Barton Rouse, the late and much-loved chef at Princeton’s Terrace Club taught me, and many of my friends how to eat well, how to eat in good company, and that food means more than sustenance. In Barton’s kitchen and dining room, food was a way to forge community, celebrate difference, and find exuberance in life. In very many ways, the idea for this blog and this book is due entirely to him.l
One of the greatest meals he ever cooked was on Valentine’s Day, for which he conjured a red & black feast and we decorated the club with scorched valentines, severed hearts, and pretty dismaying cupids. The menu, in his honor, is below, along with a variation on his classic red & black squid ink pasta, which, alongside the whole pig he roasted once a year, might just have been one of the more exotic foods he introduced us too. If I can find the pasta, we just might have this feast in his honor on Saturday.
Kory was supposed to take Ella and Finn to soccer while I cooked dinner in peace and let the medication work.
Instead we had a fight. Someday Kory may tell his side of the story in his own, excellent blog in graphic form. However, this is my blog.
Somehow, he could not manage, as sometimes happens with X-chromosome-challenged beings to get the children out-the-door-on-time-without-screaming (by which I mean on the part of all involved parties), nor could soccer socks be found, etc, etc, which led to the rescinding of bike-riding promises, which led to the utter devolution of the generally sane family culture we imagine we maintain, which led to the utterance, on my spouse’s part of a tirade of language which is absolutely Not Fit to Print in a family friendly blog, especially when said writer is trying to sell said anthology to a reputable publishing house. And so, in a final burst of anger, guess who walked both children to the park–late– for Finn’s soccer class with her ratty nap clothes and her bed head and her lingering migraine and two still sniffing, shaken-up children?
My only revenge was that I had uttered the stern caveat, “Dinner better be on the table when we get back.”
On the counter was a jar of pizza sauce and a bag of premade pizza dough.
It was not so bad at the park. It was a beautiful afternoon and we had one of those half hours that’s more of a meditation than anything else. Ella and I kicked around the soccer ball a bit, then cheered for her brother then sat quietly on the sidelines. Finn ran around joyfully. Ella & I talked a little about what had happened, how her Dad was wrong to use that language, how I wasn’t quite sure what we’d find when we returned. That Dad might not be at home, which was something he had threatened in his anger. Emptily, I imagined, but there might always be a first.
“You mean he might go to a hotel?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said. “Maybe.”
“Well, I hope he doesn’t do that,” she said. “That would be a big waste of our money.” To which I could only laugh. It was turning into an okay afternoon.
But we did consider that the kitchen might be a disaster. Which is generally the state of things when Kory cooks. That there might not be dinner. But that I would I make dinner if he hadn’t. We prepared ourselves for whatever might be waiting for us, and that whatever it was, would be okay.
We walked home, less than an hour later. I prepared both kids to be respectful and calm, whatever lay inside. They took off their cleats and we opened the door.
The table was set beautifully, with all the utensils in their proper places.
There were little pots of carrots.
A little pot of sliced pinot grigio salami.
A bowl of steamed, dressed broccoli di cicco.
A plate of fried pimentos di padrone (little hot and sweet fry peppers which are addictive).
The deer tongue lettuce was washed and ready to dress.
The pizza was ready to cook.
The oven was actually preheated.
The counters were clean and the floors were swept.
We got an apology, but as soon as I had seen the table, and the food, and the care he had taken, I hadn’t needed much more.
A very long time ago, the late and much loved chef Barton Rouse taught me that food=love. This does not mean that you reward with food, or anything so simple as that you give a kid food to show them how much you love them, but rather that the context and culture of how you eat says something about how you take care of each other.
It means that food means something.
It means that the small gestures we make every day can sometimes matter in very big ways.
The fact that my husband took the time to forage for the things we loved in the refrigerator, that he prepared them with care, and presented them beautifully, that he cleaned up after himself–that was him loving us. That was him saying he was sorry. That was him saying that our family matters–not through food, exactly, but through the culture of the meal. I would have cooked exactly the same thing, but I was glad nearly to tears that I didn’t have to.
I made sure that both Ella and Finn saw exactly what Dad had done. I made sure that they both saw that the kitchen was clean. Ella was duly impressed. Finn was hungry.
After, we lit the first fire of the season and watched Hercules. The Muses sang.
After that, when I mentioned how great the meal had been, and that I would have to blog about it, Ella corrected me. She insisted I would have tell the whole story, and when I asked her what, exactly, that was she gave me my title.