Cooking Christmas dinner was not on my agenda this year. Having just returned to Cusco, Peru after a trek in the Andes Mountains on the evening of December 24th, the plan was to simply relax. As it turns out, we met several wonderfully funny young men on our five day adventure who were such good company and made my boyfriend and I think of our own grown up children. So we invited them for Christmas dinner.

On the menu: Peruvian fried chicken bathed in polenta and beer, spritzed with lime juice, cilantro rice with fresh corn (the size of Chiclets) and peas, mashed potatoes extravaganza (How to chose among all the Peruvian varieties?), fresh tomatoes and cucumbers in an  apple cider vinegar dressing, carrots, gently sweetened and heavily buttered. Upon making a list, I brought out the Spanish dictionary for translation.

Oh, the market. The real local market is behind San Pedro Market, the so called local market. On Christmas morning, the streets were boiling with people, sidewalks lined with the most wonderful vegetables and fruit in varying shades of green, red, orange, yellow. The mangoes were warm, bruised and deliciously ripe; the potatoes caked in metallic smelling earth. And the meat: Our food safety folk would have a hay day. There was the overwhelming smell of flesh, warming in the sun. Side stepping to avoid a collision with an almond eyed boy, I came nose to nose with a row of hairless pig faces, eyes closed, tongues lolling, propped up on a wooden table as if enjoying a late morning nap in the sun. I chose the chicken with the least light exposure. The shop keeper passed me the few Soles of change with bloodied hands.This was by far the most scintillating food shopping experience of my life.

After cooking all day in our Air BnB home overlooking terracotta roof tops, there I was, breaking bread, or shall I say ‘pan’ with four virtual strangers, sharing a piece of my heart through food offering, receiving the same in return with second and third helpings. To me food, falling in love, nurturing the universal heart – the division is blurred. Food is not a replacement for love and longing. To me, it is the accompaniment. The celebration of community. An expression of the soul.

It troubles me a little, our relationship, or lack of, with food. The moment we deprive ourselves of it, it becomes illicit and not fully experienced when our willpower falters. When did food become ‘good’ or ‘bad’? Food, the enemy that needs to have its life squeezed out of it so we can drink its blood for days on end from a cold glass. No chewing, no astringent smell of steaming asparagus, no sound of butter giggling in the frying pan. No gathering of friends around the dinner table, moaning, closing our eyes together, heads tipping back in delight.

Let’s begin a love affair with food. Gaze upon his beauty. Tell her why you can’t live without. Watch turmeric stain your pots gold. Bury your nose in the bundle of spinach and smell the rain.

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Here’s a poem from the Tassajara Cookbook, which I plan to explore before the 2016 Gabriola Wine Dine and Yoga Retreat.

The Hidden Path: Revealed at Last

Take a look, after all.
Has berating yourself,
being unhappy with yourself and others,
things and events, produced happiness
or unhappiness?
With all this criticism,
blame, hurt, fault-finding,
has improvement taken place?
Do you now, at last,
have every reason
to be happy with yourself?
Leave well enough alone.
Appreciate this carrot, cabbage,
cucumber, and cress, this time
with the less than perfect.
The remarkable flavor you have
searched for is everywhere.
Let it come home
to your heart.