According to the Smithsonian, “French women traditionally have relied on subtle culinary cues to signal their amorous intentions. The July 1956 issue of the journal Western Folklore reported: “a young maid lets her swain know whether the answer is ‘yes’ or ‘no’ by what she feeds him on St. Valentine’s Day. It’s a custom that goes back for centuries. Any egg dish, for example, definitely means No. On the other hand, an apple or pear means yes.””
Food is such an obvious mainstay of our environment, it’s no wonder we choose to use it as a medium to display our affections.
We have all surely been “wooed with food” at one time or another in our lives. Here’s my story:
A blogger for our local newspaper recently posted the question: “Tell us about ‘the moment’ in 140 characters or fewer” for an upcoming print column. I was killing time during a rare moment of forced relaxation and my hubs (Nick) and I met in a rather unusual way so I posted:
“The moment he looked up at me from the sidewalk and said “Spare any change?” I gave him a sandwich, then there was an earthquake.”
Sounds like an unlikely story but it’s true (perhaps the editor didn’t think so, my comment didn’t make it to print). Twelve years ago, Nick was traveling in California “on a budget” with his then girlfriend, which meant they slept on sidewalks and relied on the kindness of strangers for their dinner. This was during what we now fondly refer to as his “Punk Days”. I was uncomfortably ensconced weekdays in a Santa Monica high-rise and frequently after work, I practiced for the Olympic Shopping Team. There was an outdoor “Promenade” of funky retail four blocks long with a mall at the end right outside my work window; I was single and childless with few other ways to exhaust my expendable income and a penchant for vintage. Debilitating combinations.
When the other “punks” on the street asked for money I usually refused because they would take to following you around, but there was something different and genuine about the way this guy, in his un-ironic plaids, asked. For some reason I couldn’t explain, I felt extraordinarily guilty going into the mall to spend the money I obviously possessed on superfluous clothing after refusing funds to a person in need. The entire time I spent perusing the racks was infused with increasing fervency hoping that he and his companion were still copping their squat on the corner, and when I came out onto the street from shopping, my heart was beating fast. They were still there! After I inexplicably shakily offered the extra sandwich I had ordered with my dinner and thanks were given, I took two steps and suddenly found the remnants of my milkshake splattered all over the front of my black raincoat.
There had been a small tremor, but I thought I had tripped in my notoriously embarrassing, klutzy way. I walked to my car, simultaneously wiping wet milk from my coat, confused by the earthquake and dazed by a bewilderingly compelling, blue-eyed stranger. I gave this man a sandwich and the earth moved….Whoaaaa. Recognizing a momentous life event when you don’t fully understand it can be difficult to process. I’d offered food to strangers before, but my higher senses told me something about this encounter was unusual.
An act as simple as offering sustenance to a fellow human being is a very pure demonstration of love.
Fast forward to three years later, on the opposite coast at gourmet food shop in Charlotte, NC. I was working at Dean & Deluca after moving back to the state where I grew up, and Nick was coincidentally having an extended stay at his grandparents house in nearby Tega Cay, SC. He came in looking for a job. After putting in a good word about him to the manager and he was hired, we discussed our past lives and in relatively short order, deduced that it was me who had given him the sandwich on the street corner in Santa Monica that day (we were skeptical at first, but there were many mutually remembered details). I wanted to kiss him immediately and often after that second meeting, but it took us more than six weeks to get to that point because neither of us really had a full grasp what was happening.
Lucky for me, Nick was much less shy about making me dinner.
It only took only one course from my self-taught-bourgeoning-chef, soon-to-be-husband to woo me effectively: Applewood Smoked Bacon Wrapped Filet Mignon With Sliced Apples, Honey, Goat Cheese And Breadcrumbs. Those 14 little words say it all. I was wooed with food and we still hadn’t even been minorly intimate! Three months later, after an evening of rainy camping followed by a misty, full-moonlit walk in the mountains of NC, Nick promised he would always keep me well-fed and warm at night if I agreed to move to New York with him. I despise the cold, but relish snuggling together under a wool blanket on a frigid winter’s night….and eating good food that I don’t have to cook. The Valentine’s Day after we arrived, while sitting at our kitchen table, Nick presented me with a handmade chocolate box with my wedding ring inside. We have spent our most treasured celebratory experiences ever since in our modest little nook when one of us makes dinner for the other, which we enjoy in privacy by candlelight after the kiddo has gone to bed.
The love we humans have is expressed daily in the food we prepare for one another, whether it’s a simple sandwich or gourmet dinner presented capably or clumsily, casually or earnestly, to loved ones or strangers.
Personal Clumsy Case In Point: Nick’s favorite birthday cake is the same he’s had since year one: Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Icing. Basic, yet delicious. I’ve tried and refined many recipes over the years but the one he likes best is what I’ve dubbed my “Locavore Chocolate Cake” (which I’ll share below, with my peanut butter icing recipe). There was a cake one year that stuck to the pan so terribly that I (extremely exasperated) presented Nick with a handful of iced-chocolate-mush and a single lit candle on top. We didn’t get through the second line of “Happy Birthday” before he, his mom and I collapsed in laughter so hard and long we cried, got side-cramps and had the giggles for days reliving that magic. Even though I managed to get a surprise party by him for his 30th, he recently said the “mangled cake birthday” was his favorite.
It doesn’t always matter whether your recipes turn out perfectly. The fact that you put thought and effort into something as basic and joyful as sustenance or celebration means a lot to whom it is offered. Food is one of the ultimate expressions of love.
Whether you offer it to a friend, family member or stranger, it is a life-sustaining joy when presented with thoughtfulness and care. Sharing your bounty or culinary talents (or even lack thereof) with others and providing sustenance to those who need it (under whatever circumstances) has a tremendously positive effect for everyone involved. There is almost nothing more simply satisfying than providing the people in your life with good, clean food. Revel in it! It is all around us and allows for boundless creativity that breaches all divides.
RECIPE: My Sweetie’s Favorite Chocolate Cake
Makes two 9″ layers, one bundt or one sheet layer
3 c Flour
1 1/2 c Cocoa
1T Baking Soda
1 1/2 t Baking Powder
1 1/2 t Kosher Salt
3 large Eggs
3 c Sugar*
1 1/2 t Pure Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 c Buttermilk (or 1c Real Buttermilk)
3/4 c Melted Butter
1 1/2c Hot Water
*I have substituted 1 1/2 c Sugar + 1c local Maple Syrup
In a medium bowl, whisk the Eggs, Sugar (and Maple Syrup, if using) & Vanilla together, then gradually mix in, one at a time, your slightly cooled butter, buttermilk and water. In a larger bowl, combine dry ingredients and make a well. Add wet ingredients and mix with a spatula until ingredients are just combined. Bake for 50 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean from center at 350 degrees. Let cool for at least 15 minutes in the pans before turning out to let cool completely.
RECIPE: PEANUT BUTTER ICING
1/2 cup Butter (slightly softened)
1/2 cup Smooth Peanut Butter (add up to 1/4-1/2c more to taste)
1 teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract
4 cup Powdered Sugar
3-9 Tablespoons Milk (depending on desired thickness)
With a handheld or in a stand mixer with a paddle, cream together butters, then add vanilla. Alternately and gradually add powdered sugar and milk. Wait until your cake is fully cooled to ice and enjoy.