MAGIC ON A CHINA PLATE

Triggered, appropriately, by a comment about an oyster po’boy, I was taken back to a time when I discovered I had fallen in love with food. I mean really in love. I’m so in love with food, I usually begin planning my next meal while I’m eating the one I am presently eating…sometimes two or three meals in advance. The seduction occurred sometime after I had my tonsils removed in 1956. I don’t understand how my tonsils were related to my taste buds but considering the sixty-year war I have fought with my weight, there must have been some sort of bond. I am presently winning one of the many battles I have fought in my war on weight but I realize I am just a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice-cream from falling off the wagon…or into a food truck.

I associate food with love. It’s my grandmother’s fault. She was never the most demonstrative person when showing affection unless it was with a plate of peanut butter cookies…or a split cathead biscuit dripping in butter and King Golden Syrup. I guess several cathead biscuits dripping…served on a chipped china plate with a jelly glass filled with milk on the side. I’m sure she had saved S & G Green Stamps for the china…or purchased them individually through the weekly grocery store offers. I never asked if she ever collected a complete set. I remember the different scenes in blue I exposed as I mopped up the extra syrup and butter with another biscuit. There is no greater demonstration of love than a biscuit dripping butter and syrup. Magic, pure magic.

Food was usually placed in front of me along with some form of praise, “Donnie you’ve been a good boy, here have a cookie or five.” “Donnie, you did such a good job sorting my buttons, you want a biscuit?” No, she did not withhold food if I was naughty. If that had been the case I probably wouldn’t have my weight problem unless looking like a bag of bones fleeing famine is a weight problem.

I don’t look like a bag of bones because shortly after my tonsils went to tonsil heaven I fell in love with a hog…whose spirit had gone to hog heaven. The hog’s earthly body had been buried but not in a grave. The porker had been slow cooked in the ground all night long before being pulled, shredded or chopped…I really don’t remember which, I just remember the taste…the taste of magic…the taste of love. Served with a mustard sauce, slaw, bread and butter pickles and barbeque hash over white rice. It was magic on a paper plate instead of china.

A decade or so later I would find myself being seduced as an immature Newberry College freshman. Tempted by heaven in a brown paper bag. The “Dopey Burger.” Dopey ran a hole in the wall hamburger joint named The Tomahawk Café across the road from Cromer Hall. He had a real name but everyone just called him Dopey and the café, Dopey’s. Names didn’t matter because it was about the burger. A burger featuring a huge handmade patty on a soft and sensual sesame seed bun, mayonnaise spread copiously on both sides edge to edge. With a sweet onion slice I really didn’t need the lettuce and tomato on the burger but felt it looked naked without it. Despite its covering, I fondled it anyway. I understand why porn addicts have issues breaking their porn habit. I remember taking the burger out of its wax paper wrapper, exposing it to the world, it’s very scent playing to my basest instinct, gluttony. Mayonnaise and grease leaking out, covering my fingers…dripping down my chin…staining the paper napkins on my desk…I was addicted to the “Dopey Burger” and to make things worse, Dopey offered to run a tab. “I can’t graduate until I pay how much?

I so love food; even my more traditional romantic remembrances tend to have a food component accompanying the memory. A honeymoon dinner at the Columns Hotel on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans. Magical the way it rolls off the tongue. The Columns Hotel on St. Charles Avenue. Due to an empty dining room, we had our own personal waiter who resembled Santa Claus in a tuxedo. Does Santa wait tables in the off season? He did have on a red cummerbund. It went well with his white beard and gloves. I remember Linda Gail’s floral dress and her beautiful face smiling at me from across her…plate, the polished paneled walls, the soft music playing in the background, a Bloody Mary with a pickled okra pod for garnish and THE BLACKENED RED FISH TO DIE AND GO TO HELL FOR. I also remember the Oysters Rockefeller. Who knew spinach could taste so scrumptious surrounding an oyster and dripping in an herb, breadcrumb, and butter sauce. The evening was memorable due in part to the food. Love Linda Gail, love food! Loved the drunken chase after a street car later, but we should wait for the street car story. Oh my!

To quote author Rick Bragg, “I know magic when I taste it.” He and I must be related, I do too and it doesn’t have to be far from home. My latest magical moment was a fried catfish taco at a new restaurant in nearby Travelers Rest.
Whether it’s fried chicken and catfish at a hole in the wall soul food spot in Georgetown, crab bisque at a Cajun establishment in Hendersonville, Dutch Fork barbeque in Batesburg or shrimp and grits almost anywhere, it really requires only one thing to make it magic, love. Love for good food and the good woman I’m sharing it with…it doesn’t even have to be served on china.

Uniquely Southern, uniquely insightful, books by Don Miller can be bought or downloaded at http://goo.gl/lomuQf