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 the richness and
fine reality of hunger satisfied . . . and it is all one.
The Gastronomical Me
been giving some serious thought lately to desserts. And love.
This came about in part because I spent a week on a remote
Scottish island this past summer, engaged in questions about
peace, justice and spiritual growth with a bunch of other
people who mostly had sexy Scottish accents.
The landscape was rugged, the sleeping comforts minimal and
the meals simple. Except, that is, for the desserts. Dinner
after dinner ended with some lush confection—lemon sponge
with double cream and chocolate pears with Chantilly cream
and raspberries in pate sucre—with cream—and light-as-air
pavlova brimming with cream and berries.
These were completely irresistible. They also guaranteed that
I would do the requisite amount of hiking or walking or scrambling
across the rocks needed in order to have my waist as well
as my dessert.
Since then, of course, we have returned home and settled into
the routine of school, meals eaten on the fly, night meetings,
afternoon meetings and Pop Tarts.
As a high school senior my daughter, Madeleine, is taking
health class because she can’t avoid it any longer. She can’t
graduate without health. And it is all the things she thought
it would be. Right now the class is knee-deep into a troubling
and self-explanatory segment on nutrition called “Dine Healthy.”
One of the “Dine Healthy” assignments aimed at getting kids
to eat better was to chart everything they ate for a couple
of days. Madeleine, avatar of bagels and ice cream, was not
Avoiding health class is one of the reasons I left high school
early and I told Madeleine that. I knew at 17 that I’d want
to live in continued denial about the amount of sugar, caffeine,
wine and white flour I consume.
But after she completed the assignment and upon shared reflection
(because I admit I do, in fact, keep a mental running tally
of my toothsome habits) we both agreed that there was no-way,
no-how either one of us would earn a gold-plated carrot in
the Dine Healthy department.
Not while there is pavlova out there. Or coconut cream pie.
Or Williams Sonoma caramel ice cream sauce. Or pistachio gelato.
My best guess is that we are not alone.
That being said, I notice a kind of delicious-dessert-sparing
attitude when it comes to romance.
For all of those chipper self-help books that tell you to
think of love and sex as the dessert of life, when we finally
get right down to the ordering of it, a lot of people seem
to be settling for Jell-O.
Now I’m not saying that you can’t do a lot with Jell-O. You
can turn it into heart-shaped jigglers, stuff it with carrots
and raisins, spike it with gin or top it with Miracle Whip,
if that’s your kind of thing. But at the root of it, Jell-O
Nor does just giving Jell-O a fancy name and a European pedigree—blancmange,
for example, or junket—change a thing. It’s nothing you can
really sink your teeth into.
I don’t understand why there is this hesitancy about pulling
out the stops when it comes to the dessert of life, as if
somehow it’s a grave threat to fitness.
But it’s emotional fitness that’s at stake. It’s dessert,
for crying out loud. Dessert is not supposed to be modest
or minimalist or bland. It’s not supposed to just sit quietly
on the plate, waiting, while you talk and finish your decaffeinated
coffee. It’s supposed to be the conversation stopper, la piece
de resistance, the freaking crème de la crème.
Nor is it supposed to be shared. That’s a sure way to please
nobody. But women, especially, do it all the time. With a
half-guilty mutter they ask the waiter for the dessert list.
Then they look it over carefully. One wants the Hot Indian
Pudding with Maple Butter Sauce. The other wants Death by
Chocolate. But neither wants to share either of those.
So what they do is they compromise. They order the crème brulee.
Then, when the crème brulee is on the table in front of them
they carefully avoid eating any more than a few nibbles of
the lovely crackling caramel top. They want to be gracious
and leave it for the other person. Of course, what happens
predictably is that those delicious, gleaming shards of caramel
just sit there absorbing leftover custard, becoming more and
more like wet corn flakes by the minute.
I’m not sure what to do about the romance-and-dessert-sparing
crisis. For one thing, lots of people don’t see it as a crisis
at all. To them it’s just plain sensible to peel a spotted
banana and call it dessert. They’re getting their potassium;
And I guess if potassium is what you’re really after that’s
a suitable approach. But I keep thinking about those luscious
Scottish desserts and about how inspired I was to hike and
climb and move in order to keep room in my life for such delicious
excess. It seemed a vivifying trade.
can contact Jo Page at firstname.lastname@example.org