aAmidst the mind-blowing chaos of political parties tearing themselves apart like cannibal rats in a barrel, and dictators threatening nuclear war, climate disaster etc., we can all do something to quell bad thoughts. Recently, I found mine: a globe artichoke. It’s been a while since I received one of the classic style, with pitchers of Dijon sauce. Back in the ’70s, these were a staple of my mother’s fancier dinners; A sign of a certain development, he took the initiative from France, where they realized the edible potential of this humble thistle.
What I forgot is how happy the process of eating can be. Each thick olive-green petal should be pulled out of its adhesive place, and dipped in a bandage, before the working end is pulled over the teeth to reach the parent node. Finally, you should get rid of that paper, and start over. Repeat dozens of times. Of course, it is delicious. But most importantly, it’s impossible to think of anything other than the job you’re doing while you’re eating. Deep comfort is therefore not to be underestimated.
Different dishes serve different purposes. Some resemble male birds of paradise with their elaborately colored tail feathers held high, hoping to lay. They are painted to make you swoon in the visuals; To enrich you through attention to detail. Others, divided by odd numbers for even numbers of dinner, seem calculated to challenge our diplomatic skills or even simply to flaunt our morals. What exactly do you do with the third shumai when the two of you eat dim sum?
There are those who are designed to facilitate chatting, which leads to relentless disclosure. If you want to know what someone is like, and by that I mean how he really is, make shepherd’s pie, or chili over a snowman of steamed rice; Something that instinct can ramify. When the eating process becomes automatic, the real talk can begin. Finally, you can find out who did what, to whom, when and how they felt about it.
Finally, there are foods like the wonderful globe artichoke, which are so juicy and intense that nothing else can be thought of while tearing them down. We talk a lot these days about the importance of being mindful and living in the moment. Well, there is no better tool for getting to that moment, than your dinner. The problem, for me at least, is that worldwide artichoke season is almost over, and yet the painful and consuming global chaos is not over. Cannibal mice are still in that barrel. If you have a highly developed anxiety gland, 2022 could be a terrifying place to live.
What are my options? What other foods and dishes require total focus? On the low maintenance end there are roasted and salted pistachios in their shell. A good session with a large bag of these can gently nudge me into something approaching a welcome fugitive state. The hot, big version of this is, of course, a bucket of mussels, which comes with the added distraction of wondering if you’re playing edible Russian roulette. Or there is simply a bowl of well-made ramen. Because if you don’t focus entirely on the business of eating, you could end up on top. Although this may just be me. Eating these things will not change the source of your anxiety. It won’t make you feel better about everything when you’re done. But it can be a form of temporary personal care.
For now, with everything in such a bloody, bloody mess, I’ll take it.