I’m getting on in years, with the horizon line pressing closer with each breath. It is time to force one of my fantasies to flesh.
That said: I want to spend a night with Felicity Cloake. Given the opportunity, I will try my post-prostatectomy best to successfully convey my affection; I’ll be charming, a spendthrift, and I’ll eat a pound of Cialis, if necessary, two pounds if I must. I don’t care if I’m transported by ambulance to the hospital suffering one of those four-hour-plus problems, I will do anything, suffer any injection, flirt with an aneurism, in order to accomplish my goal, to close the gap between illusion and reality. That’s the whole thing with life in a culture of ease, isn’t it? The ultimate move: to transition from the imaginary to the concrete, at least now and then? I have done it few times and fewer yet successfully. Now that I am near the finish line, I need to make a serious effort.
I don’t care, either, that I am an increasingly feeble, hirsute old man and she is a vibrant young woman with rosy cheeks, pleasant contours, a sparkling vocabulary and full milkmaid lips — I must be with her, sad though this wish might seem. I want to display my desire in a variety of manly ways, before my manhood becomes a memory then fades completely in the mist of dementia. My apologies to my wife, but I am smitten with Felicity. Forgive me, my dear, but I am again the victim of unrestrainable impulse. This is hardly the first time.
This infatuation begins as do all my infatuations: with food. Felicity is a food writer for The Guardian and the New Statesman, in London, England. I regularly seek her out on the Internet, to read her takes on making “The Perfect (fill in the blank with a favorite dish).”
My current bent took full form as I read Felicity’s piece about Perfect Osso Buco in The Guardian’s food section. I had a hunch I was attracted to Felicity when I read her article about Perfect Tattie Scones a month or so earlier; I sensed the birth of interest when I entertained her musings concerning Perfect Onion Bhajis, in 2014.
With the osso buco article, my passion was rendered clear, my need delivered: I want to possess this woman, to please her, even if it is but once, brief and poignant, the absolute best I could hope for.
Why, you ask?
Felicity, the definition: happiness, bliss, eloquent or apt expression.
And, because of food, because she dwells on perfection, because she is so … English. I have a blood link with the English and my yearning springs from a source that is gene deep; I resonate with the English at my core. My mother’s side of the family is English (ignore my father’s side of the tree; they are decent folk but the lineage is murky, at times Swedish, suspected “exotic” at distant junctures).
My maternal great-grandfather, Isaac, was from Cleater Moor, in Cumbria, as was his young bride, Louie. Ike went to Eton. That’s pretty damned English, don’t you agree? My grandmother, Minnie, was English through and through, despite an American birth to immigrants. She spent her childhood on what was deemed the “English side of the mountain” (the sun-drenched, south-facing slope) in the mining town of Central City, Colorado — a municipality in which Anglican bankers and businessmen oppressed the underclass. What could be more English?
Then, there’s my Aunt Hazel (in reality, my grandmother’s first cousin). For god’s sake, my Aunt Hazel went to London for Elizabeth II’s coronation! That counts for something, doesn’t it? Minnie and Hazel lived together forty years after their spouses departed the earthly pale, and the women visited the mother country as often as they could. They had tea nearly every afternoon, and I joined them on occasion. My grandmother owned a 10-volume set of “The Royal Navy: Triumph on the Seas, 1914-1918.” As a lad thumbing through the books during sleepovers, I was mesmerized by the account of the Battle Off Noordhinder Bank and the heroics of Sir James Domville and his trawler crews.
So, it’s clear Felicity and I are fit to be together, for at least one night. I’ll use my Mastercard to secure a room in a top-rank establishment in Flagstaff, Arizona. No cinderblock Motel 6 for us. We’ll order from room service, wear the robes and slippers we find in the closet. I’ll request extra towels, tissues and little bottles of moisturizing lotion. Anything for Felicity, my lamb peach.
I have the tryst planned to the last detail, and it will be spectacular. We’ll dress semi-formal, sip a few cocktails and nibble discount store appetizers in the hotel lounge as we engage in polite chitchat with the bartender (it’s three in the afternoon, after all, and we’re the only customers, an Arizona Diamondbacks game playing on a set above the back bar, the sound muted). The buzz produced by cheap gin begins to creep across our scalps, from brows to the backs of our heads and, suddenly, we’re tipsy, free of concerns and doubt. We adjourn unsteadily to the elevator, ascend to our “suite” (I promised this would be no ordinary lodging establishment) and prepare for a peak moment. Our two-room love nest includes a microwave oven and a rarely washed coffeemaker, complete with little pouches of “espresso,” available should we need a mild stimulant during the evening. As we surely will.
