It is almost 10 years since I found Young — the man who is now my husband. We met in Edinburgh, the perfect backdrop for any love story. It’s a city of dark alleyways, cobbled streets, and cosy pubs with log fires. It also has more restaurants per capita than any other city in the U.K. You will never run out of places to go on date night.
Our first date was Prego — a low key Italian place in the Old Town. I forget what I ate, but I remember that it was a long time coming because the waiter dropped his tray of plates on the floor. I remember making a joke that caused Young to snort Grand Marnier up his nose, and he had to excuse himself to the bathroom. Late that night we left the restaurant and kissed in the street.
Our second date was a dowdy French place, one of those that serves a slice of stale Brie beside some withered grapes and calls it a cheese board. We were the only diners in that night, and Young got so caught up in our conversation that he left his briefcase under the table. He had to go back and retrieve it the next day.
Those first two meals may not have won any awards, but the tone for our relationship was set. For the next year we would laugh and kiss and chat our way around the restaurants of Edinburgh.
We learned how to wrap tiny, perfect parcels of duck and scallion and hoisin sauce at Lee On. We ate steak at Katie’s Diner, and huge, steaming bowls of pasta at Papillio. When winter came we warmed our bellies with kormas and dhals at Pataka, and Young kept my water glass full as I got to grips with red chillies and five-spice at Thai Lemongrass.
Our relationship with food mirrored our relationship with each other. It was all so new and exciting. It was an adventure. It was romantic.
As the year went on, we started to travel. We took the Eurostar to Paris, and the warm, flaky croissants we had for breakfast on the train were the best we’d ever tasted. We found a wine bar near our hotel, and spent most afternoons sitting at a pavement table, drinking glasses of cold Chablis and eating artichoke hearts, thinly sliced ham, plump olives and pungent cheese. At night we’d go to Bar Dix, where the scowling barman would scoop earthenware jugs of sangria from an old wooden barrel.
We flew business class to New York, and giggled at each other as the champagne refills kept on coming. We slurped down oysters in Grand Central Station, and dripped mustard down our chins eating hot dogs from a vendor in Central Park. Our hotel was in Times Square, and at breakfast we sat in the window, sharing a stack of blueberry pancakes and watching the city hurry by.
In Barcelona, we stayed away from Las Ramblas, and instead wandered the backstreets in search of chorizo and patatas bravas. We walked across the Charles Bridge in Prague, seeking fat dumplings and pitchers of beer, and in Athens we roamed the steep paths, tearing apart tender roast chicken with our fingers.
Even when Young and I were apart from each other, we kept in touch on the topic of food. We especially loved to share bad experiences. I went to Greenland, and my postcard home said nothing about the landscape or the work I was doing there. Instead I tried to describe for him the fishy-tasting horrors of whale blubber and dried seal. Young emailed me after an important banquet in Beijing, an event that had been packed with dignitaries, to tell me that he’d just eaten deep fried duckbill. Another time, when he was in London, he sent me a text. “Uri Geller is at the next table,” he wrote. “I’m holding on tight to my spoon.”
By now it was almost a year since we had first met, and things were becoming more serious. We were starting to think that perhaps the relationship was more than just a bit of fun. It was time to take each other home.
I was born on the Isle of Harris — a tiny island in the north of Scotland — and it was there that Young discovered how my childhood tasted.
It tasted of shortbread biscuits, snitched from the kitchen of my family hotel. It tasted of Tunnocks Teacakes and Cadbury’s Creme Eggs, of giant gobstoppers, bought with pennies that I found on the ground. It tasted of Irn Bru and marmite on toast, of gooseberries from the garden and sandy sandwiches on the beach. Young tried all those things, and with every mouthful he learned a little more about me. The only thing he refused was Stornoway black pudding. No worries. All the more for me.
In return, Young took me to South Carolina, We stood in line for Publix fried chicken, still hot from the bubbling oil. We snacked on Triscuits and Cracker Barrel. We drank pints of Yuengling, and dipped great hunks of cornbread in our bowls of gumbo. We ate steamed oysters by the bucket, and he showed me how to pry open those beautiful bivalves, before holding them on the tip of my knife to dip into melted butter.
He introduced me to the friends who are so close that they are really family. They explained that for Thanksgiving dinner, our job was the dressing. Others would make mash, or gravy, or jerk turnip — but we would always do the dressing.
I came back from South Carolina many pounds heavier, knowing that I had found the man I wanted to marry.
Young and I have just celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary. We have a five-year-old son, called Tom. Just over a year ago we moved from the U.K. to Tasmania, that small island state that lies south of mainland Australia.
Food is still central to our life, and we are lucky to live somewhere that has an abundance of beautiful, local produce. But a relationship that is nearly 10 years old has an entirely different rhythm to one that is brand new, and our meals reflect that. There are not many nights in fancy restaurants anymore.
Every Saturday morning, without fail, we make pancakes and bacon, and sit down as a family to eat. On Sundays, we shop together at the farmers’ market. We buy fresh ground coffee and warm bread, or a tub of honey, or a bunch of crisp pink radishes, still covered in soil. We usually treat Tom to an ice cream.
We have a herb garden and if there’s a roast about to go in the oven, we send Tom out with his snips to cut a bunch. If Young picks up a cold, I take an afternoon to make him chicken broth. When he has to work late, I wait up until he comes home and throw together an omelette. If we’re going on a picnic, we all pitch in to make sandwiches, and tip potato chips into Tupperware tubs. When it is cherry season, we buy them by the kilo from a roadside stall and carry them home in a brown paper bag.
Meals are the punctuation marks in the story of Young and me. I have so many memories connected with food that without them, the narrative wouldn’t make sense.
The best meal I have ever eaten was a rich bowl of pig knuckles. 10 minutes earlier, Young had bought me a diamond engagement ring in a shop on Place Vendôme. We needed a seat, something substantial, and a large glass of red.
The best meal I have ever eaten is the steak that Young cooked on a charcoal grill one February. He sat on our front porch in Edinburgh, drinking a beer from the bottle and poking the embers as snow fell around him. I laughed and laughed, and didn’t care about the neighbors.
The best meal I have ever eaten was a simple bowl of pasta, smothered in garlic butter, at a friend’s house in New Hampshire. It was 1 a.m., Young had just read poetry on the same stage as Billy Collins, and I have never been so stoned in my life.
The best meal I have ever eaten is breakfast tomorrow morning. Young will have yoghurt and then toast with peanut butter before I drive him to work. Tom will have a plate of fruit and a bowl of cereal. Some time right about 9 he will ask if it is too early for candy.
I will sip my coffee, and I will smile.