• James Eric Fristad

To nosh wisely

Updated: Nov 15, 2021

"Food, glorious food..." I think there's a song in the musical Oliver with lyrics about that.

But food is a bigger deal than something to sing about while doing fancy footwork. As I think about those minutes of each day spent in preparing (or deciding where and what to eat out for that particular meal) and then sitting down to enjoy ... and in the process I try to extract bits of insight/opinion from the "meals phenomenon," I begin to shape this concern/blog into sentences about ways the nature of practical and, one hopes, everyday eating, matters. That is to say that as this adventure of ours into three or four cultures approaches, I am beginning to sense that the enjoyment of flavors and textures and aromas wrapped up in what emerges from the kitchen inevitably says a great deal about the culture where it happens. Social enjoyment -- affection for those closest to us -- is deeply embedded in how we approach mealtime. And vice versa, of course. You are what you eat applies, methinks, psychologically and emotionally as well as in one's physical self. So if we are going to experience Italy, say, as fully as is my intention this trip, then stuff we experience there as temporary natives by definition ought to include what cowboys and certain U.S. enclaves call down-home vittles.

Looking at the above plateful, I think happy thoughts indeed: whether using esoteric terms like "exquisite" and talking about esters and the like, or via a more podunk and comfy word like "yum." We probably agree the serving here is a true 10, which one would like to be able to enjoy more than just rarely. So the lingering question beomes not just whether but when we'll get to eat that way, and how can we make it happen? I would much rather enjoy salad like the one pictured above, while in Levanto for instance (somehow seeking to capture the gustatory animus of the region), than ferret out a taco stand someplace. [I clearly remember in Galway sitting down to an Indian meal: we had just arrived, had no groceries, and were tired. The food was excellent but our psyches were out of whack from the experience. Obviously the unsynchronized character of the moment made enough of a mark to be recalled now, seven years later.] I will even go so far as to insist that the food needs to be largely home cooking, too, if possible. Partly because of budgeting for that many days, I admit, but there's more to it than that. Because Italians (in this case) seem to enjoy fixing meals for one another. To some extent this is a visceral thing: I don't particularly enjoy restaurants, at least not on a regular (sorry) diet of them. A major admission just now., of course. Maybe my response to the idea of being obsequiously catered to, repeats a lingering doubt I have about being able to enjoy solicitous, hovering attendants on cruise ships? Maybe that's it. It feels like those two experiences, eating Posh at somebody's establishment and parking my behind in the Pinnacle Dining Room and hoping I can put the linen napkin in my lap before our waiter shows up on a Holland America ship ... are emotional cousins. No, I think it's more than just my not delighting in fine dining.

I like making stuff. Whether it comes out professionally or not, is less at the core of things than knowing that stuff you and I are looking at, whatever species of entree it represents, is the work of my own fingers. The physical outcome of some perhaps goofy notion that popped into Eric's random access, button-down mind.

I don't quite believe in Gifted Cooks, so much as I believe in folks who love the phenomenon of producing cullinary magic -- enough to practice it. A lot. Maybe such an avowal is admission of what's obvious to friends, that cooking is a thing I don't do especially well. Still, there is something amazing about preparing vegetables, cheeses, sausages, maybe seafood; adding spices into the mix and olive oil of course; and producing some wondrous concoction of Mediterranean fare. To which the perfect wine may be paired.... Hahahaha.

And here I am asking friends/spiritual travel siblings. Pleading. Not just for your recipes and ingredients -- I have amassed several Kindle cookbooks covering the general area. But examining those isn't really as much help as I'd like. They can't really begin to instruct my doing that stuff. Sure, names of dishes and what to look for at the local storefront grocery are nice to have; but more even than that, what's needed are essential concepts. Assumptions. For French cooking, if you know it. Italian. Catalan (northern Spain). Best of all would be watching it done, elbow to elbow, somehow. Mary V, are you SURE Idaho isn't on your visit-list sometime over the next four months?

Smiling at the preposterous and wonderful concept.

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