Even though DorkyDad and I don’t eat out a lot – maybe lunch once a fortnight and dinner once every six weeks – the freedom to go into a bar or restaurant and take our time over a meal is one of the things we are missing a lot at the moment.
With that in mind, I decided to republish this piece of writing. It was originally published on xoJane five or six years ago, but that site has since been bought and retired by Time Inc, so the post disappeared into the great internet graveyard. I’ve updated it in a couple of places where I had referred to timings that were no longer accurate, and it feels nice to give it a new home.
It is almost fifteen years since I found DorkyDad. We met in Edinburgh, the perfect backdrop for any love story. It’s a city of dark alleyways, cobbled streets, and cosy pubs with log fires. It also has more restaurants per capita than any other city in the UK. You will never run out of places to go on date night.
Our first date was at Prego – a low key Italian place in the Old Town. I forget what I ate, but I remember that it was a long time coming because the waiter dropped his tray of plates on the floor. I remember making a joke that caused DorkyDad to snort Grand Marnier up his nose, and he had to excuse himself to the bathroom. Late that night we left the restaurant and kissed in the street.
Our second date was a dowdy French place, one of those that serves a slice of stale Brie beside some withered grapes and calls it a cheese board. We were the only diners in that night, and DorkyDad got so caught up in our conversation that he left his briefcase under the table. He had to go back and retrieve it the next day.
Those first two meals may not have won any awards, but the tone for our relationship was set. For the next year we would laugh and kiss and chat our way around the restaurants of Edinburgh.
We learned how to wrap tiny, perfect parcels of duck and spring onion and hoisin sauce at Lee On. We ate steak at Katie’s Diner, and huge, steaming bowls of pasta at Papillio. When winter came we warmed our bellies with kormas and dhals at Pataka, and DorkyDad kept my water glass full as I got to grips with red chillies and five-spice at Thai Lemongrass.
Our relationship with food mirrored our relationship with each other. It was all so new and exciting. It felt like an adventure.
As the year went on, we started to travel. We took the Eurostar to Paris, and the warm, flaky croissants we had for breakfast on the train were the best we’d ever tasted. We found a wine bar near our hotel, and spent most afternoons sitting at a pavement table, drinking glasses of cold Chablis and eating artichoke hearts, thinly sliced ham, plump olives and pungent cheese. At night we’d go to Bar Dix, where the scowling barman would scoop earthenware jugs of sangria from an old wooden barrel.
One night we saw him knock a glass over on the bar. It shattered, and several pieces fell into the barrel. He glanced around quickly, shrugged, and dipped in the jug for the next order.
DorkyDad and I flew business class to New York, and giggled at each other as the champagne refills kept on coming. We slurped down oysters in Grand Central Station, and dripped mustard down our chins eating hot dogs from a vendor in Central Park. Our hotel was in Times Square, and at breakfast we sat in the window, sharing a stack of blueberry pancakes and watching the city hurry by.
In Barcelona, we stayed away from Las Ramblas, and instead wandered the backstreets in search of chorizo and patatas bravas. We walked across the Charles Bridge in Prague, seeking fat dumplings and pitchers of beer, and in Athens we roamed the steep paths, tearing apart tender roast chicken with our fingers.
Even when DorkyDad and I were apart from each other, we kept in touch on the topic of food. I went to Greenland for three weeks, and my emails home said little about the landscape or the fieldwork I was doing there. Instead I tried to describe for him the sweet, earthy taste of reindeer, the fishy tang of whale blubber and dried seal. From Ramallah, I messaged him about the hot falafel and flatbreads that I had bought from a street vendor.
For his part, DorkyDad emailed me after an important banquet in Beijing, a work event that had been packed with dignitaries, to tell me that he’d just eaten fried duckbeak. Another time, from London, he sent me a text. “Uri Geller is at the next table,” he wrote. “I’m holding on tight to my spoon.”
