Before I knew food and before I started planning for disappointment, I found charm in boys who boiled water. With hands moving cautiously and out of his comfort zone, he double-checked recipes, focusing on pleasing through the kindness of a home-cooked meal. I found excruciating pleasure in this display of the self-imposed discomfort and methodical exactitude. Jaw lax in concentration. Eyes squinted. Surely, this was love.
Yesterday, love was two eggs over-easy with toast eaten formally in the breakfast nook. Today, it took the form of steamed artichokes served at a card table set up in the otherwise empty dining room.
I don’t remember artichokes before Boston. I’m sure I’d eaten them in shloppy dips on tortilla chips, or puréed inside tortellini hidden under mounds of white sauce, but I’d don’t recall ever touching one whole. Of course I knew what artichokes looked like, but, in person, they seemed hypnotizingly prehistoric, with more parts armadillo than vegetable. I imagined big dinos eating these thorny buds, like bunny rabbits munching on clover. The barbed bracts warned by saying, “Careful, I could bite back.”
Obviously, this was to be an evening of artichoke mystery, and their thorny, unmistakable conveyance love. And clearly, this boy was far worldlier than I. This boy ate artichokes whole.
The water reached a boil with the artichoke nested inside the rising steam. We waited in anticipation with glasses of wine, both staring into the pot and not having a clue what we looking for. He prodded at it a bit. He must have thought it might hatch a dino too. Or, more likely, the butter was melted and our glasses were empty, so that meant the cooking was done.
We sat down in folding chairs that tottered and creaked. He taught me how to rip of the bracts, dip them in butter, and scrape the meat off with the pressure of my front teeth and gentle ushering of my tongue. I held the butter at the roof of my mouth as its sweetness trickled to the back of my throat. Each bract teased with only a sampling of flesh, naturally portioned to titillate the senses.
Broken hearts begin during the happiest moments. Mine began with an artichoke, although the memory became one of many in my collection of happy thoughts that accumulated through months, and then years, of companionship. Though eventually we turned off the stove and tried to rearrange ourselves back to the way we once were, I had acquired many morsels to savour later on. My palate still had artichokes and there would always be plenty of butter. I was going use it amply.
Marissa Sertich is a recent graduate from the Culinary Institute of America, baking her way through the fascinating (and sometimes nutty) underbelly of the American pie. With an equal love for gelatin, chocolate and words, and an ample supply of coffee and candy, she sits down from time to time to share a story.