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Couscous

By M.J. Fievre

Memoir

My father is dozing on the balcony, behind the large hibiscus plant.

Papa sleeps better during the day because he’s haunted. Night haunted. And when the spooky things come—memories of his childhood, he haunts my mother. He tells her his nightmares, wakes her up—to pull her into his suffering, to taunt her into saving him.

I know because I’ve heard him.

Aunt Ethel inscribed this aphorism in a cookbook she gave my parents as a wedding gift. 37 fruitful years ago.

I chafe a little at the notion of cooking as romantic epoxy. Like, who’s supposed to be back there slicing and dicing, keeping the marriage together? We all know whose job cooking is.

Or was.

Look around Aunt Ethel! Today we have 24 hour jumbo buffets across town and Any’tizers Buffalo-Style Chicken Wyngs in the freezer.

Besides easy access to convenient foodstuffs, no one has time to cook, ok? In our goal addicted, Cult of Productivity society? Not so much.

Deep down I know old Aunt Ethel is unfashionably right.

Just because women are no longer relegated to slaving over a hot stove does not mean the kitchen has lost its tremendous power.

“There is no sincerer love,” said Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, “than the love of food.”

Research suggests most married couples have sex seven times a month (less than twice a week). Compare that to 21 meals per week and you might reach for the grocery list.

Definitely I have a standard dish – who doesn’t – to feed lovers or potential ones. I want to appear talented in every room in the house.

My ol’ faithful is Atlantic salmon accompanied by salad, baguette, wine, +/- steamed asparagus.

Honey Teriyaki Salmon

Combine in a mixing bowl 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1/2 cup honey, juice of half a lemon, 1 clove garlic. Whisk til honey dissolves.

Marinate 1 pound of fresh salmon fillet in mixture for 4 hours.  Or just baste the fillet with it.

Broil salmon at 375 for approx 15 minutes

This dish has slaying power. Serving it predictably results in kissin’ – even if the kissin’ is not, sadly, bound to last.

British actor Richard Grant recently declared in an interview that cooking has kept his marriage going for 23 years, and in April Scarlett Johansson told People magazine how much she enjoyed cooking for her new husband. “I find it very therapeutic,” she said. “I put on some music, maybe have a glass of wine, and make something like a turkey Bolognese or a nice frittata.”

Frittatas are, like, Level 7 to me. I don’t aspire to a Julia and Julie type of undertaking at all; carcasses are where I draw the culinary line. I will never have my own apiary or bake bread from scratch (unless, I guess, if Ryan Reynolds were my husband. In Scarlett’s shoes I too might venture into Top Chef territory).

But besides accepting it as relationship superglue I’m beginning to see cooking as an oddly helpful writing tool.

“Writing is not a monolithic process just as cooking is not a monolithic process. You don’t just go in the kitchen and cook – you do a number of very specific things that you focus on one at a time – you peel garlic, you dice garlic, you saute onions – these are separate processes. You don’t just go into a kitchen and flap your arms and just cook – and in the same way, you don’t just ‘write’.”

-Screenwriter Stephen Fischer

Yesterday my father guilted me into helping him shuck ten pound of clams he won at a golf tournament. It was a sublime, mindless hour during which I ‘thought up’ the perfect ending for a story I’ve been agonizing over for months.

There’s a strong case to be made for writers to cook often:

“New findings in neuroscience indicate that your brain is often at its best when your body is engaged in low-level, undemanding activities…a state of “meta-awareness” helps you work on long-term problems. “For creativity, you need your mind to wander,” research psychologist Jonathan Schooler told the New York Times.”

– Globe and Mail July 2, 2010

As the locavore movement dovetails with the recession, maybe we’re all going back into the kitchen, slowly, genders together this time.  I watch my parents mingle with hipsters on Saturday mornings at the Farmer’s Market, everyone stopping to listen attentively while a man selling organic chicken for four bucks a pound explains how transporting birds to the abbatoir seriously stresses them. So he slaughters them on the farm himself (with love).

In Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, writer Richard Wrangham makes the slightly awful argument that cooking led to pair bonding way back in barbarian times:

“There’s this huge distinction in most cultures between the status of men as bachelors or married men. It’s only when the man is married that he gains status and he gains it because he can do two things: He can go off during the day to do manly things—to hunt or raid the neighboring group or check on girlfriends in neighboring camps or sit around chatting and politicking—and still count on the evening meal. And the second thing: When another man invites him for a meal, he can reciprocate. And until he can reciprocate, he’s not part of the community of equals.

Cooking underlies this whole critical distinction because until the bachelor can rely on someone providing him cooked food, he must do the work himself, which means he can’t do the manly things properly.”

Hard to swallow, but anthropology and Aunt Ethel make sense. Cooking more = better relationship & better stories.

Men’s Health magazine runs an outstanding recipe feature aimed at status-less bachelors who have not secured the evening meal. Highly recommended for bachelorettes without status too.

Ironing is another mindless creativity-inducing activity I endorse. But – not to worry – I won’t devote a post to that.

Can you give us your love recipe below?