(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)
I have friends who actually plan each meal. Not just at holidays, but all year long. Even in the summer. Even on vacation. They look through magazines and cookbooks and pick a recipe because it excites them, not because it uses only four ingredients and the prep time is guaranteed to be less than fifteen minutes. Pushing a cart through the aisles of the grocery store doesn’t cause them to wilt like yesterday’s salad. They actually enjoy it.
I am not like these people.
And yet, by default, and I’m still trying to remember exactly how this happened, I am the person who has the responsibility of putting something (occasionally food) on the table each day. This is not easy. I like to eat. I love food. I just like it better when someone else figures out what it will be and then makes it happen.
As a young mother, with toddlers at my feet and a husband who was away three nights each week, we ate a lot of informal meals of fruit and cheese, hard-boiled eggs. Sometimes we added bread and butter to the feast. As a not-so-young mother working from home, writing around the schedules of four active children, I learned to love my crock pot.
It should be easier now but it isn’t. Now I lack any real motivation. And I still lack imagination.
I finally realized the real problem is that I’m just not a sophisticated foodie. I love to eat but, for me, the simpler the better. I can sit down to fruit and a little cheese (tossed with a good book) and call it good. I like a nice piece of salmon. A piece of crusty bread and good butter. A bowl of strawberry ice cream. In the winter, simple and basic vegetable soup ( the one thing I like to prepare) can make me happy every night of the week.
I was with friends not too long ago and the subject of memorable meals came up. I listened to the others rhapsodize about famous restaurants, Foie gras, thick steaks and various ragouts, reductions and complicated recipes. After thinking about it, I realized that, predictably, one of my favorite meals was one of the simplest I’ve ever eaten.
My husband and youngest daughter and I were in Italy several years ago, in mid-October, strolling through a beautiful village in Tuscany. By noon we were ravenous. As it happened, it was market day and the town square was filled with vendors. I purchased a roast chicken from a mobile rotisserie and three clementines from a fruit stand. Actually, when the man realized all I wanted was three pieces of fruit, not the three kilo he’d thought, he gave them to me with a smile, waving away the Euro I offered.
We took the warm, moist, roast chicken and the fragrant fruit to a small courtyard at the top of the city wall and sat looking out over the beautiful countryside as we ate with our fingers. My husband and I shared a bottle of local white wine as the sun warmed us. Bees droned in the flower garden and a local cat showed up to eat the scraps my daughter tossed to him. When we were done, the remains of the feast were rolled into the paper bag that had held the hen and thrown away. And that is my memorable meal.
I watched people smile and nod, imagining the day and the moment as I described it. I’m no gourmand but even I know the secret ingredient of any feast is the simple pleasure of consuming it. Especially when you share it in the company of friends and family and, occasionally, a very good book.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Spokesman-Review Home Planet and Treasure Hunting columns and blogs and her CAMera: Travel and Photo blog, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org