Thursday, July 21, 2011

Words to Eat


In this heat wave, the worst since my move to Illinois, my favorite words have started to move to cooler pastures. (That is, if words graze on pastures befitting their seasonal appetites.) Fall being my favorite season, I usually gravitate toward woody, full-bodied words that linger like a nut brown ale.  But this summer, in 100 degree misery, those words will never do. "Maritime" has wandered into the fold, as well as some food words that bring me more joy than I formerly cared to notice.  

I love consumables. Not the word, the things themselves. By that I mean ingestibles, I suppose. Food and drink.  I can't just say I love food, because then you'd think I was a foodie.  I'm certainly not.  Besides, it is my fervent love of drinks that is rather uncanny. (I love drinks in a can.)  And by that I don't mean booze alone.  Anything liquid that can be bottled, poured, canned, fountained, I'm pretty much all over it. I always have to have something to drink.  I am an iced tea fiend.  If it is in tea form I will drink it. This brings me to my first new favorite word: REFRESHMENTS.

As a kid I always thought that refreshments were supposed to be refreshing.  Not hard cookies, not room temperature juice.  Minty lady fingers or layered cookies, cucumber sandwiches, flavored iced tea...those things are refreshing. I expected these things to be there, whenever any event claimed to have "refreshments" waiting on a table somewhere.  I also thought it meant drinks, and lots of them.  Why else do they say "Can I freshen up your drink?"  And why are dry, packaged foods supposed to be refreshing? I think anyone hosting some event with "refreshments" after should change the invite to say "snacks" if all they have are snacks.  REFRESHMENTS require far more attention to detail and far more hospitality than a PTA meeting or a chess night at the library can muster.  They must refresh.  Delight and refresh.

To move into food-only territory, another word: SANDWICHES.

Doesn't it just sound like what it is?  Weird since it's named after a guy.  The word has less to do with the thing than just about any word!  And it's never troubling that "SAND" is in there.  Everyone's had a sandy sandwich at the beach, and it's quite awful.  Yet the name doesn't put us off.  The SAND is like the part of the word that represents all the stuff, and the WICH is like the mushing together.  SAAAAAND (putting on lettuce, putting on mayonnaise, putting on cheeses...) WICH! (SMOOSH! It's a sandwich!)  I eat most sandwiches on untoasted bread. I like the WICH to be extra WICHy.  And what a refreshment for a hot day!

CUCUMBER SANDWICHES and FINGER SANDWICHES are two subsets (and the latter includes the former) of SANDWICHES that I adore, both for the words and the things themselves.  There were finger sandwiches at my honors convocation reception in undergrad.  That is the last time I saw them.  Sandwich ephemera. (Isn't all food a kind of ephemera?) I pressed toward the many-tiered finger sandwich tower only to find that ham salad was all that remained.  The parents of the other honorable students had devoured my hard-earned finger sandwiches.  I was devastated. Even chocolate covered strawberries could not bring me out of my finger sandwich funk.

I never make finger sandwiches for myself at home.  Ninety-nine percent of the point is that someone had to make them for you. (Funny how sandwiches went from something for men to eat while playing cards to something with which women impress other women. But now they are universal, and so American at once!)

A broader category of food thing with a lovely word to denote it is the LUNCHEON.

LUNCHEON first appeals to me because it is old-fashioned.  Today a luncheon is only called that when it is some big lunch gathering for a cause or a seminar or something.  Red Hat ladies luncheon.  But suburban housewives just go to lunch.  Don't they know people used to luncheon just for the sake of lunching!  I adore the scene in A Room of One's Own when Mary gazes out the window, turning away from the "luncheon party" to think about whether women hummed Tennyson at luncheon parties before the war.  And her refusal to gloss over the dishes! She catalogs the fare of the luncheon -- it is as much about the food as it is about "something very witty that was said."

Lunch is my favorite meal (there's always a sandwich in it, right?), yet it is the one I get to share with others most seldom. I almost never luncheon. I would like to say witty things while gesturing with a cucumber sandwich. I'm picturing it.

So those are my food words this summer.  I have also renewed my penchant for Yoo-Hoo chocolate drink, because it's like chocolate milk that won't make you puke in the summer, and it's a drink so I have to drink it.  (My son calls it "Yo-Ho.") This is the first time I've noticed a real seasonal change in the words I think about, and try to use often.  I can add seasonal word disorder and seasonal food disorder (shouldn't we all eat seasonal?) to my seasonal music disorder.  All of these neuroses probably keep me out of the woods for Seasonal Affective Disorder. I'll stay over here in the cool green pasture and luncheon on my sandwiches and refreshments.


  1. This is a lovely post, Robyn! I think your son may be turning into a pirate... :D

    I also love luncheon, and a good sandwich. But I must dispute your implication that the sandwich is only an American institution. It's also very British and very Australian, and very very Dutch. My Dad eats sandwiches twice a day, for breakfast and lunch, and if he gets hungry for a snack he makes another sandwich. When we moved to Australia from the Netherlands and Mum started buying us kids cereal, Dad was shocked and wondered what was wrong with sandwiches for breakfast.

    Now, have you ever tried peanut butter and sliced corned beef on a sandwich? It's really yummy! But it may be more of a winter thing, since I've been eating it lately and it's winter here in Australia. Oh, and have you ever eaten a frozen orange? It's very refreshing!

  2. Thank you Hermina! Yes, I suppose the sandwich is more of a very "Anglo" thing than an American thing. But we definitely have some very American takes on it! I love how a sandwich can be something so local and so universal at once. Sure, there are different kinds of pizza in different parts of the country, but imagine all the sandwiches across the same distance! And no one makes one quite the same as anyone else.

    I have tried meat with PB before (a "foggy bottom" burger), but not on corned beef. That sounds adventurous. And now I'm going to go freeze an orange.


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