Connoisseur

indexBy Kate Foran

For Steve

Your appetite has a reputation of its own. Dinner hosts glow as you ask for seconds and thirds and they marvel that a person of your moderate size can put so much away. You must have several hollow limbs, they wonder, and you offer your compliments to the chef, tasting everything again. Before you go to a party you “pre-eat,” you say, so as not to embarrass yourself. You remember your life as a series of meals—the loaf of bread Mrs. DiMartino baked you for your seventh birthday, the pasta your grandmother made and draped over chairs and towel racks in the kitchen, the collards and fried chicken you ate with gusto, to the delight of the local cook in Memphis. You never encountered a meal you didn’t like.

Well, maybe one. You were in Peru and they were serving sheep’s head soup—half a head bobbing in broth–and it was customary to open the sheep’s mouth and bite out the tongue. As soon as you finished your bowl, you say, you knew it was going, on the good-bad scale, to be bad.

But it only made your stomach stronger. The first time I met you, you lived in a Catholic Worker house of hospitality and resistance and took in cast-off food donations to eat and distribute rather than let them go to waste. Can there be a donated food less appetizing than old clam chowder? I am of the “when in doubt, throw it out” school of thought, but you insisted on tasting it just to be sure. “No good,” you concluded after the first bite, but I’ll never forget you dipping your spoon in and slurping a second and then even a third time to confirm.

You put the sewer, it was said, in connoisseur.

I think it was your boldness that drew me in. You were getting ready for a trip to Colombia to accompany an Afro-Colombian community with an ancestral claim to its land to protect it from corporate onslaught. You would use your status as an American to make the paramilitary think twice.

In the jungles of Colombia there was not enough to eat. They export coffee there but no one can afford it so they would pass around a single cup of tinto, water tinted with a hint of the coveted brew.

In the middle of that trip you took respite for a weekend at a convent in the mountains
and the sisters fed you steak, which I believe you will remember on your death bed, and which will be set out before you when you arrive in whatever counts for Heaven.

Among the items you brought to our marriage was a giant caldero for arroz con gandules big enough for a crowd. We don’t live in community right now, and two daughters and a mortgage later, and your time is circumscribed by a nine-to-five that keeps you out of the kitchen most days of the week. And most days, I hate to say it, dinner is a chore I get through on the way to getting the kids to bed.

But it’s a Saturday and you’ve made pasta from scratch the way your grandmother used to, and the scallops are dripping with butter and garlic. We’ve put the word out to see if any friends want to join us, and there’s a report on the radio about how researchers put a mirror at the table in front of elderly people who eat alone. It was found to increase their appetites.

It occurs to me that I don’t know how long we will sit across from each other, my love. That someday one or the other of us might be at a table surrounded by empty chairs. Salute a Tutti, we say to each other before the guests come, raising our wine to the girls’ cups of milk, our faces reflected in the last two wine glasses unbroken from our wedding set.

Oven-baked rice for a crowd (Catholic Worker style)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350-degrees.
  2. Place 3 quarts uncooked rice in large roasting pan (lightly sprayed with cooking spray), spread evenly. Set aside.
  3. In a large stock-pot, combine water and salt. Bring to a rolling boil.
  4. CAREFULLY pour boiling water over rice and stir so rice is even along the bottom.
  5. Immediately cover tightly with aluminum foil. Make sure you have a tight seal around ALL the edges.
  6. Place roasting pan in oven and bake for 40-45 minutes or until rice is tender.
  7. Fluff with a large wooden spoon & serve.
  8. **Note: If you want to wait to serve, just keep in the oven at 150 degrees or so or keep warm in an electric warming pan. Add a little water if necessary to keep from drying out.

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