How To Eat Partly
"One of the saving graces of the less-monied people of the world has always been, theoretically, that they were forced to eat more unadulterated, less dishonest food than the rich-bitches."
--M.F.K. Fisher, How To Cook A Wolf
That is to say, what people have when they don't have money is friends, and what Adrian once referred to as "the tricks." That an onion can be baked and eaten alone, as a grit-restoring main course. That food assumes a kind of comrade's magic and lasts longer when shared. That you can subsist on certain things that would make anyone else feel malnourished and inhuman, and that you don't need nearly so much of those things other people require just to make it through the day.
For you it is nearly always a case of remembering that what you love (and have always loved) is real peasant food. The same lentil soup that's been on the stove your entire life, with whatever almost-rancid booze you happen to have thrown in for the last five minutes of cooking. The rice and beans with one onion split in half and cooked two drastically different ways. So that half of them are still as spicy as if they were raw, and the other half are nearly candy. Egg-in-a-hole, or egg-in-a-basket, the real pleasure of which is fried bread. You can smell the olive oil in your hair as you walk in the metered November wind to class. Spaghetti squash with hot peppers and the last tomatoes of the season. Vegetable stock with egg-drops and pasta, chickpeas and kale.
There are always more tricks. Visit your friend while he's tending bar on the night that you decide it's got to be red meat or starvation--he can't give you a free meal but he'll keep you in wine while you wait, and you'll be so bolstered that you'll decide it's worth the cost. Know when it has to be red meat, or has to be a raw oyster, or has to be a bowl of broccoli. Know when you can accept substitutes and when you must have what you're craving, or else your blood will stage a mutiny against you. Visit your friend at the farmer's market, and accept the excess produce her employers weigh her down with weekly: Brussel sprouts and apples and kale and fresh sage.
If you buy your roommate a pack of cigarettes one night, have him pay you back in veggie burgers. Your survival lies, as it always has, with the people around you. Remember that wine can be a fine meal if you want to feed your nerves instead of your stomach. Remember that it feels good to be full and good to be hungry. Know when you've exhausted something seemingly virtuous, like oatmeal, and allow yourself as many eggs as you need in its stead. Remember that to cook when it's cold out is as warm as you can be.
Sit in traffic for one hour waiting to eat falafel with your mother in your childhood house. Curl up in her bed and watch Home For The Holidays. She'll laugh uncomfortably when you tell her that Robert Downey, Jr. listed black tar heroin as the main contributor to his relaxation while making the film. You accidentally remind her that you weren't speaking to one another at Christmastime last year. We all have ways of ringing in the holiday season. After you eat, you ask her to teach you how to blow-dry your hair. Mainly because you are twenty-two and don't know how, and worry that if your car breaks down on the way home your hair will freeze. It's supposed to get below thirty degrees tonight, she helps you dry it and you get frustrated with how little it seems like you. You tell her you feel like an entrant in a pageant. Once, in New York, Robby saw you wearing make-up and said, "You look fine. Just like any other woman running for President."
Everything is honest about this food. The falafel is cold and your mother hates hot sauce and the kale shrinks so much in the soup that you think you should have added twice as much. The smell of the oil stays with you all through a lecture on The Taming of The Shrew, like a man's cologne does after a hug. You think that after all, staying alive is nothing more than taming one seeming beast after another. Your mother shrugs when you say you hate your manicured hair, and sends you off with two pans of brownies for your roommates, as though she knows which battles are the ones worth fighting. When to give into your peasant mind, and mind your essentials.