Sunday, February 2, 2003

Food stuff


Vivid images eat at flu-bitten food writer

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There is a special hell for food writers, and it is called the flu.

That morning, I wake to familiar, horrible symptoms. But that isn't the worst. More agonizing are memories of what I ate the night before - my favorite roast chicken with vegetables.

The delicious crispy skin.

The crunchy, fat-soaked carrots.

The subtle anise flavor of fennel.

Why, why, did I eat that extra thigh?

This is my delirium as I lie on the couch, writhing in fairly serious discomfort. The rich smell of roasted chicken still clings the air and my hands bear the olfactory scars of freshly chopped garlic. At one point, I think I see a giant trussed bird on the wall. A haunting, cackling chicken.

Why do I deserve such torture? Is it because I so enjoyed devouring the chicken?

Hedonist!

Is it because I dare to earn a living writing about food?

Imposter!

Do others suffer so? Do the plumber's pipes break just as he steps into the shower? Does the telemarketer get a phone call just as she's serving dinner for eight? Does the cable guy wait all afternoon for someone to come to his house, someone who never shows or even calls to explain his whereabouts?

I must have done something.

Oh. There is an unbearable weight on my stomach, pressing down as if trying to squeeze out every morsel I've consumed in my short, pitiful life.

Wait. It's only a cat. A very large cat snuggling in my gut trying to comfort me. Or more likely, a cat merely seeking warmth.

Off of me cat!

I desperately fight the urge, but I cannot resist thinking of wonderful things I've eaten: Succulent foie gras perched on apples. Pumpkin ravioli swimming in white truffle oil. Chick-Fil-A waffle fries dipped in ketchup. Warm chess pie.

This is a switch I cannot easily turn off. Every day I constantly think about food - while trying to compose words on the screen, in mid-conversation with unsuspecting colleagues, while brushing my teeth. I dream about elaborate meals I'll never cook and my favorite potato chips sizzled in lard. It's a curse.

I wish I could say I'm consumed by food because it's my work. But mostly, it's because I love to eat.

Not today. Today I can't think about eating because I'm being punished.

Finally, sweet sleep arrives.

The ibuprofen does its work and the fever and chills wane. The grip of queasiness eases. It's only a virus, I realize, the nasty one infecting others. Now I crave condensed chicken soup - my only sustenance for the day. I've done my penance. The giant cackling hens have gone home to roost.

The soup is a comforting hot and salty belly salve from childhood that I eat when I'm ill. The Big Soup Company has made things easier by installing a flip-top lid on the can. How thoughtful. It's almost as if they know ailing flu sufferers lack the strength to crank a can opener.

I grasp the tab with a finger and struggle to pull up the lid. It comes up suddenly, and slices neatly, deeply, into my thumb. Pain jabs at my hand as I wait, like a sniffling 5-year-old, for the bleeding to begin.

Hell, I tell you.

E-mail cmartin@enquirer.com




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