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        by C. Jeanette Tyson

     I donít know, chocolate never really did much for me.    
     Unless you count that summer with the Eurail pass. A Rembrandt is a Rembrandt, but a strapping blond ex-pat -- Canada? Australia? Jersey? -- with a crisp baguette, soft cheese, oversized chocolate bar and racing hormones are a sight to behold.      
     Imagine the cultural exchange. There you are, young, out of your home, out of your skin. Every moment is ripe with possibility, not at all cheapened by the fact that you drink so much wine you canít remember your own name, even if you did know how to say it in German. Or Swiss. Or whatever they speak wherever you are. Your fingertips could be on fire and you would wait until he had finished hiking the north face of the Eiger so he could douse the flames with the snow in his mouth. This is how your life will be from now on.

     Afterwards you write long, impassioned letters, splurge on international calls. Then when you move in with your graduate school boyfriend you somehow forget to pass along your new address, though you still harbor a fondness for trains. And European chocolate.

     Still, how, among all foods, among all the mystery, texture, unambiguousness of anything else we could put on our plates, did chocolate become the symbol for sweet romance?
"I like cheese," says a woman friend. "I love the smell of cheese, the creamy, oozy texture of cheese. The rich, pungent taste of cheese. It's alluring and sexy..."
     Another friend goes for Italian. "It's where you go within that first 2-week period of lust and obsession and it satiates you in a way that you're hoping the upcoming sex will. Being a good southern girl I always waited that long to put out."
     That reminds me of someone Iíll call Pasta A, after his sexy alternative to take-out when coming home to nothing in the fridge. Onions, garlic, olive oil: that was the whole recipe. But the way it melted in your mouth, oh my. Or maybe it was the way he tossed his tie on the counter and rolled up the sleeves on his perfectly tailored shirt and put on the music while he was cooking. When a guyís this good in the kitchen, youíre fairly sure itís going to extend to the rest of the house. A nice thought, anyway.
     Another friend gets squirmy at the mention of raw fish. " I do think of my old boyfriend when I eat sushi and drink lots of sake. We would get very touchy at the sushi bar and end up in front of the fireplace, under a blanket, making out for hours. Plus he'd turn on those seat warmers on the way to his place and set the tone, so to speak."
     Someone else mentions the back-to-Eden qualities of figs and dates; another champagne, movie theaters and a gorilla suit.
     Others have developed rituals of comparing, say, calamari, in restaurants. It becomes a kind of loversí shorthand: sharing food, sharing judgments, sharing beds??
     I donít assume everyoneís cleaning out the fridge 9 Ĺ Weeks-style, but I also donít believe all those women clogging the grocery store aisles are always comparing prices.
     Maybe theyíre allowing themselves thirty seconds to think about Doritos.
     A long time ago, when we were feeling the pressure and weight of our future lives, but didnít know much about what those would actually be, I went with a man. We werenít so much into food but we were into running. We put the miles in, he said later. Iíll say. Anyway, after seven or eight miles in the grueling heat, weíd flop down on the brick steps at his front door. There was no pretense, we looked like hell and smelled worse. There wasnít enough energy for tension or confrontation or even expectations. He liked to eat Doritos after one of these runs. (I know, I know, but we were young, it hardly mattered.) So we shared a bag of chips in the fading light and talked and laughed and I would lean against his knee and whether it was endorphins or cheesy salt or love, it was, apparently, 2 sweet 2B 4gotten.
C. Jeanette Tyson is AustinMama's beloved foodie-in-the-field, a freelance writer and mother of three-year-old Maddy and Jackson, the twin pieces of her own heart, of whom she thinks with great love every time she digs Cheerios out of the sofa. Her favorite little chalky heart is the one that says "Chances are." Got a tip, suggestion, idea or feedback for A Little More on Your Plate? Send it to Jeanette at: foodie@austinmama.com



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