The first time I ate…

image of a steamed artichoke on a plate from Martha Stewart dot com

On my favorite writing site, Writer Unboxed, today, Donald Maass is talking about injecting the pixie dust of enthralling events into our manuscripts. Here’s one of his sets of questions:

What food delights you?  When did you first eat it?  Who and what made that experience so special?  Recreate that—not the food necessarily but the experience—in your current novel.

By these questions, he’s hoping to get at moments of deep delight, at those meals we always remember:

What are you putting into your work in progress that will provide that kind of delight for your readers? Food, drink, friends and comfort are undeniably associated with our most delightful times, but what makes those times meaningful are not the places or what was there, but who was there and what those experiences meant to us; i.e., what we did and what we felt.

So that got me thinking about times that food brought deep delight in my own life. I’ve written about one such time before (One vulnerable risk that led to my favorite Thanksgiving), when a co-worker admitted he had nowhere to go and asked to join my celebration.

Then there was the first time I ate an artichoke. I was 19 and newly home for the summer after my first year in college, and one of my cousins was starring in a summer stock play in an outdoor amphitheatre outside of Toronto. The Hart clan was planning to go together to one performance and have a picnic dinner on the grass, but my parents couldn’t go, so my Uncle Willem and his wife Carroll took me. Given how memorable this event was, I should say that my uncle didn’t just drive and feed me, he took me under his wing. He is a gourmet (and now my book and cover designer, sneak peek at the bottom of this post), and he brought for each of us, a steamed artichoke.

I should say, a perfectly steamed artichoke, with the choke removed.

I had to watch him carefully to see what to do:

  1. Pull off a leaf, the resistance as slight as a tooth that’s more than ready to come out.
  2. Dip it in the sauce.
  3. Scrape the flesh off the leaf with your teeth.
  4. Lay the discarded leaves in an attractive pattern on your plate.

The ritual of it was as intoxicating as the vegetably sweetness of the flavor. And the lusciousness of the heart — a revelation. I felt so sophisticated and grown up. It was deeply delightful.

It also opened up an approach to feeding oneself with style, with pleasure, with precision, with openness to new ingredients that I began to explore once I was cooking for myself every night.

I still love artichokes, although I don’t steam them whole; I slice them in half to make removing the choke easier. In fact, I saw some at the store yesterday, as big as a newborn’s head. Now I know what’s for dinner.

How about you?  Do you have any good “First time I ate…” stories? What meal or food has brought you deep delight?

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As promised, here’s the sneak peek of The Giant Slayer’s cover. There are a couple of tweaks needed, but this is it. I love it.

early cover for The Giant Slayer 



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