A big thank you to the wonderful Annabelle Troy for this beautifully written post on Food and Imagination. You can check out her blog at Jane Eyre Gets Real.
Food and Imagination: They Belong Together
I remember going through quite a “Heidi” phase as an 8-year-old. After reading my abridged, beautifully illustrated copy I’d pretend to be her–my hair in coiled braids, wearing a little white peasant blouse, I’d leap around the back yard with some stuffed animals filling in as goats. Ironically, I hated both milk and cheese, Heidi’s dietary mainstays, but I would drink water out of a bowl and pretend it was the pure, miracle-granting elixir the milk she drank was purported to be. Also, I found an acceptable cheese “substitute”: peanut butter crackers. I would find myself munching on these crackers, imagining they were miniature golden wedges of Swiss, while reading of Heidi’s adventures. The story became more vivid with every mouthful.
In a few years I was perusing cook books. A picky eater, I had no interest in actually making anything. I simply loved the language of food, a kind of poetry: eggs en cocotte; Welsh rarebit (cheese again–but such a lovely sound!); beef stroganoff; Dover sole; butter chicken; chocolate gateau. One recipe, for a Chinese-inspired dessert called Peking Dust, literally took my breath away–it still does! Ground-up chestnuts representing the Mongolian desert are topped with whipped cream and served in a meringue shell. It was not the eating; it was the other lives, other worlds, conjured by these recipes which satisfied my appetite.
So this is what I would advise: if you want to feel like someone else, like Madame Bovary for instance, eat a macaroon. Or just get out a book on pastry and gaze at pictures of the petite, colorful, delectably flavored cookies; savor the descriptions. For one moment, as long as it takes for a crumb to dissolve on the tongue, you will BE Emma–and all without the calories.
If you are interested in the language of food then get yourself a copy of Niki Segnit’s bestseller ‘The Flavour Thesaurus.’ A compendium of pairings, recipes and ideas for the creative cook.