Food, Wine, And A Few Friends

If a you man or woman of twenty or so were to ask my advice about what is important in living life I would reply with the six words that form my title.  Not that young people flock to my side and beg me for some perceived pearls of wisdom.  Very few individuals inhabit Mount Olympus, the cost per square foot is too dear for me to even imagine.  Besides, I would need to be a professional personality inscribing my latest tome at some book signing fair.  But no matter, I will write down my thoughts and if anyone discovers this essay and finds value in it, so be it.  I make no claim to being wise or being a philosopher.

From my vantage point in life I find that the memories I have made to be of great importance, both good, and just as important, the bad.  As Behaviorism would point out, bad memories are negative rewards, much as burning your fingers on a hot stove.  But it’s the good memories that really count.  They have a greater power over your sense of consciousness and provide that small light of illumination in our souls.  The best of good memories are the ones you share in common with others, particularly friends and loved ones.  Music makes some connections between and among individuals but music is far more an individual experience for it touches our souls in different ways.  You and I may remember going to that Grateful Dead concert together but our common experience has limitations.  We both may love the band but treasure different songs, according to our personal experiences.  And such a memory may include the crowds, the noise, the booze, and the drugs that contribute in ways that detract from the joy of that concert.  I’ve enjoyed concerts but I dread the horrid traffic, the parking problems, and all those other little trials one encounters.  Sometimes listening to the album or CD is far more pleasurable.  Attending the concert is more a bragging right.

The discovery of food is a powerful incentive for memory making.  My first memories of this memory making were the holiday dinners when my mother and grandmother would plan out the menu and proceed to cook the whole week before that holiday.  My grandmother would bake tons of cookies, concoct rum balls, and every other manner of sweets.  The turkey or ham or roast beef would come with a great many side dishes.  And in the summer months my father would split a chicken into four pieces and barbeque on Sunday.  Not that my parents were gourmet cooks, my mother could cook very tasty plain fare and she had a very light touch with pie dough.  But her idea of a salad was a wedge of iceberg lettuce with commercial salad dressing.  For her, cooking was something one had to do for a family and not a joy in itself.  As for myself, learning to cook simple meals was the Boy Scout expectation of being able to do for oneself.  Only when I was in the service and could take a weekly meal at the enlisted man’s club did I experience fare that was more than basic.  Alaskan King Crab and lobster were both great dishes.  And I could have a mixed drink to go with it.  Then came the return to civilian life and the need to cook dinner.  Money was short and since I did the cooking I had to stretch the food budget.  I discovered what could be done with the cheap cuts of meat like beef shank.  Then came divorce and on my own again.

During those early years I discovered wine since there were a couple of wineries near by and then the art of food.  Funny how the one brings the other.  Good wine demands good food.  Of course one doesn’t need lobster with good chardonnay, but one needs something that sets the wine like a diamond in a ring.  One of the arts of Spanish cooking is Tapas, or small bites.  The number of cheeses one can find in Spain, Italy, and France is astounding.  I still haven’t tasted them all.  Add in all the seafood and meats and vegetables and one can live well without busting the food budget.  The French do must the same idea with canape’s.  Only Americans think Velveeta and Ritz crackers is exciting.  Food and wine is about gustation, that sensory awareness that can be learned and shared.  And one learns not merely to cook, but to prepare food, to craft food, to practice an art.  And wine, oh yes, the appreciation is the journey of a soul.  In wine is truth, that old saying that so many who know little about that liquid know so little about truth.  Both wine and food are meant to be shared.  As one wine critic wrote so many decades ago, the best bottle in my cellar is for my best and dearest friend to share with me.

This is where a few good friends come in.  I used to host dinner parties where I would prepare the foods and choose the wines for seven people I knew fairly well,  I considered them good friends and over the years I have stayed in contact with three of them.  We marry, we move, we take jobs elsewhere.  But my partied got to be know as the four thirty club.  My preparations would start early in the week and the dinner would be held on a Saturday evening starting at six pm.  The dinner party usually wasn’t over until about four thirty Sunday morning.  We started with grand mark champagne and canape’s then progressed to the soup course and wine to match.  A fish course would follow and then the fowl.  Finally came the main course and two bottles of wine, often two different wines.  I was challenged to pair food and wine and chose the best I could.  The salad course would be served with water, no wine.  Then the cheese plate with another wine and on to desert with the appropriate wine to match.  Finally came the cognac and cigars.  Our motto was “Suffer, you peons, suffer!”  During this time I worked a great deal of overtime and was well paid.  I don’t remember much about what work I did, it was mostly the same every day and every hour.  But I remember the dinners as well as those who were in attendance.  These memories come easy and often enough, especially when I open a very good bottle with a very good meal.  And I say to myself, “Suffer, you peons, suffer!”

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