The food of love

If you believe everything you read, St Valentine’s Day is all about candle-lit dinners in restaurants full of couples gazing lovingly at each other while the singletons sit at home, weeping into boxes of chocolates.

Well, not in our house it’s not. The last time we went out for dinner on Valentine’s Day it was because I needed to review a restaurant and that was the only night they could get us in. That in itself should have been a sign. The food was absolutely appalling and the service was bizarre, but we had a hysterically good time laughing at how bad it was and how desperately unhappy all our fellow diners looked.

I’m not a Valentine’s Day denier by any means, but I do think there are better ways to show someone your undying love and devotion than a slightly desperate night out.

If cooking is an act of love – among other things – then surely the greatest thing you can do on Valentine’s Day is cook something that the recipient will really love. But what if that happens to be something that you can’t stand?

After more than a decade of eating together, my beloved and I still don’t see eye to eye on some things. When I think about it, the list of foods we agree on is small: Chardonnay, strongly-flavoured hard cheeses, scallops, free-range chicken and eggs, good bread, olives, sriracha sauce, dark chocolate, champagne. Of course, we still debate the various merits of these things – and what he thinks is good bread might not match my criteria – but these are not insurmountable differences. It’s not like he likes his steak well-done. That would be a deal-breaker for sure.

I love quinoa and barley and other so-ancient-they’re-modern grains; he thinks brown rice is fit for animals. I love carrot cake and inch-thick cream cheese frosting; he’d rather go hungry than eat a slice. He doesn’t like watermelon or cucumbers, claiming they taste ‘like dirt’. He eschews butter (butter!) for olive-oil spread on his toast. He says Marmite is the answer to life’s woes; I say I haven’t met a piece of bread that can’t be improved by peanut butter. He loves ice cream cones and the way they taste of communion wafers; I think he needs counselling. 

He doesn’t like chicken livers, lentils or salmon; I just eat them when he goes out. He is happy to spend a lot of time (and money) searching for his favourite craft beer, good olives, the freshest fish and whatever strange ingredient I might have asked him to look for. This is a quality that cannot be underrated.

And so I’ve learned to live with the fact that he doesn’t believe walnuts belong on the top of afghans. It’s fine that he doesn’t share my love of soft, stinky cheeses. I wear my ‘I told you so’ face when he feels guilty for binge-eating disgusting chicken-flavoured crisps, but that’s as far as it goes.

But the thing I can’t get over, the thing that really makes me wonder if we belong together, is his love of white pepper. The smell of white pepper makes me feel ill. To me, it smells of boarding school, and hospitals, and rest homes. White pepper smells like old people. It is the smell of death, ground into tiny, sneeze-inducing particles.

To my beloved, the scent of white peppercorns takes him back to his childhood, to Saturday lunches of sausages and chips at his grandparents’ place. To him, that slightly medicinal smell recalls a time when there was nothing to do but ride his bike, play backyard cricket and catch whitebait. Even talking about it makes his face light up. Last week, when we were out of black peppercorns, I found a box of white ones at the back of the cupboard. When he realised I’d put them in the pepper grinder he looked like he’d won the lottery. 

I love that he loves to eat. I get frustrated by the fact that he doesn’t like some of the things that I love to eat, but I would rather we ate together and had a robust discussion about whether the steak was rare enough than not. If he has to put white pepper on it, then I guess that’s the price of love.

I wish you all a very happy Valentines Day x



  1. February 13, 2014 / 8:49 am

    I loved reading this. It made me thing of our shopping trips and how at extreme ends of the food spectrum (if there is one) mine and Ahmad's choices are. I think at last I've given up trying to cure some of what I consider to be his unhealthy eating choices. I kept finding him secreting bottles of coke or additive loaded meats (for pizzas) into the shopping trolly underneath the fruit and vegetables and bags of dried beans. He's happy for me to go to what he calls the bird food section…so I've called it a truce. I'm happy for my wholemeal spelt seed load to sit next to his pure white bleached loaf. Maybe it's a metaphor for our life together. I wouldn't want to spend it with anyone else.
    Have a great one.

    • February 18, 2014 / 7:33 am

      Thank you, that's a lovely response. It's all about compromise, isn't it?!

  2. February 13, 2014 / 8:50 am

    whoops that should be "wholemeal spelt seed 'loaf' not 'load' …but I'm sure you got that.

  3. February 13, 2014 / 11:04 am

    brilliant post lucy – I love the thought of ice cream cones tasting like communion wafers but I find that white pepper reminds me of the horror of discovering that I had mixed up the salt and pepper shakers. Black pepper for me these days. hope you enjoy a lovely meal together – our celebrations of valentines day are sporadic depending on what else is going on but I agree it is always a good excuse to share good food

    • February 18, 2014 / 7:34 am

      Thank you – even thinking about the way ice cream cones stick to the roof of your mouth makes me feel squirmy – to each their own!

  4. February 13, 2014 / 11:51 am

    fab post… The Viking and I barely acknowledge the existence of VDay but when you're as old and bitter as us paying the mortgage is more important!

    • February 18, 2014 / 7:35 am

      Come on now, I'm sure the Viking feels that every day with you is like Valentine's Day!

  5. February 14, 2014 / 1:27 am

    I Ioved reading this. My beloved and I also have very different tastes in food, but as I do all the cooking he mostly just eats what he'd given. Once when I asked him if he'd like baked beans (a rare treat) for lunch he beamed and said 'is it my birthday?'
    Like the BW he is no great fan of salmon – his idea of essential fatty acids is something from the doughnut family. And I thought we shared the view that Valentine's Day was not for the likes us aging smug marrieds. So this morning when I said jokingly 'It's Valentine's Day, where's my present?' I was amazed to be given a giftbox of wine and chocolate. No card, but still.
    After that the least I could do was make him a cooked breakfast!

    • February 18, 2014 / 7:37 am

      … and I loved reading this! Did you include baked beans in the cooked breakfast?!

  6. February 20, 2014 / 6:21 am

    Ha, great post! My partner hates pea's and corn, thinks every meal should be mostly meat and he's also allergic to gluten and tomatoes. Tomatoes. Half the cooking repertoire went out the window when we got together. But after hearing the crazy man sneezes he does when he eats them I figure it's worth it. And when I get to cook for myself I do veggies, as many as I can, with tomatoes. When I go out he eats meat, and nothing else. So yes, there are compromises!

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