Years ago, there was a certain day when I traveled by bus, for ten hours, through a dark gray, sleeting, hopeless winter landscape, over roads that varied between frozen mud and black ice. I had a lot of time to brood over unhappy recent events.
It was a long trip. However, the kind hands of my friends Nancy and Al were there to help as I climbed stiffly off the bus. Minutes later, I was sitting in their kitchen. Nancy is an artist. Two of the walls were parakeet yellow, and in fact exuberant wings were drawn flying to the ceiling. The other walls were painted a warm apricot, with cross-hatching in dark gold to represent a honeycomb's cells.
They had cooked all day. Correctly gauging my mental state--"Your blood sugar must be in your boots," she said--we started with dessert. This was my favorite: French vanilla ice cream with eggy golden pound cake. You tear off chunks of the cake and use them to scoop up smooth, soft, vanilla-fragrant gobs of the ice cream. Eat them together.
A crisply browned pork loin followed, with rich gravy. Let's admit it: succulent grease is good for what ails you. It gilds and heals the nerve endings. There was Seven Jewel Rice, there were brandied peaches in a blue canning jar. There was comforting Grandma food in the form of creamed corn in a blue willow dish, with poached eggs on top and three tiny circles of spice--cumin, pepper and paprika--on each egg. They had done all this for me.
Hunger is said to be the best sauce. I think that a better one is when you realize that affectionate eyes have studied your tastes, quietly and without fanfare, and acted on them. There are people on earth who think you should have what you like. And within their walls of apricot, honey and sun, the most stubborn ice crystals can thaw.