It’s interesting to me how a broken heart affects the palate. I tried to eat a piece of toast. It was warm, I could smell the yeast and the nutty scent of the wheat, golden melted butter glistened in the toast’s air holes in little puddles. Butter smells warm and salty, appetizing But when I bit into the toast it just felt dry and hard and that sweet/salty buttery flavor I expected only tasted bitter. Like poison.
“You have to eat!” All my friends keep telling me. I don’t think I’ve ever been invited to more dinners or had more food brought to me in my entire life! There was a chicken soup and a lamb stew my childhood friend brought over. It was hot and steamy on that dark icy winter night. My children devoured heaping bowls full while my friend and I sat close to one another on the couch, snuggled up in a thick blanket, just like when we were kids. I could only sip the broth which to me tasted like cold stones. Red wine, however, tasted like medicine from the heavens. We cupped our stemless glasses in our hands and sipped. We used to sip hot chocolate out of mugs like this when we were young, counting the marshmallows, making sure we had an even number. I wished we were counting marshmallows again. I wished I were eight years old again.
The next night my friends brought me pizza and greek salad. My favorite! We toasted with wine glasses to what I’m not sure. My friends heated the pizza under the broiler. “Lets serve it on the china my mother-in-law gave me.” I said reaching into the china cabinet with an excited smile. I love to break out the china. But then I remembered my pain and started to cry. My salty tears mixed with the salty cheese. Was the pizza crust soggy from my tears or a juicy tomato? I couldn’t tell. I couldn’t swallow.
The next day a broccoli cheese quiche arrived. “Mom! This is awesome! How come you’ve never made quiche for us before?” The kids asked. I just had to take their word for it that the quiche was good and promised to make one for them soon.
I was invited to many dinners when I felt strong enough to go out. Stuffed shells, beef stew, Caesar chicken salad, chill, meat loaf and mashed potatoes, and more pizza. The weight keeps falling off though. I think I’m being sustained through the smell of food.
“The woods is the only place I feel sane.” I told my friend the other day. “So lets go to the woods she said. We hiked with our dogs, her husband and her kids. At first we walked down the trail in a tight little hiking group, our dogs weaving around our legs with their leashes. We stepped in and out of the tangled leads and finally just let them run off leash. My friends husband picked up his pace and disappeared into the pines on the winding trail in front of us. “See you at the car?” My friend cupped her hands around her mouth and called into the wind. “Can we take a short cut?” My friends daughters asked. And so there we were, the four of us, me, my friend and our loyal dogs together alone on the trail, six miles to go.
“I almost called you last night. I had a culinary disaster I needed help with.” My friend said. My silence was an understood encouragement for her to go on with her story. “It was Mary’s birthday and she wanted a lemon cake. and, you know, a birthday cake has to be round and have layers. The only recipe I had for lemon cake was a bunt cake.” The wind picked up and the clouds cleared. I could feel the February sun on my face and wished I had remembered sunscreen. “Well…” my friend stopped walking for a moment to turn and look at me, catching my eyes I guess to make sure I was still listening. I was. “I looked up a recipe and it was complicated, called for lemon curd.” She described the butter, egg yolk lemon and sugar mixture. As she told her cooking story my stomach began to growl and my mouth began to water. “But here’s the disaster part,” she said. “I baked the cakes but they didn’t rise. They were more like pudding than cake. I realized that the recipe had called for both baking powder and baking soda but I only put in the baking powder.” My friend, who happens to be a physicist went on to explain the science and molecular structure of the cakes and why they wouldn’t rise. At this point I did stop listening. “So anyway,” she continued with the culinary part of the tale. “I baked another two cakes.” She talked about how the house smelled of butter and cream and lemon and I hoped she hadn’t thrown the two “failure” cakes away because I HAD to have some of that cake. “I built this colossal cake, a masterpiece” she continued. She had used all four cakes, placing the gooey ones in the middle of the now four layers. She doubled the icing and lemon curd recipe and said it was the best cake she’d ever had.
By the time we all met back at the car I was famished. “So would you like to go for a little ride with us?” My friend asked, the dogs climbed into the back of the SUV and curled up in an old blanket. “Actually, I need to eat.” I said.
I slowly ate that lemon cake. It was sweet and creamy, buttery and sour. A hint of salt and it did not taste bitter.