One of the most seductive film scenes ever has practically no dialogue. When Tom Jones sits down to dine with his wench, they tear into their evening banquet fully clothed. Nearly silent, they form an erotic connection. If you are too young to know these memorable three minutes, you can replay them on YouTube by clicking here.
We provide food to an infant as soon as it is born, and throughout life this act, more revered in some cultures than others, remains an important way of offering support. Food, essential for survival, gives us an excellent opportunity to express love. Everyone potentially can come to appreciate food, from the infant who is dependent upon others to supply it, to the baby who discovers it as a source of pleasures of taste and play, to the school child who can use it as currency to make friends through lunch-box swaps. In adulthood, food can serve as seduction as well as nourishment, currency or a resource.
The ways in which feeding can show love are so many and varied that this will be the first of a few posts on the topic. To frame the discussion, today I share the story of a woman who changed her life-path when she discovered that creating and providing beautiful and nourishing food brought unique joy to her as well as to others.
Randell Dodge discovered her larger mission in life — nourishing body and soul through nutrition, sensual pleasure, and beauty — almost by accident. While engaged in a successful career as a fashion accessories designer, she suffered serial deaths of people close to her, including her father, that echoed the pain of the earlier loss of her mother. For comfort, she found herself baking more and more often, especially a concoction that she perfected and labeled the “breakfast cookie”. Because her oven was cranking out far more goodies than she could consume, she began giving more and more of them to others. Randell discovered that giving love away could help her heal the pain of no longer being able to physically love those she had lost. Her signature staple brought beauty and delight to friends and even strangers.
Eventually, Randell decided that helping others nourish themselves with healthy food that was also beautiful to look at, smell, and taste was more rewarding than designing her beautiful handbags. Even though the handbags were valued in the marketplace — and a bag is an essential part of any wardrobe — they were essentially decorations. Food felt more essential.
Randell remembered her father eating the jam she made, straight from the jar with a spoon in the middle of the night, or savoring her almond biscotti with his eyes closed, accompanied by a cup of tea. She remembered him telling her stories about his mother’s strudel pastry, rolled out paper thin, covering the dining room table in Budapest as it awaited filling with fresh apples and butter and sugar and breadcrumbs. His family had lost their material possessions during the war; his mother’s offerings announced her refusal to be defeated and insistence on loving her family through what she could create with whatever ingredients she could acquire.
Randell also loved the pleasures of tracking down the freshest local organic ingredients, knowing that they could bring more than minimal nutrition and taste to her recipes. Her excursions brought back memories of rural days shared harvesting with her mother, sitting on the backs of pickup trucks as farm owners took them deep into peach, plum and apple orchards. As soon as school ended, she and her mom gathered berries, gleefully turning stark white canvas Keds into a kaleidoscope of color welcoming summer. Memories of cooking with her mother came alive as Randell created in her own kitchen, replicating her recipes — lasagna, eggplant parmigiana, stuffed cabbage, latkes.
Randell kept cooking and sharing. The number of people wanting the food she made grew. Taking a deep breath, she closed her fashion accessories business, found a brick building (auspiciously located near the Irvington, New York train station) that had served as an auto repair shop, and opened Red Barn Bakery.
From the beginning, Randell was committed to expressing love through what she created. She understood that respecting individual needs and preferences was essential and developed gluten-free, sugar-free, or vegan variations on favorite recipes. She could make what gave her greatest joy, nourish others, and provide a way for people to send love to those they loved through the food she created. As a bonus, local fans could gather together over a cup of coffee and “a little something”.
And gather they did. Especially after Hurricane Sandy. When all the homes and buildings that surrounded her little shop lost power, Randell’s Red Barn Bakery remained open. She had carefully protected her establishment with countless sandbags and a generator. Her ovens operated around the clock when much of the town was dark. Those who were “regulars” and those who had never before been inside flocked to the space to devour her goodies — the unique “breakfast cookie”, of course, her signature piece made of oats, raisins, coconut, almonds, mango, papaya, and a ton of love — but also soups and frittata’s and savory tarts as well as pies and pastries. Randell kept cooking and people kept coming.
Because the Jewish holidays were upon us around the time of Hurricane Sandy, Randell mastered old recipes from her father’s Hungarian family and adapted others from her mother’s Italian heritage. She thus found yet another way to express love with food by expanding her repertoire to accommodate important traditions. Decades after her mother died, Randell was honoring her legacy by serving others with that same love, using her mother’s favorite spoon, kept as a talisman across the years.
Once the crisis had passed, those who did not have the time or skills or inclination to provide foods sensitive to their own cultural histories and digestive demands, continued to support her shop. Today, Randell serves friends and strangers and even distant unknown internet shoppers, aware of the satisfying potential of food to sustain, nourish, and heal.
What memories do you have about being fed? About feeding others? Did someone important to you show love by providing food to you – or fail to show it through failing to provide it? Two later columns will explore more specifically the what, how and why of showing love through feeding.
Copyright 2017 Roni Beth Tower
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