Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.

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Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The easy way out

Today a colleague brought in a giant bag of peppers and a basket of fresh eggs from her tiny farm in the Central Valley. Tomorrow she promises fresh lamb, which I offered to pay her for. She looked at me as if I were nuts. She is Filipina, and by her own admission does not cook much lamb. She's happy to offload it on me.

"Nora" loves to cook. Few weekdays pass where she isn't bringing in some delectable tidbit or other--lumpia, empanadas (her husband is Mexican), moist cassava cake. Often she rises at five, before her small children wake, to cook for the office. She knows I like to cook, too, but our conversation is limited by differences in both culture and repertoire. She comes from an impoverished background and learned to make wonderful food out of limited choice. She is now well-off, but continues to cook the familiar foods of home. She shops Chinatown and the farmer's markets, but her favorite place is Costco. She goes every Sunday.

I have never been to Costco. In a family of two, there is little call for seven dozen rolls of toilet paper on sale or twelve pounds of chicken wings. Admittedly there is also the Berkeley-Bay-Area-shop-at-small-business attitude at work. I hear Costco treats its employees well, better than Walmart does. But just about anybody treats their employees better than Walmart does. I am told Costco has good meat. Being a food snob, though, I want to know where it's from and how it was treated. I am more interested in this than getting a deal on ribs.

Granted, I am not feeding a family, and can afford my snobbery. I recognize that.

Returning to Nora, though. When we talk about cooking, I am careful. I don't talk about my confit adventures, or the raspberries steeping in Armagnac up on the top shelf of the coat closet. Sourdough starters, quail, and rabbit are all verboten. Nora would simply stare at me. What's that? She's asked me more than once. What for?

Not that she's stupid--she isn't. But our experiences are polarized in nearly every regard; the only thing we have in common is our workplace. Far more separates us: birthplace, economics, religion, education, class. The big bad C word, so terribly politically incorrect. Food is supposed to unite us, bring us round the table together in a gustatory wash of fellow feeling. But it cannot when the those gathered stare at unfamiliar dishes, then turn up their noses, or worse, eye the preparer with a slightly malicious puzzlement. This has happened to me more than once at work gatherings. Recently, at Nora's prompting, there was a potluck. I brought in tapenade and a baguette, assuming them to be familiar, neutral foods. The tapenade went untouched. The hit of the party? Swedish meatballs with lingonberry jam from Ikea. Seriously.

And so I have learned to praise Nora's food--which I am happy to do--but keep my own culinary forays quiet. Just as I don't discuss what I am reading, my political views, or my secret life as a blogger. It's just easier that way.

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