with French cuisine.”
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Marusya Bociurkiw’s Comfort Food for Breakups: the memoir of a hungry girl, described this way in the Library catalogue:
“For the author, both at home in Alberta, Ontario, and British Columbia, and in her travels through North America and Europe, food becomes her salvation, and a way to engage with the world. Thoughtful, moving, and passionate, Comfort Food for Breakups muses upon the ways in which food intersects with a nexus of hungers: for intimacy, for sex, for home.”
In some of these books, food becomes a language when words are no longer enough, as in Alex Witchel’s All gone, A memoir of my mother’s dementia, with refreshments, in which the author asks the poignant question: “ Is there any contract tighter than a family recipe?” .
There’s also Keeping the Feast, one couple’s story of love, food, and healing in Italy, by Paula Butturini, described as “[…] the triumphant memoir of one couple’s nourishment and restoration after a period of tragedy, and the extraordinary sustaining powers of food, family, and friendship.”
But what of our everyday lives, when in matters of eating, convenience often overrides all other considerations? Is it possible to be practical without sacrificing the pleasure of shared meals?
Books like Lisa Caponigri’s Whatever Happened to Sunday Dinner? A year of Italian menus, with more than 250 recipes that celebrate family and Laurie David’s wonderful : The Family Dinner, Great Ways to connect with your kids, one meal at a time attempt to answer that question with a resounding YES!
Meanwhile, Sara Quessenberry and Suzanne Schlosberg take things one step further in The Good Neighbor Cook book: 125 easy and delicious recipes to surprise and satisfy the new moms, new neighbors, recuperating friends, community-meeting members, book club cohorts, and block party pals in your life!, reminding us that the giving and sharing of food is often the simplest way to express compassion, concern and kindness in community.
On the shelves of the Library, you can find a local expression of this kind of community spirit in the Valois Park Home and School Cookbook, which reminded me of the St. Thomas High School Jubilee Cookbook I purchased many years ago, and which I still use all the time (it’s the source of my very best chocolate cake recipe, aptly called “Mother’s Best Fudge Cake”, which was submitted by Leslie Vezina―Class of ’85).
These little cookbooks are wonderful archives of precious and favourite recipes―always tried and true―and often passed along, generation after generation, carrying the tastes and smells we associate with family members we love and perhaps miss.
And just as we often cap off our meals with a warm cup of tea, so does it seem appropriate to finish off with Theresa Cheung’s Tea Bliss, Infuse your Life with health, Wisdom and Contentment.
“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien
“He showed the words “chocolate cake” to a group of Americans and recorded their word associations. “Guilt” was the top response. If that strikes you as unexceptional, consider the response of French eaters to the same prompt: “celebration.”
― Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto
“It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one.”
― M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating: 50th Anniversary Edition
Happy Holidays everyone! Eat, drink and be merry!