Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Before The Porn

There she was. Spread-eagle in front of me. I tilted the glossy pages to get the full picture of her. My mouth hung open, a little drool formed, as I thought about how she'd taste and feel when she was mine. In my mouth. ...And she could be mine couldn't she? She was looking at me as if she were attainable. She begged me to say her name, her whole long name, and I obeyed as I stared at her curled up by the fire, wet with anticipation. I spoke her name slowly, deliberately;

Slow-Roasted Spiced Pork Loin with Black-Eyed Beans and Tomatoes.

But she could be anyone couldn't she? She could be the buxom, bronzed glistening temptress that transfixed me last week;

Chicken Breasts alla Vendemmia.

Ah food porn. You know you love it and you know you buy it.

I do. Lots.

I have made exactly one of the recipes in Jaime Oliver's Jaimes Dinners, and it was fine. But the real reason I bought the book is because each Oliver book is basically a two inch thick portfolio of : "Jaime Having A Great Time Shopping Cooking, Eating, and Drinking With Me Handsome Mates." Jaime horsing around with the fishmonger. Jaime opening a thermos of soup while his buddies skate. Jaime laughing hyterically about something in the bakery.

Think of it not as sex porn, but Life Porn. In sex porn, you imagine yourself doing the acts depicted in the photo or film. In food porn, it isn't Jaime Oliver frolicking in a bed of organic lettuce, it's you.

I'm no Tipper Gore. I approve of food porn. It gets me excited about cooking and eating, and sure, it's a way to escape for an hour into someone else's perfect dining room table or to leave your desk of unpaid bills and walk the sun dappled streets of New York with Mario Batali, in search of the best Proscuitto. In orange clogs.

But yesterday at Moe's Books in Berkeley, I found a slim, dusty book sandwiched between used and remindered cookbooks. It has a simple black spine, is half an inch thick, and the cover has those swirly peacock feather watermark things that old antique books have.

In miniscule silver letters on the spine it modestly informs you of it's content: The Art of Good Living, by Andre L. Simon. It dates from 1930, is English, but feels and sounds as if it is from another world. A long quote is necessary I think, to convey the feel:

"The art of good living is above all a matter of appreciation, the appreciation of what is good...

It is perfectly true that we all have, and should cultivate, our own individual tastes in food and drink, just as in painting books and music. But, above all individual tatses, there are general rules which are the frame upon which hang individual tastes: when those rules are broken there are no individual tastes left- merely a nondescript heap of rubbish.

We do not dress in exactly the same way in summer and winter, at funerals and picnics, and we must also choose our food and drink according to the seasons of the year, the occasion and the mood of the moment. Variety and harmony are the essence of all arts, and the art of good living aims at avoiding monotony and clashes between colors, savours, and flavours.

...three of the most important factors when attempting to solve the problem of a perfect dinner, i.e.:-
1. What is the best food, and what are the most suitable wines available?
2. What is the weather likely to be?
3. What are the personal likes and dislikes, likely mood or expected dispositions of your guests?

Isn't that fucking great!!

I know it's a bit crusty, but to me this is refreshing. In these days of farmers market reactionaries (Eat only what's fresh and in season, all the time, and sustainable, and organic!!! no wait, BEYOND ORGANIC! ) as well as extreme health conscious folks eating things that should only be used to fertilize gardens or join together bricks, it's nice to be reminded what all this madness is for:

ENJOYING LIFE.

But wait. What is it all for?

Is it to be sustainable? Yes, Michael Pollan has taught us that in Omnivore's Dilemma. The price of being blinded to where our food comes from and it's real cost is tremendous. And true, he explores the enjoyment and social role of food and eating beautifully. But for right now at least, I've given my sweaty palms a rest, as well as my biceps, and put the three pound colorful food porn tomes away. The Art of Good living is dated for sure, and written for people for whom Polo means more than a shirt:

"If at home, one has to remember the limitations of one's cook, and choose the dishes which he or she has been most successful with on previous occasions."

What is different and useful about this point of view though, is that is has as it's raison d'etre, enjoyment. Pleasure. It talks about Wine not as a second thought to pair with the thing you want to eat, but as something which walks hand in hand with what's on the plate. In fact most of the book is given to wine, it's origins, varieties, etc. Not what to drink with the food, but what food to cook to go with your wine.

And there are no pictures of Andre Simon romping on the beach with his family grilling fish.

Better yet, there is my mental image of him, sitting in his London Townhouse, ignorant of the fires and bombings and war that was just around the corner, examining his bottles of Claret and Tawny Port, trying to anticipate the moods of his guests that evening, and whether they might clash with the Poulet Hongroise.

The first sentence of the book shows that he was not ignorant of things outside his drawing room:

"Like all arts, the art of good living has known many vicissitudes. Like all arts, the art of war excepted, it needs peaceful and prosperous times to attain any degree of perfection."

I hope he had enough of those times. I hope you and I do as well.

Isn't that what all this is for?

2 comments:

Paul said...

Hey Jordan -- I love this entre. Particularly: "extreme health conscious folks eating things that should only be used to fertilize gardens or join together bricks." The Andre Simon book is a find and your quotes prescious. Btw, the French are big on planning the (food) menus around the wine menus.

POD in France said...

I'll never eat, or think about a roast the same again.
Thanks for sharing