Monday, November 7, 2011

Food and Englishmen by Tasha Alexander

Tasha Alexander attended the University of Notre Dame, where she signed on as an English major (with a concentration in Medieval Studies) in order to have a legitimate excuse for spending all her time reading. Her work has been nominated for numerous awards and has been translated into more than a dozen languages. She and her husband, novelist Andrew Grant, divide their time between Chicago and the UK

Food - -
and Englishmen
by Tasha Alexander
When I got home last week from the first leg of the tour for A CRIMSON WARNING, I was thinking about the time I spent abroad in college. Not because I was thinking of traveling.

Because I was hungry.

Really, really hungry.

And as I debated whether to order something to be delivered or to drag myself from the couch to the kitchen and open our well-stocked fridge, I considered a time when food was not so readily at hand.

When I was a junior at the University of Notre Dame, I studied in London, where I shared a two-bedroom flat with six other girls and squandered my food allowance on theatre tickets. Pretty much all of my food allowance. The end result was that I saw every play the Royal Shakespeare Company produced that season, but ate very poorly.

But who would mind? We had bread and double Gloucester cheese and apples. When we were celebrating, we’d serve undiluted canned cream of chicken soup over spaghetti--and throw on some frozen peas if there was a need for extra festivity. And we thought this was a dish worthy of gourmet status--so delicious that we swore we would eat it after we were back home in the States.

Other than that and the occasional box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese sent by our mothers, we never had hot food. Never. Which puts a person in an interesting frame of mind, and led to two of the lowest moments of my life.

One night, a friend and I headed to a play at the Barbican, laughing about the fact that we were trapped in a stereotypical London night: cold and rainy. We had arrived too early, and to kill time we wandered around the area. At the time, there wasn’t a whole lot around the Barbican that was...well...nice. But we were hungry. And cold. And damp. And the next thing I knew, we were standing in front of a pub, foreheads pressed against the window, making no effort to hide our drool as we coveted the steaming bangers and mash being served inside.

I can still picture it.

It was a beautiful thing. Until, that is, we were shooed away by a waitress who thought we were homeless and threatened to call the police.

A low moment.

A few weeks later, I went on a date with a very sweet boy. His name was Robert and he had much to recommend him: a lovely, lovely posh accent, titled friends who threw private parties at the best nightclubs, and a very cute red Aston Martin. We went to a swanky Italian restaurant in Hampstead Heath. My flatmates told me to watch for Sting, who lived in the neighborhood, but I had eyes for nothing but the menu.

When my food came, I took a bite.

“It’’ HOT!”

Robert was perplexed. “Hot?”

“Hot! Hot! Hot!” It was all I could say, and I couldn’t stop repeating it.

Robert, gentleman that he was, offered to summon the waiter immediately. “Spaghetti carbonara”, he said, “isn’t supposed to be spicy.”

At which point I had to explain that it was temperature, not spice, that had taken me aback. That I had been wholly seduced by heat. That I couldn’t remember when I’d last had such a wonderful thing.

He must have thought I was insane. Or maybe he just chalked it up to strange American eccentricities. Either way, I always felt a bit embarrassed around him from then on and things went downhill from there.

I’ve always believed that was my shot at landed gentry.

Which was all for the best. Not only do I now have my own even-more-charming Englishman, I get hot food whenever I want it...


Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Tasha, Hi and Welcome!!!

you've made me laugh with this.

AND you're a girl after my own heart. Don't we love good food?!

And you have indeed found your perfect Englishman - and one who obviously understands you and will forever keep you in hot food . . . .


Sarah shaber said...

Your post brought back memories!
I spent a memorable "junior year abroad", at the University of Manchester. I lost weight too, but not because of spending money on theatre tickets. I lived in a university residence hall where they served goodies like spagettios on toast, kippers, hard boiled eggs embedded in "meat" pie, and I just couldn't eat it! I lived on Chinese and Indian food when I could get it.
British cuisine has improved hugely since I lived there!

Julie D said...

What is it with college and food? Now they refer to that time as putting on 'The Freshman Twenty', but I remember that in my freshman year I'd never been so thin.

Great post.

Tasha Alexander said...

Thanks, guys!

There's really nothing like good food, is there?

Sarah, I can't say it sounds lovely to eat at the University of Manchester!

I was back at Notre Dame visiting, and my son (age 12) wanted to eat in the dining hall. So we did. WOW. Talk about a place with a new lease on life. It was never bad when I was there, but now it's like a giant buffet restaurant with pretty much anything you could think of available every day. Had it been like that when I was there, I'm afraid I would have succumbed to the freshman twenty. Or thirty.... :)