Go ahead. I dare you. Just try to read Joe Fiorito’s Comfort Me With Apples and see if you don’t end up in love. Because it’s not possible. Chap or chapette, you’ll be in love with him. I guarantee it. (Okay, I don’t guarantee it, but there’s a strong possibility…)
It’s not a new book, just newly discovered—also not exactly a cook book, nor exactly anything else; the man simply writes about food. And in such a way that I haven’t stopped cooking or eating since discovering it.
Yes, alright, another exaggeration. But it’s true that I can no longer cook or eat the same way. I mean, when in a simple essay on oranges he tells you—
“…You can put orange peel into beef stew along with your bouquet garni. You can squeeze a little juice in your fresh tomato soup; add a little orange zest while you’re at it. Or try this…peel two oranges, finely slice the peel, blanche it in boiling water for two minutes, and drain. Sautee a finely chopped onion in four tablespoons of olive oil. Add the drained peel to the oil, along with a cup-and-a-half of pitted black olives. Remove from the heat. Cook a pound of spaghetti in a pot of salted boiling water until it’s al dente. Dress the spaghetti with the olive oil mixture, add four more tablespoons of oil, and be grateful the Moors invaded Italy.”
—how can you not immediately want to put on your coat and walk to the nearest orange purveyor, purchase a dozen, make stew and soup and boil up some spaghetti, and when that just happens to change your outlook on life and entire DNA for the better…well, how can you not fall in love?
In another essay he reveals how a nun’s peculiar answer to his childhood question: What does my soul look like? led him to hate all cereal except oatmeal (and only then in the form of cookies). And then he gives you the instructions to make a batch. No recipes in this book and few precise measurements—mostly he just tells you how to do things the way he would if you were in the kitchen with him, chatting and sipping wine. And somehow things work out beautifully, the way they always do in happy kitchens.
I’ve been waiting for the perfect Sunday morning to make the popovers he describes in ‘Breakfast in Bed’—
“…Wake early one Sunday and smell the person sleeping next to you. Do it. Lean over. The side of the neck will do, just below the ear. Take a deep breath. The knowledge of this scent is lodged in the deepest part of your brain.
“…Now go to the kitchen. Throw two eggs into a bowl…”
And the perfect Friday night to re-enact his piece titled ‘A Plate of Spaghetti’, which begins:
“Today you’re going to eat, drink, sing, read—and act—Italian. I want you to start by going to the film store to rent Fellini’s ‘Nights of Cabiria’…” And ends with: “Whisper the last words of Puccini’s ‘Nessun Dorma’ as you fall asleep…all’alba vincero—at dawn I will win. And you will. You’ll have leftovers. Spaghetti arrabbiata is wonderful for breakfast.”
He writes about sushi and Halloween apples, the importance of the right knife, the woman who hummed while she ate and how he married her, how to make the best potato salad, chicken soup, pork chops (I’ve tried the chops, they’re truly amazing); he compares chili dogs to alligator shoes, discusses food myths and food in movies, considers his last meal, his worst meal, and the piece that confirmed my adoration for this man’s work, ‘Museum Food’—which is too long to transcribe but, trust me, it’s a gorgeous piece of writing and a gorgeous testament to food.
Impossible to read this book and not come away with a deeper appreciation for the connection between what we eat and how we live, between food and people, music, sights, art, books, sound, neighbourhoods, joy, sadness, seasons. (And we all know the connections are there; I can’t rub a piece of thyme between my fingers and not be transported to my mother’s kitchen where a roast is the oven on a Saturday afternoon in winter, juices heavily infused with thyme from her garden, picked fresh from under the snow.)
All of which leaves me deeply in love—okay, maybe just deeply grateful for the reminder that food isn’t so much about eating, but about everything around the eating, everything that precedes it.
And everything that follows.
—Purchase Comfort Me with Apples online at Blue Heron Books.