The Taste of Love - an article I submitted to the New York Times
My first mango. I was 25 years old. My Australian boyfriend arrived at the house with a bacon sandwich for him and a fresh Bowen mango for me. He showed me how to cut the cheeks off and suck out the flesh, how to graze the morsels left in the skin, to scrape the stone. He told me about his childhood, being brought up by a single working mother, how mangos were expensive in Sydney. Occasionally when she got one, she ate the cheeks and gave the skin and the stone to the children.
I grew up in Ireland in the 70s, there were no mangos there then. If there were, they weren’t on our table.
I loved him then. He asked me to stay in Australia. He sponsored me through immigration. We worked together. I taught scuba diving. He captained the boat. He captained our relationship too.
We ate in Mondos by the port. Vegetable skewers with a fantastic sauce. I didn’t eat meat then.
We bought our own boat. We set traps in the river to catch crabs. We cooked them in seawater and ate them with chilli sauce. I grew coriander and mint. We invited friends over and drank daiquiris and mojitos. We had Japanese friends who made octopus balls.
One year later the Australian and I were the crew on a superyacht in the Pacific Islands. New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji. Exotic names. Exotic people. Poor people. Food was lacklustre there and supplies sometimes scarce.
The boat was chartered by the Americas Cup in New Zealand. We sailed south. I dreamed about my first meal in a first world country again. I dreamed of rocket and parmesan with balsamic vinegar, salt and olive oil. I dreamed of mussels in a white wine sauce. My dream came true in Auckland on our first night there.
Another year later and the Australian and I parted company. I wasn’t destined to become an Aussie wife. It turns out that I want to be the captain of my own life.
I moved to France to find work.
I ate alone. I sat at a gingham clothed table looking at the boats in the port of Antibes. I ordered a Kir to drink and a Salade au Chèvre Chaud for lunch. The taste of France.
I wore sunglasses and sandals. I walked jauntily. The French men whistled. Ooh la la, vive la France! I fell in love with life.
I met a New Zealander in France.
Crusty baguette for breakfast in a café by the sea with butter and strawberry jam, a mug of café au lait and my new boyfriend sitting across the table. The taste of France. The handsome man from New Zealand. We held hands.
We drank rosé at lunch, by the carafe and not the glass. We ate warm goats cheese salad. We kissed. It tasted good.
A year later we were married in New Zealand. I don’t remember the food. We made love. We went skydiving and river rafting. We visited fjords and Mount Cook. We ate in the cafés of Queenstown. It was all very trendy. Very Southern Hemisphere. We thought about buying our own café there. Just a passing thought.
We moved to the Swiss Alps. It was colder than I have ever known. The snow fell in December and stayed until April. We lit the fire in the house and wore socks in bed. I learnt to snowboard like a rookie. He was a pro. I cried when I fell down and felt insecure in my lacking. Surely, he would want to be with a girl that could carve up the snow park? Or look good in a woolly hat? He said no. He said I was The One.
We ordered our first raclette. A half wheel of cheese arrived under a mini grill. We were expected to eat it. I ate. Afterwards I felt ill. My new husband too. We were married, we would share good and bad times and stick together. Sometimes the house specialty is just too cheesy.
We lived near the Italian border. We drove across to eat pizza and gelati in the Italian Alps. Chocolate gelati. The best I’ve ever had. We made a baby. We called him Thomas. He loves chocolate cake now.
But back then, for a year I mashed and puréed all food. I made breast milk. I forgot to go to the hairdresser. I didn’t sleep. I didn’t snowboard anymore. We didn’t eat out. I loved the baby more than the New Zealander.
Thomas held our hands and walked between us, swinging in the air. He slept in our bed between us. The New Zealander and I had our first argument.
We made up over dinner in a mountain top restaurant. He ate snails in garlic butter. I don’t remember what I ate. I didn’t remember why we were arguing. He opened the car door. We kissed like young lovers again. We made another baby. A little baby girl. She loves to eat spaghetti with olive oil and salt.
We got a dog. A dachshund or sausage dog. The babies grew bigger and learned to ski. They went to Swiss French school and came home with tales of broccoli soup and camembert from the canteen. They learned to write the French alphabet in beautiful swirling script. My friend Millie invited us for Sunday brunch. We ate ricotta pancakes with bananas and maple syrup. She ran a B & B. Her breakfasts were legendary. She taught me how to make friands.
We opened a restaurant. We made it a good restaurant. We ate the food from the menu for a year and a half. The hot caramel pudding was renowned. We sold the restaurant. Never again!
We got a job offer in the Caribbean. We packed our bags, the children and the dog, and flew across the Atlantic Ocean to a tiny island with a few thousand people, one big supermarket and started life again. We bought a waffle maker and made waffles instead of crèpes. It was hot, too hot. We drank water with fresh limes and sugar. Four months in and the New Zealander and I talked of divorce. I cried and stopped eating. He needed me to tell him that everything would be ok. I didn’t know that was what he needed. I didn’t know if everything would be ok.
The children started a new school with lunch packed in a box from home. The bread on the island tasted funny. Everything tasted funny. The water was plain, it came from the sea and had everything taken from it. We were homesick for the food from another land.
I learned how to make bread. My husband spoke to me again. He told me what he needed. I cried some more. We hugged. A French friend on the island told me that I have to get scantily dressed, put on some perfume and show my husband a good time. We have been married for 8 years. There are few surprises left. I surprise him.
The New Zealander learned to make Caribbean chicken with macaroni cheese, a recipe from a street vendor into the hands of a chef. It’s really good.
Time healed and we grew to love the hot little island surrounded by the Caribbean Sea. We loved each other. We loved our family.
Our work contract ended. We packed our bags. Where to?
Home to Ireland, to make Ireland home. I am nervous, unsure. The weather is cold. How will this be? Another country, another people, another taste.
My Dad pulls the potatoes from the garden soil. I wash them, peel them, boil them, mash them. We cook sausages and roast a chicken. It is the taste of my childhood. With each mouthful I remember the long Summer days, the wellies in Winter, picking berries and climbing trees, falling in nettles, playing with my toys. We are home.
The 3rd of November. It is our wedding anniversary. 10 years of married life.
A bottle of red wine, a cheese board, crackers. He puts on my favourite movie. A life less exciting. A lot of love. So much love. My chest hurts when we fight.
My New Zealander is a chef you see. He cooks, we all eat. He makes a dessert with cake and hot caramel oozing out. We smother it with homemade ice cream. He always knows just how much seasoning to add and how much spice. He likes it spicy. I like it with cream and white wine. He’s allergic to fish. It’s my favourite food. Opposites attract? Like a delicate pinot noir with a fillet of sole, it’s surprising yet perfectly matched.
Our journey continues. Each day is full of flavour. The children taste new food (sometimes). The dog eats the leftovers. We are a family. My husband and I are still lovers and friends though sometimes we don’t get what we order or it’s not cooked quite right.
What is the secret ingredient? Love. So much love. It’s like the first day, the first taste. I still remember that day, I remember all of the flavour.