By now it was almost a year since we had first met, and things were becoming more serious. We were starting to think that perhaps the relationship was more than just a bit of fun. It was time to take each other home.
I was born on the Isle of Harris – a tiny island in the north of Scotland – and it was there that DorkyDad discovered how my childhood tasted.
It tasted of shortbread biscuits, snitched from the kitchen of our family-run hotel. It tasted of Tunnocks Teacakes and Cadbury’s Creme Eggs, of giant gobstoppers, bought with pennies that I found on the ground. It tasted of Irn Bru and marmite on toast, of gooseberries from the garden and sandy sandwiches on the beach. DorkyDad tried all those things, and with every mouthful he learned a little more about me. The only thing he refused was Stornoway black pudding. No worries. All the more for me.
In return, he took me to South Carolina, We stood in line for Publix fried chicken, still hot from the bubbling oil. We snacked on Triskets and Cracker Barrel. We drank pints of Yuengling, and dipped great hunks of cornbread in our bowls of gumbo. We ate steamed oysters by the bucket, and he showed me how to prise open those beautiful bivalves, before holding them on the tip of my knife to dip into melted butter.
He introduced me to the friends who are so close that they are really family. They explained that for Thanksgiving dinner, our job was the stuffing. Others would make mash, or gravy, or jerk turnip… but we would always do the stuffing.
I came back from South Carolina several pounds heavier, knowing that I had found the man I wanted to marry.
DorkyDad and I will celebrate our thirteenth wedding anniversary later this year.
Food is still central to our life, and we are lucky to live somewhere with an abundance of beautiful local produce. But a relationship that is almost fifteen years old – and now includes DorkySon – has an entirely different rhythm to one that is brand new, and our meals reflect that. There are not so many nights in fancy restaurants any more.
Every Saturday morning, we eat breakfast together as a family, DorkyDad frying bacon and flipping eggs as we debate a second cup of coffee. (The answer is almost always no; something else that is different these days.) On Sundays, we shop together at the farmers market. We buy warm bread and sweet pastries, a tub of honey, or a bunch of crisp pink radishes, still covered in soil.
Under the kitchen window at home, we have a beautiful herb garden. When there’s a roast about to go in the oven we send DorkySon out with scissors to cut a bunch. If DorkyDad picks up a cold, I take an afternoon to make him chicken broth. If we’re heading out for a tailgate picnic, we all pitch in to make sandwiches and tip potato chips into Tupperware tubs. When it is cherry season, we buy them by the kilo from a roadside stall, and carry them home in a brown paper bag.
Meals are the punctuation marks in the story of DorkyDad and me. I have so many memories connected with food that without them, the narrative wouldn’t make sense.
The best meal I have ever eaten was a rich bowl of pig knuckles. Ten minutes earlier, DorkyDad had bought me a diamond engagement ring in a shop on Place Vendôme. We needed a seat, something substantial to eat, and a large glass of red wine.
The best meal I have ever eaten is the steak that DorkyDad cooked on a charcoal grill one February in Edinburgh. He sat on our front porch drinking beer from the bottle and poking the embers as snow fell around him. I laughed and laughed, and didn’t care about the neighbours.
The best meal I have ever eaten was a simple bowl of pasta, smothered in garlic butter, at a friend’s house in New Hampshire. It was 1am, and DorkyDad had just read poetry on the same stage as Billy Collins.
The best meal I have ever eaten is breakfast tomorrow morning.
DorkyDad will have a bowl of muesli and a glass of apple juice, as he keeps half an eye on his laptop and catches up on the news. DorkySon will have chocolate milk and a plate of fruit, followed by a yoghurt. He’ll have a book propped open, the pages stained from years of dropped strawberries and plum juice. I’ll have Weetabix. Or toasted rye bread, with jam made from the apricots that a friend left on our doorstep a few weeks ago.
At some point we will look up and catch each other’s eyes, stop chewing for a moment, and smile. Our eating habits may not be quite as exciting as they used to be, but these are the meals we’re made of.