Sunday, 28 July 2013

The Practical Applications Of Forensic Eating

Sunlight fills the restaurant.  It's one of those days that give hope for the potential spring to come; bright, crisp and sunny.  It is still necessary to don extra layers (we Melbournians are very fond of cardigans and blazers) yet cheerful enough feel the sun's warmth on your face, your nose, the tops of your ears.

Lunch is near it's end and today and I have dined solo.  It is not a heavy meal - a slice of pig's head terrine accompanied by good bread and a host of small pickled items - cornichons, walnuts, piccalilli and some type of onion relish.  

There is room for more.

Small sweet items are kept in an open wood cabinet by the coffee machine, farthest from my table.
I ask the waitress about today's offerings, but can barely hear a word she says; the noise of the dining room combined with her speaking in the direction of the sweets cabinet is a disadvantage - my hearing is quite poor (blame loud gigs and clubs; the Foo Fighters and that Nick Cave gig dancing right next to a speaker) so the voice I'm engaging with needs to be facing towards me, not away.
The words 'home-made quince', 'cupcakes' and 'cake' sneak their way through.
A leap of faith is made - I tell the waitress I want "the quince thing".  

Not one of my more erudite moments.

It comes to the table and I stare at it.

"The quince thing" turns out to be a small tart, no bigger than the base of a large coffee mug.  A singular round shell, blind-baked then filled with what looks like ground almonds and baked again - a classic frangipane number.
It is topped with two neat, fat slices of salmon-pink quince, one draped coquettishly over the other. The shortcrust pastry is a butterscotch colour, like Danish furniture made of vintage blonde wood.
I tap the edges and the sound is thick yet hollow, pleasing.  This is good pastry.
I plunge the small dessert fork in and carve out my first bite.  The almonds smell warm and toasty, their texture damp yet crumbly.  It is sweet without being overwhelming, the pastry providing a firm biscuit-like crunch. A small piece of quince accompanies the next mouthful, it's deep and honeyed flavour accompanying the almonds perfectly.

Each bite is careful, savoured, examined and enjoyed.  There is also a lot of looking, poking and thinking.
I am aware there are shades of creepily unnerving obsession in what I am doing; eating but not 'just eating'.
However, perhaps it is not obsession, but determination.  I am determined to take full pleasure in my meal and doing so is an act of selfish, wilful defiance.  
Because the days of enjoying a really good dessert in a calm, meditative fashion are numbered.
There is always a smartphone, reminding you about emails, texts or some other violation of your time and attention.  Or someone talking at you whilst you do your best to be interested, your brain cartwheeling to find a clever and relevant remark.  Or the people at the next table have a child on the loose.  Or the environment is full and noisy; all elbows and tight spaces and bouncing voices.

There is always something.  It's never a private moment just between you and the delicious tart/well-made coffee/artfully constructed sandwich/whatever-lovely-thing-it-is-you're-too-distracted-to-appreciate.

And that, my friends, is a terrible shame.

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