I suspect we’ll have time for little else than feverish lovemaking after an hour or so of tandem indulgence in erotic literature, undertaken in order to prime the pump, as it were. No pay-for-view porn on the flatscreen for us; we will leave that to commoners — the Irish, Lithuanians, Argentines and the like. For us, only the best: finely-wrought erotic writing: Felicity’s work, her Perfect recipes and the invigorating commentaries that accompany them. Our arousal will be hastened by a reading of her most provocative entrée recipes. I’ve copied them from The Guardian website, printed them out, and underlined the fragments to be read aloud in order to fire the greatest ardor.
Her use of charged language never fails to titillate me.
“ … if you really want to knock them out, feel free to add a slug of brandy.” Oh, my god: “slug.” I swoon.
“Judicious pulsing …” Bank on it, my pet.
“Stick in as many ingredients as you have room for …” I’m short on ingredients, but long on longing.
“The bun pulls it’s clean-eating trump card …” Yes. Yes.
“Low and slow is the way to go.” Indeed.
“… cook your hog.”
My English angel, my messenger of bliss!
All this makes me glad again that my grandmother spirited nine-month-old Karl away from his unsuspecting father one Sunday, and had the babe christened at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Central City (the oldest such church in Colorado). All hail the Church of England. Hail fucking Britannia.
Of course, I’ve regularly Googled Felicity’s image, so it is not only her Perfect language and cooking skills that tempt me. The fact she is a comely specimen serves to amplify my enthusiasm; I’m not sure which of her physical attributes teases me the most. I use a photo of Felicity as my screensaver and I linger on it regularly, feeling my inspiration swell each time I turn to the iMac, ready for a session of literary magic.
On the screen Felicity perches primly atop an antique, white kitchen table. My first impression: she likes to eat. She is a wholesome Nigella Lawson, full figured, with shapely ankles. She wears a dark pink party dress and a pair of pink heels, fruit and books surround her ample bottom. She cradles a light pink bowl and holds a pink-handled whisk in one hand. Her smile is radiant, her mouth open to reveal a fine set of teeth, the pressure of that smile pushing the suggestion of a delightful double chin into view. But, it is Felicity’s bangs that hurl me over the edge — major-league bangs, not a square centimeter of forehead revealed behind the hair. I picture my consort-to-be as a teen, competing in a field hockey match at her school, awkward but brimming with enthusiasm and healthful good cheer, bangs flying as she stumbles about on the pitch, likely preoccupied with thoughts of God, and food. I imagine her playing the clarinet in the school orchestra, the reed wet, her lips pursed just so.
Propelled by my growing passion, I attempted several months ago to contact Felicity, sending a message to her blog site. I gave no indication of my feelings, preferring to first cultivate a professional relationship, tempting her curiosity with my culinary acumen. I, too, write about food. I, too, have several chins. I did not want to rush things, to be mistaken for a stalker. A fetishist, perhaps, but never a stalker.
Felicity frequently mentions “chillies” in her articles when dealing with those cuisines and recipes that favor heat. I fired off my missive after reading one such article, lending her my insights concerning the glory of the Hatch green chile and informing her in some detail about the key role the pepper plays in the traditional cuisine of New Mexico and southern Colorado. I labored on my dispatch for several days, fueled alternately by Red Bull, vape-fed doses of a sublime Purple Kush, and copious doses of Tanqueray, (each type of intoxication opening a different editorial door), writing and rewriting until every sentence glittered like a beautifully cut and polished gemstone, illuminated by a 5200 K spotlight.
To say I was disappointed when no return e-mail made its way to my inbox is to slight the impact: I was crushed. Perhaps my message didn’t make it through, perhaps Gmail failed me again, I thought as I sat at my desk, gaze riveted to my screensaver. I re-sent my message, adding a postscript in which I apologized for flaws in the Gmail system.
Nothing. I fretted for a week, rising at 7 a.m. each morning, teetering to my Mac to check my e-mail, coffee cup in hand.
Then, I realized what was happening: Felicity was deliberately tormenting me, working me into a lather, in the tradition of the wily, English public school girl (I imagine Felicity was sent off to Queenswood as a boarder, at age 11). And perhaps she was touched by a smidge of professional jealousy, since I had not only trumped her with my knowledge of what is, for certain, the world’s greatest chile (note, there is no such thing as a “chilli” in Siberia With a View) but also set her back on her pink high heels with a display of seldom-matched literary skill.
If this was her ploy, it worked: it made me want her all the more.
At this juncture, I must explain my attraction to food writers: Felicity is not the first female food writer with whom I’ve wished to bond in a ramified manner. I have honed my taste for a very long time, and I am well prepared for this final campaign.
The first? I’m ashamed but, then, I’m not: it was Julia Child. I wanted her, I needed her and she served me during some of my most desperate hours, bringing pleasure to an agonized adolescent on a weekly basis.
