THE CENTER

The new Aimee Bender book The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake came out last week. I read it in two days and loved best of all the brief food passages. I first got into her as a high school student over 10 years ago and was hypnotized with how beautifully she wrote about eating — new lovers sharing spaghetti with red sauce out of paper cups, empty fruit bowls delivered to a lonely woman, leftover marzipan waiting in the freezer, swelling pumpkins coming to life — but this is her most loving and conventional homage to food yet.

My favorite of all was still the place on Vermont, the French cafe, La Lyonnaise, that had given me the best onion soup on that night with George and my father…

There, I ordered chicken Dijon, or beef Bourguignon, or a simple green salad, or a pate sandwich, and when it came to the table, I melted into whatever arrived. I lavished in a forkful of spinach gratin on the side, at how delighted the chef had clearly been over the balance of spinach and cheese, like she was conducting a meeting of spinach and cheese, like a matchmaker who knew they would shortly fall in love. Sure, there were small distractions and preoccupations in it all, but I could find the food in there, the food was the center, and the person making the food was so connected with the food that I could really, for once, enjoy it.

Mmmm. Don’t you like the image of a chef as ‘matchmaker’? West coast friends, Bender is going on a massive tour promoting her book, including SF on 6/24, Seattle on 7/6, Portland on 7/7 (can’t believe I am missing it!), and LA on 7/10.

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