Four Letter Words

Food.  Wine.  Two of my favorite expletives in the English language.  I once thought of expletives as the bad four letter words - words that required deleting, or having one's mouth washed out with soap - until I discovered that the word expletive comes from the Latin explere, meaning "to fill" or "fill out."  And isn't that just the perfect food-lover's term?  Oh, and the word companion.  I love its etymology more than anything; it comes from Latin cum (with) + panis (bread, or food).  And how lovely is it that companions bring us to the table to enjoy our (expletives) food and wine?

Food and wine together are a great pairing.  But, like 'Astaire and Rogers' or 'night and day,' if there is no one present to share them - to enjoy them - how much fun can they be alone?  When you add companions, the joy arrives.

Mark and I celebrated our fifth anniversary of moving to Tucson this past week.  In these five years, we have enjoyed many dinner parties in our home.  To be exact, 350 dinners as of this week.  You may be asking, "What kind of person (nutcase) keeps track?"  Well, the tracking of the number of dinners is a byproduct of the software we use to log the dinners made - Microsoft Excel automatically numbers each entry you make.  We keep a detailed account of each meal we serve, and to whom it was served.  It includes day and date, appetizers, first courses, main courses, side dishes, salads, desserts, wine pairings and a column for allergies, likes and dislikes.  We don't like to serve the same thing twice (unless it has been requested - see last week's posting for Shoofly Pie), and we like to make sure we don't offer something that will kill our guests or send them screaming from the table.  (Neither of those two things has yet to occur... well, expect once, and Barbara has long since forgiven me...)

While keeping the log may be obsessive, impersonal-sounding and an exercise in practicality, it has, in the end, become one of the sweetest walks down memory lane I could ever take.  Sometimes, when seeking to find what we made for a particular friend, who is brave enough to come to dinner again, I will trip across a particular meal that brings a broad smile to my face, or perhaps a tear.  It all comes back in a flood of images, sounds and smells.  Welcome dinners.  Good-bye dinners.  Celebratory dinners.  Memorial dinners.  'Just because' dinners, too.  I think if I still lived in a cold climate, I might take out the log and look at it on snowy nights to warm my heart.  Good times at the table with friends and loved ones.

I have never forgotten a meal.  Oh, sure, I can't even remember what we made for dinner last night.  But the food isn't 'the meal.'  The meal is the whole event - the reason for gathering, the people who gathered and the food that was served.  It all comes together as one.   I remember each candlelit face across from or beside me, the smiles, the laughter, the stories and the silences.  Yes, food and wine are two of my favorite four letter expletives.  But my favorite is love.  It brings it all together...

- David

(While Doreen is on hiatus from Cocoa and Lavender, David will be writing essays on alternate Wednesdays - some with recipes, some without - to attempt to fill the void...)

Here is a recipe that can be thrown together at the 11th hour when unexpected - yet welcome - guests arrive.

White Bean Purée

1 can butter beans (or cannellini beans if butter beans unavailable), drained
zest of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
cayenne pepper, to taste
salt & pepper to taste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil plus additional
pita triangles or pita chips, for serving

Put 1 can of butter beans, drained, into the processor.  Add the zest of one lemon, 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, cayenne, salt & pepper to taste, and 3-4 tablespoons olive oil.  Purée until smooth - if too thick, ad a little more olive oil until it is the right consistency.  Can be doubled.  It is very tasty immediately served with pita triangles, but improves when made at least one day in advance to let the herb flavors suffuse.  

Note: I tend not to use fresh herbs as they turn black and can look rather unappetizing after a couple of days.


  1. Such a sweet post David and I love all the photos of the set tables. 350 dinners??? Wow, I'm impressed!

  2. David, your post spoke directly to my heart. And the memory of my dinner chez David and Mark (my first, and I hope not the last!) nourishes my soul still. _Chocolat_, _Babette's Feast_, _Like Water for Chocolate_: these illustrate the spirit of your table. Thank you for sharing your gifts of writing, photography...and hospitality. Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. Magda, thank you so much! Setting the table is half the fun sometimes!

    Michael, your comment nourishes MY soul and touched my heart. You will need to come over again soon for dinner! Happy TG to you, too!

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  5. This dip is delicious with your crispy kale chips.

    1. What a great idea! I had never thought of putting the two together.


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