I know what you’re thinking: Julia — tall, gawky, odd voice, only moderately attractive on her best days. Plus, by virtue of her marital attachment, an OSS sympathizer, if not an actual operative, one of many midwives aiding the birth of what would become an oppressive surveillance state. None of this stood in my way. I lay in my bed in the basement of my grandmother’s house at age 15, banished there by my parents as part of a doomed reeducation effort, watching a small black-and-white Motorola tuned to the local public television provider, the rabbit ears antenna on the set adjusted just-so with the aid of wings fashioned of aluminum foil. There she was: flickering Julia, all in gray, high-pitched warbling voice, awkward hand gestures, sublime knife skills, unafraid to handle raw flesh of all kinds. Oh…
My Aunt Hazel taught cooking and it was she who introduced me to Child, in particular to the great cook’s groundbreaking book. The photo on the back of the dust jacket of that work was less than inspiring, what with the author’s goofy perm and all, and it wasn’t until Julia’s television show was pushed from cathode ray tube to a dimly lit screen that I found myself smitten. Movement and photons will do that, you know.
Yes, I wanted to bang Julia Child. Of course, at that age, I wanted to penetrate anyone, anything. Throw in the prospect of a load of glands, cooked ala Riz de veau braises, as a post-coital pick-me-up, and despite Julia’s less-than-stimulating hairdo, our match was satisfying. The reeducation effort failed miserably, but Julia brought me to the stove, and transported me to the intersection of food and sex, where I’ve remained since. My love for her was furtive, detached and sloppy, but it served a noble purpose. My way was set.
Julia faded from view and from mind (as a sexual focus, but never as a cook and writer) and my fantasies turned elsewhere: to M.F.K. Fisher, the Michigan-born beauty who revolutionized food writing and who remains, in my opinion, the greatest of all authors who focus on the enjoyment of food, its preparation and the circumstances in which that enjoyment and those processes occur.
My initial taste of Fisher came in 1963 when I read her first work: “Serve It Forth,” published in 1937, when Mary Frances was 29. Oh, her noble forehead, the way she pulled back her hair, the language, those lips. Those lips. The photos of her I employed to hasten my relief were taken in the thirties and forties, yet I imagined us (me, at 17) and Mary Frances (age 25 in my mind, though she was 36 when I was born), cozied up in her house in St. Helena, me in a form-fitting swimsuit, third gimlet of the day clutched in trembling paw, she wearing only an open robe, telling jokes she wrote for Dorothy Lamour, reading aloud from Savarin in perfect French, the odor of a batch of recently fermented garum filling our nostrils, prompting us to inarticulate bliss. Again and again.
As powerful as Mary Frances was, she faded quickly when confronted by a giant. My next icon of fulfillment and food was Elizabeth David. A far cry from Julia Child, more exotic than Fisher, David was a dangerous minx, an instrument of less-than-subtly played allure, with more than a hint of kink about her.
It was difficult for me to read David’s “French Country Cooking” without imagining myself, 18 years old and just expelled from prep school, caressing her gorgeous Anglo Saxon form (its quality enhanced by Viking and French genes injected into the ancestral mix centuries before), feeding her chickpea pancakes, compelling her to set mortar and pestle aside, to cease crushing cloves of garlic and drinking wine, to forgo yet another wordy excursion into the world of southern French cuisine. Oh, Elizabeth. Though I am sure she could be snarky following la petite morte, six books into her repertoire, I remained transfixed, and stayed so for a decade.
Alas, all three targets of my pre-adult food writer obsessions have left the kitchen. They’re dead, cold, in the ground, and no one wants to couple with a corpse. But, while I, too, am near the day my last burner will be turned off and my oven cooled to room temperature, my need for a stout infusion of delusion persists.
Now, though, I must go further.
So, I turn to Felicity, despite the distances between us.
For certain, there are other candidates clustered together in the wings, but they don’t stack up. For example, Martha Stewart (I adore big, Polish hands, and her prison experiences with her cellmates intrigue me) or Ina Garten (a bit long in the tooth, but ripe and calm in a Northern Westchester country home sort of way). Their images and television appearances are readily available to me, but they can’t compete with Felicity.
And, what about Giada DeLaurentiis? No. After all, who dresses like that when they are busy in the kitchen? Exposing your magnificent cleavage when frying cutlets? This won’t do: were I obsessed with Giada, I would fret about burns, spending hours on websites to ferret out information about ointments. With Felicity, as demure as she seems to be, cleavage damage would not be a problem. She seems tightly bound.
The thought of waking in the morning after a night filled with ecstatic exercise, turning my head and seeing the beautiful face of Sunny Anderson … ahhh. Make me behave, mama, fondle me, feed me and take me to church. But, no, I could never live in Georgia. That is no land for a hefty man; come summer, I would leave a trail of melted fat behind me, like a snail on a hot driveway.
