I used to make fun of him for his: conference pears. I only had to speak the words; and as soon as they escaped my lips they seemed to go straight to his head. He would shudder in the same way he does when I put on an English accent and say “water” (the only word I can say truly convincingly, at the moment) and goosebumps would rise on the back of his neck.
“They’re only pears,” I would say, “I’ve seen you eat pears.”
“Not conference pears,” he would say back, cringing.
It had to do with their skin, he confessed one night: their horrible scaly pearskin, slightly fuzzy like a peach, rough and wrong. Like when you see something that’s completely disproportionate, and it makes something in your head go berserk, go all dizzy because things aren’t as they should be. Like the window display I once saw in Boston, with huge denim jackets sized for Sasquatch next to mini jeans clearly meant to fit Malibu Barbie.
“I’ll be your conference-pear handler,” I promised.
“Thank you,” he breathed, relieved, I think.
But the other day, I was pondering the poetry of compost: the way teabags and old brown lettuce leaves arrange themselves in the bowl, nestled amongst green carrot-tops and strips of red and yellow peppers and old potatoes, when it occurred to me that I have my own food phobia, akin to his conference-pear-horror.
Sprouting potatoes. The ones that have been sitting on the counter for too long, a few weeks maybe, the ones that things have started to grow out of. I get the same kind of vertigo looking at sprouting potatoes that I did looking at the denim window display. The worst is when they’ve got little flowerbuds, usually dark purple, at the end of the green sprouts. I’m actually shuddering just thinking about it.
To even the score, I told him about my dread of sprouty potatoes, and he promised not to ever make me deal with them if he could help it. This is how I know we are good for each other (or one way I know): we take care of each other’s food phobias.
And each other’s food loves. We say things like, “it’s ok, we’ve got hummus” without a trace of irony. It really is ok, though not just because we have hummus but also because of all the other things that are hidden in the folds of being able to say “we’ve got hummus”. This weekend we made our own hummus: a smattering of spices and pepper, some garlic, lemon juice, chickpeas in their own water, all blended together with a delightfully phallic aluminum blending stick. Then we sat in the lounge eating our hummus and drinking cider and reflecting on the richness of this kind of evening.
We made winter vegetable soup, too. This was about a week ago. We had a preponderance of root vegetables. No, preponderance doesn't even begin to cover it. We had an invasion of root vegetables. Carrots and potatoes and swedes and Jerusalem artichokes pouring out of boxes and bowls, practically spilling from the kitchen. George the poet came by once and assured us we'd never go hungry like this, but then some of the potatoes started to sprout and I panicked and we decided we should do something about the whole situation, so one evening, a really cold one, when all you want is soup and to be inside, we cooked them up and put them in a wonderful stew. Neither of us was quite sure what to do with the Jerusalem artichokes--which do not look like artichokes, which do not come from Jerusalem--so I looked them up. "Cook them like you would potatoes," said one website, "but beware that they have a tendency to produce very potent gas."
We had fresh tomato-infused bread from Maison Blanc and lots of butter and listened to Radio 4. Sometimes I think we are very old people in very young people's bodies, and I love it.
Are Scotch Eggs the ultimate hangover cure? We wondered this once. Because they are such perfect little balls of everything you crave when your head won't stop pounding: they're warm, breaded, meaty, eggy, and, best of all, you can dip them in hummus. ("It's ok; we've got hummus.")
Last night we went over to an impromptu dinner with some friends. "We have lots of chips," they said. "And steak. And pink bubbly." We stopped by the Co-Op on our way, so that we'd have something to bring them, but the only meat they had was lamb, so we brought lamb chops and red wine and the rest of our homemade hummus. Then we ate steak and lamb and bacon and chips and hummus and champagne and red wine and whiskey with ginger wine and talked, more or less, about the first lines of books. That is what food does to us.
And I was happy, because the night before, I said, all I'd been craving was a big chunk of meat. There is no way to say that, if you're wondering, without making it sound like a thinly guised euphemism--nor is there any way to express the relief of finally getting said meat ("oh, you finally got some, did you?"), but it doesn't matter. The other day when they didn't have any condoms in the shop, he brought me home The Observer's Book of Food--a Saturday special--instead, to tide us over until we could get to a real store.