By Luisa Weiss
The truly lovelorn will look at this title and scoff, feeling that familiar, slightly sickening ache that’s taken up residence in their gut. After all, nothing kills an appetite faster than heartbreak, as I’m sure you know. And there’s little you can do about it -- heartbreak, that is. It has to run its course in its own time, a little parasite ravaging the host from within.
However, as black as your days may be -- and black they are, that I’ll say -- life does, amazingly, go on. As must you, one foot placed in front of the other, one tedious morning after another. And the thing is, you’ve got to eat. You can’t simply drop out of life. The trick is to find the right thing, the thing that won’t turn your stomach, won’t make you want to push your plate away while you feel yourself start to sob with despair. The trick is to be kind to yourself -- always a good thing, it’s true, but imperative in times of heartbreak.
First of all, allow yourself a few indulgences. For example, if you, under normal circumstances, do not allow yourself such abominations as processed salami sticks or salt-and-vinegar-flavored potato chips, out of consideration for your health and your waistline, now is the time to cast away your good sense. You need small indulgences to heal your heart. This has been scientifically proven. Anything else is self-cruelty.
Second of all, salad can count as dinner. Now, I’m not talking about big leafy green salads. Those won’t do for heartbreak. What I find to be a very reliable meal in times of misery involves a little bowl of what some people might call an abbreviated version of Greek salad. What’s important is that you find yourself a snappy little cucumber without any give (I like seedless Kirbys or Persian cucumbers), a handful of cherry tomatoes that actually taste like something, mercifully available all year long now, a small slab of feta cheese (Greek or French, it doesn’t really matter as long as it’s fresh), and dried oregano (Greek or Italian, please).
Don’t bother peeling the cucumber, but slice it in half lengthwise and then in little half-moons. Cut the tomatoes into halves or quarters and the feta into small cubes. Combine all of this in a bowl and sprinkle judiciously with the oregano, plus a good pinch of flaky salt. Don’t skimp on the salt just because of the feta. Trust me, it’s a mistake. Your body needs the salt; haven’t you been crying your eyes out? Replenish.
Then add a good glug of olive oil and the smallest drip of vinegar (I use white wine vinegar, but you could use Champagne, I suppose, or sherry vinegar; whatever you do, no balsamic, I beg of you), and toss the whole thing together until the tomatoes glisten with olive oil, the herbs are dispersed, and the feta is starting to break down, ever so slightly, at the edges.
Now, if it’s summer, and I hope it is because at least then you’ve got a leg up on the poor winter heartbroken who definitely have the rawer end of the deal, go out onto your balcony, your backyard, or, all else failing, your front stoop. I find it rather important to eat this little salad, which might be all you can stomach in a day, in the setting sun. As you crunch your way carefully through your bowl, the sun makes you squint and warms your hair, and the soft evening breeze will feel like a caress, which I think you need almost as much as you need the salad.
As your fork spears ever more hungrily, you can start to daydream about that trip to Greece you’d like to think about taking, where you can eat feta and tomatoes all day long every day, and great big olives too, and nice warm bread, and there will be a few handsome waiters winking at you as you sit by the bar with your glass of retsina and your sun-kissed tourist glow. Suddenly, you’ll find yourself scraping the bottom of your bowl rather lustily and you might feel sheepish, or at least a little guilty, for enjoying that simple meal so much when you thought you might never eat again.
Don’t worry, the heartbreak’s not entirely gone, and it won’t be until it skulks away of its own accord. But in the meantime, you snuck a meal past its shadowy figure and are feeling rather good, like you wouldn’t mind another one of those, or at least a spoon to get at the dregs of the dressing at the bottom of the bowl. Here’s a little tip from me to you: no one, but no one, will notice if you raise the bowl to your lips and tip it back, letting the herbed oil and vinegar, flecked with bits of feta and tomato seeds, pour down your throat. You might cough a bit if it’s too sharp, and you might feel just a little bit greedy. But it’s worth it, I think, to feel your appetite and your lust for life come back to life, one cherry tomato at a time.
Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from MY BERLIN KITCHEN by Luisa Weiss. Copyright © Luisa Weiss, 2012
Luisa Weiss was born in West Berlin and spent her childhood shuttling back and forth between her Italian mother in Berlin and her American father in Boston. She started her much loved and highly acclaimed food blog, The Wednesday Chef, in 2005, and has worked as a literary scout and cookbook editor in New York. She now lives in Berlin with her husband and son.