Finally, though I slighted Nigella, implying she lacks a “wholesome” quality, I could not as quickly edit her from the scenario as I did the others: she is formidable. One might say more than merely formidable after considering her quote: “Cooking is actually quite aggressive and controlling and, sometimes, yes, there is an element of force-feeding going on.”
Mercy. She makes me feel naughty, slightly woozy, absent control. Here is Felicity’s prime competition: a fellow Brit.
Nigella Lucy haunts the halls of erotic possibility like a reigning heavyweight champ stalking a back passage at the MGM Grand — a specimen of the most magnificent kind, beautiful, testy and turbulent, capable of a knockout blow at any instant. Nigella also exhibits a few of the same traits that attract me to Felicity: well sized, a charming accent, the use of the word “chilli.”
To her credit, Nigella has a graduate degree in medieval languages and is an Oxford alum. That is very English. She comes from Ashkenazi stock on both sides of the family — a point in her favor. Unfortunately her mother, following a divorce, married A.J. Ayer, and an analytical philosopher as a stepfather puts an obstacle in the path of unimpeded lust. As a student, I was inoculated with a dose of dislike for all things positivist — Comte and his pinched spawn. If anything will deflate one’s fervor quicker than exposure to several paragraphs from “Language, Truth, and Logic,” I don’t know what it is. Immersion in ice water, perhaps? “To predict tomorrow’s weather, I need not take into account the state of mind of the Emperor of Manchukuo.” Any erection present at the start of that sentence is but a memory at its end.
Ayer, did, however, criticize Heidegger and, if Ayer were alive, he would have harsh things to say about the use of post-Heideggerian gobbledy-gook in artists’ statements and art criticism. This smoothes his edges, but not enough. I suspect that the stain of the Vienna Circle lurks beneath Nigella’s sultry, Sybaritic veneer. There is no way to remove that stain.
There is something else about Nigella that warns me off. At first, I thought it was her eyebrows, then I realized it is the fact she was once married to Charles Saatchi, the owner of Saatchi Gallery and one of a coven I hold responsible for the tragedy we know as the commercial art world — a world of art as investment, of newly-minted billionaires inflating the market via purchases at auction and fairs, of decorative abstract nonsense with creamy surfaces and meaningless doodles fetching obscene prices, of artifacts of neo-crude and snarly aggression providing visual breaks on walls of penthouses and mansions, of hallways littered with dirt and broken lightbulbs offering “installation” to the enlightened ones, of uninteresting videos flickering on dining room walls. Nigella, by association, bears part of the blame.
Felicity, on the other hand, totes no such baggage; she does not cohabit with jet set art dealers, does not fancy the likes of Abromovic and, probably, has not read Ayer, much less Ryle. She was busy playing the clarinet.
I ponder my screensaver, I breathe deeply. I relax my extremities and feel blood rush to my loins. I recite Christina Rosetti’s “I loved you first: but afterwards your love” and swoon over images of the royals and their newborns. Felicity makes me want to eat bangers and mash.
So, Felicity it is.
In order to ignite our relationship and provoke our encounter in Flagstaff, I will tempt Felicity with a challenge. It is a bold move, since my challenge involves not only cooking, (remember, she is Perfect), but a dish with which she is no doubt familiar.
American friends, take note: in this context the word is not pronounced “paste-ees.” Save this pronunciation for when you pine for the heyday of burlesque and the glory of Tempest Storm and Lily St. Cyr. The word, used here, is pronounced “past-ees.”
I intend to throw a doughy gauntlet at Felicity’s somewhat swollen but gorgeous feet: I can make a better pastie than you, Felicity, and, until you engage and prove otherwise, I will consider your prowess less than Perfect. I make one of the best pasties anywhere, cleaving to the model provided by my Aunt Hazel, one taught to her more than a century ago by the wives of ravenous hard rock miners, anxious to eat as they single- and double-jacked their way in pursuit of a vein. Those old gals didn’t screw around when it came to crafting a glorious half moon, and neither do I!
I intend to practice my pastie recipe, concentrating on the crust, making slight adjustments in ingredients to compensate for altitude, ambient air temperature, humidity, and the type and level of my intoxication. I will work with beef in one version, lamb in the other. My grandsons will devour whatever tests I produce, given I maintain a supply of ketchup. They are like dogs scrambling beneath the dining room table in search of scraps.
As soon as I am confident of my impending victory, I will send messages to Felicity’s website and Facebook pages.
Until then, I have my screensaver, my dreams, my needs. And enough energy left to attempt this transition from fantasy to flesh.
I must make haste: my oven grows cooler with each passing day.