What We Ate
It was just after Christmas in Chicago. I was preparing myself to fly to London to spend a month studying authors who had made homes in the United Kingdom. On New Years Eve, we went shopping. We were going out for upscale Chinese, with my friend and host, and her brother, but when that was over, we planned to return to her apartment and watch a movie, snuggled under blankets.
We bought a pomegranate and a Honeycrisp apple to share.
After dinner, eaten on the second floor of a P.F. Chang's in a big city, a short respite from the whipping cold, we began to prepare snacks to accompany the movie.
He cut the giant apple into large slices while I did my best to free the pomegranate jewels from their pithy prisons.
I'd first tasted a Honeycrisp only a short time earlier, while I worked for a high end supermarket and gave samples of this "new" apple to potential buyers. It felt like a fitting thing to eat in a city that wasn't my own, on New Year's Eve. It had sparkle.
We emptied the pomegranate seeds into a bowl, fingers pink.
After church, we would venture to the grocery store.
Sundays in the cafeteria in college were notoriously unappetizing (though it was often the day that students brought guests to lunch). Every week, it was the same: mashed potatoes, vegetables, some sort of meat, some sort of fish (even the occasional carving station). Everything was doused in a sweet country gravy (or, occasionally, a salty brown gravy). It is hard, even now, for me to put my finger on just what was off about this meal. But I learned to skip Sunday lunch when I could.
When we started dating, we would go to church half an hour away, located conveniently close to the Wal-Mart and the Kroger. At Kroger, I found riches beyond expectations. I would load champagne mangoes and heirloom tomatoes into my cart, adding hummus and pita chips (even the occasional avocado).
Back at his apartment, I would dice the tomatoes and cut the fresh basil into slender ribbons. I would add oil and salt and toast thick, diagonal slices of baguette to heap with the fresh bruschetta. He would warm the hummus and drizzle it with balsamic vinegar and olive oil before dipping a piece of baguette into it.
Sometimes, we would go to a professor's home for lunch, a farmhouse with open shelving and a wealth of tea.
We would bring bread and cheese, ice cream, or whatever ingredient was missing from the meal.
I welcomed the escape from the deep fried, breaded and pre-packaged.
When we went out to eat, he would pick the place, by default. He was nervous about new foods and flavors. Unlike many people, he did not see the romance of dating a food critic. After one attempt, when he attempted to modify the dish he was ordering beyond recognition, I never brought him along on a review again.
I found myself eating at the same restaurant, over and over. There were many hamburgers, and pints of light beer. There were always televisions on the wall. Sometimes that was the point.
I have always prided myself on being able to find something to order on any menu. These months tested my resolve. Even the salads came topped with fried food.
Near the end, I stopped drinking only Guinness and occasionally ordered a glass of sauvignon blanc. It wasn't much, but it was my revolution.
One night, it was perhaps our third date, we went grocery shopping at the local discount market near his home. It was quick and practiced. He moved through the store without pause, or joy. There was no stopping to consider a new flavor of juice, no inspecting of labels. He simply replaced the things he had used with the same things, once again.
It was the first time he intentionally cooked me dinner (rather than my happening to stop by near dinner time). I had no sooner arrived with a bottle of wine than he grabbed his keys and we got in his car to drive to the nearby college town for fresh provisions.
We spent the majority of our time in the produce section, where he inspected the mushrooms and zucchini before putting it in the cart. "You know," he said. "In Italian, zucchini means 'little pumpkin.'"
He cooked with visible comfort, the distinct parts coming together in a dance of unity.
"I was watching a video today, about the right way to peel a pomegranate," he motioned to a bag on the counter. "Do you want to try it out?" I opened the bag and removed the beautiful orb, glowing in the bright kitchen light.
He tried the technique he'd seen, without success. As he cooked the chicken and vegetables in a creamy sauce, adding fingerfuls of salt from time to time, I gently removed the pomegranate jewels from the pith, fingers pink.
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