“Some people have a foolish way of not minding, or pretending not to mind, what they eat. For my part, I mind my belly very studiously, and very carefully; for I look upon it, that he who does not mind his belly, will hardly mind anything else.”
Despite Samuel Johnson’s admonition, many people (of the better sort) think it is déclassé to spend too much thinking—let alone talking—about something as plebian as the stuff one stuffs in one’s gullet.
I have spent most of the last seven or eight decades thinking of little else.
To hell with people of the better sort. I’m tempted to say, “I don’t give a fig about their opinion,” but I have too much respect for figs.
Over the years, while not thinking about filling my face, or actually doing so, I’ve written a lot about eating: books, articles, entries in encyclopedias, websites, blogs, and emailed accounts of wonderful (or horrible) things I’ve put in my mouth.
Recently, I’ve wondered if—perhaps—I might have moved beyond such considerations. That—maybe, just maybe—I’d written everything I have to say on the subject.
Then I found myself writing a little book about how the kinds of things we ate as children affect our eating habits as adults. Don’t worry; there’s not a scholarly word in it. The process also got me thinking about random bits of food writing I’d done about my own gastronomic obsessions, bits of doggerel that are spread across many different places. I decided to make a little reader that addresses two of those obsessions, all in one place.
Maybe they are not really separate obsessions, but two aspects of the same thing.
First is hot stuff. Half of my family comes from Texas, so I’m genetically predisposed to the consumption of chiles. The other half is from New England, so you might not think a desire for spicy food would be a big part of my gustatory life. Yet my mother learned to cook by watching the Sicilian mother of her best friend... and even my maternal grandfather (who was Danish) had a liking for hot stuff.
He grated, by hand, his own horseradish—covering the bottom of the kitchen door with towels so the fumes would not permeate the house—while he cried and blubbered like a victim of a mustard gas attack.
I come from a long line of people who like to torture themselves with food.
This book is divided into two parts. The first is composed of essays and stories about chile peppers. It ranges from slightly learned to ridiculously fictional. As you might suppose, I’m not very good at distinguishing the boundary between them.
The second half is about real or imagined dishes, with an emphasis on things a sensible person probably wouldn’t eat.
As a child, I made sandwiches of cherry peppers and chocolate syrup. Later, I prepared a breakfast that I imagined a New Englander might like: maple ice cream and steamed clams. I don’t claim that any of this makes sense.
The heart—or stomach—wants what it wants.
This is an excerpt from my latest book, Hot Hot Hot/Risky Business, just out from Amazon. It’s a Kindle book, now… but will be out in paperback in a couple of days.
I haven’t decided what rewards will go to paying subscribers in the future. For now, if you become a paying subscriber, you’ll be entitled to read the complete text of my latest novella. Would that be of any interest to you? I’m open to suggestions…
Meanwhile, it is now possible to become a paying subscriber (just like supporting your favorite NPR station). It’s entirely optional, and—even if you choose not to be a paid subscriber—you’ll still get my regular substack posts. I’ll still be happy to have you as a reader.