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Rev. Malcolm Boyd

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Food for the Soul

Posted: 02/ 9/2012 3:44 pm

Imagine my crisis and surprise when, a few years ago, I discovered I was slowly but surely losing my sense of taste. What, if anything, could I do? Soon I learned I had to find a substitute for taste as I'd defined it. This was not a time for panic. Instead I must find a clear and good way out of a real dilemma. I made a giant discovery when I found that texture of food is on a par with taste as a means of identifying it.

What does food look like? A lamb chop does not resemble a baked potato. So my relationship to food (singular) is, in fact, my relationship to foods (plural). If I don't happen to like asparagus, I may thoroughly enjoy cauliflower or carrots. If I don't enjoy a hamburger, maybe I'll like a BLT. In other words, I found that alternatives and options are present in my life. A very big discovery is that I can enjoy certain foods in various ways even when I don't taste them.

For example, I rediscovered the infinite possibilities of bread. I believe there is nothing more inviting and ultimatelly satisfying than a loaf of freshly baked and still warm bread. Spread some butter on the fresh crust. Savor it. Frankly taste becomes secondary when replaced by a sheer wholesome experience of slowly munching it. Warm toast remains one of the world's wonders. It's available without paying a king's ransom, including when it comes in the form of an English Breakfast Muffin. No wonder the words "Give us today our daily bread" are enshrined in the Lord's Prayer.

Of course, any reference to food needs to include those two basics -- coffee and tea. We all know that a "coffee break" within any utterly intense (and seemingly impossible) discussion can be salvific. So can a properly civilized afternoon's tea along with the trimmings including protocol and cucumber sandwiches.

The key is use your imagination. Is today a chilly wintry morning? Get down to basics with food. There's no compelling need for a fancy omelette, French toast or Belgian waffle. Why not have a piping hot bowl of oatmeal? Pour milk over it. Use a dessert spoon. Soups, of course, are magnificent agents for exploring one's imagination. Remember they can be served either hot or cold. A chilled vichyssoise is always a potential triumph under virtually any conditions. My own favorite remains Billi Bi (mussels). Enjoy it hot at dinner. Put what's left in the fridge. It's mouth watering when served very, very cold the next day.

Let me make a confession. Instead of a huge breakfast followed by a huge lunch followed by a huge dinner, I prefer smaller servings at different times of the day. It's a satisfying exercise. For example, I enjoy dipping small slices of pita bread in a savory humus. And there's nothing quite as much fun as a bowl of freshly prepared guacamole perched in the center of a busy table. What is afoot here is finding new substitutes for old staples. What's visual to the eye can make a world of difference. Food is visual. What colors do you like? OK, experiment and play with them.

There is no single route for dealing with a loss of taste. Instead I've discovered any number of ways to accent the visual as well as uncover fresh food meanings and possibilities. I had a great teacher in my Grandma Ruth when I was a young boy. She was a master cook. An immense iron pot occupied central space on her stove. She used it to cook her utterly memorable vegetable soup and mouth watering pot roast.

I have lots of favorite foods and the list continues to grow. There is a vestigial and very deep desire for peanuts and chocolate. In season, shad roe poached in butter is a delight. So are ribs (anywhere, anytime), lima beans, lobster stew. Oysters on the half shell (or Rockefeller) are sublime. A Caesar salad can be very, very good or quite bad. I don't ever allow my loss of taste to subtract from my delight in food. So I don't feel sorry for myself when I peruse a great menu, glance at a near perfect assortment of splendid food on a table, or realize I can't apparently taste any of it.

Why? Because, well, I do this in my memory, imagination and expectation. I know that food is meant for the soul as well as the body. Food is my friend. Yes, I'm grateful.