Subscribe to Sharon Fraser Subscribe to Sharon Fraser's comments

There’s a television show that airs on the Food Network called The Best Thing I Ever Ate. I’ve never watched it but I’ve seen its promo, many times. It involves Food Network chefs reminiscing about something wonderful they’ve eaten while a variety of culinary samples are paraded across our screen.

I don’t think any of their choices look particularly appealing but it’s all a matter of taste, isn’t it? Literally.

And I began to wonder what my response would be if I were asked: What’s the best thing you ever ate?

Well, let me tell you.

Years ago, on a trip to Portugal, we had landed in Lisbon late in the evening and decided to get up early and head for Faro, the capital of the Algarve, much to the south. We got to the train station just in time to be herded aboard — we heard the conductor use the word “Faro” so we assumed we were in the right car — and in spite of a crushing crowd, we managed to get a seat. A wooden seat, if I remember correctly. We figured that once we got going, there would be some kind of vending service available — we’d had nothing to eat or drink since the night before — and we’d be able to get a cup of coffee, at least.

About 15 minutes into the trip, all the people around us began hauling food out of their bags from under their seats: spicy, garlicky sausages, cheeses, chunks of crusty bread. Bottles of red wine and water. They looked at us very kindly and offered to share their food but we didn’t really know quite what to do and we thanked them and tried to look as if we had already eaten.

The train was old and slow and a milk-run. It chugged through the Portuguese countryside and stopped at most towns and villages. If we hadn’t been in such need of food and coffee, it’s possible we might have enjoyed the scenery and the atmosphere. At one point — I have no idea how long into the trip it was — when the train stopped, most of our fellow passengers stampeded off and returned minutes later laden with food and drinks from a platform outside the station. If only we had known what they knew!

It was early evening when the train pulled into Faro. I picture us being the only passengers getting off but we probably weren’t although many of our fellow travellers had disembarked at different stops along the way and the train had definitely emptied out. Faro seemed quiet and dusty and deserted. I felt we should have been riding in on horseback.

(This is a generic picture of Faro. It still looks quiet.)

We walked from the station to the centre of town — exhausted from sitting on those wooden seats all day and, of course, hungry and thirsty — and went into a dim little bar. The waiter brought us cold beer and we managed to communicate to him that we’d like some food too. He was solicitous but we were able to understand that the kitchen was closed. He gestured encouragingly, however, and seemed to say the equivalent of, “Just a minute, I’ll see what I can do.”

He disappeared and came back in a few minutes and placed a plate on the table. There was a crusty roll with a piece of meat inside — meat fried in olive oil and garlic. The oil was soaking into the bread — and that was it. Bread, a piece of meat, olive oil. The meat was not melt-in-your-mouth but it was not tough. It had texture and resistance. It could be chewed.

I cannot begin to describe how good that sandwich was. I can taste it to this day, as I write about it, and I can hear the crunch of that crusty roll as I bit into it. I have tried many times to duplicate it in my own kitchen but I’ve failed. I never expect to succeed.

I’ve eaten in many fine restaurants and been fed by family and friends who are excellent cooks — and I’m a pretty good cook myself. But I don’t think I’ve ever eaten anything that I remember and can describe with such relish as that simple sandwich in Faro. It’s the perfect case in point for the expression, “Hunger is the best sauce,” — which I’m interested to see is usually attributed to Cervantes in Don Quixote.

I keep trying to picture what it would be like if I were the intended recipient of one of those very public — often called “romantic” — proposals of marriage. You know the ones I mean: the “Will You Marry Me, [insert name here]?” that shows up on the jumbotron at a major sports event or pulled along by a small airplane at an airshow or, most recently, on the bow of a P.E.I.-bound ferry.

I can hear myself, upon noticing a sign that says, “Will you marry me, Sharon?”, saying, “Thank God” — as emphatically as I can possibly say it — “Thank God that message isn’t intended for me!”

And then, I turn around and see the proposer, possibly on one knee, and I say . . . nah, forget it. You’re better to say nothing, at that point.

Of course, somehow, if the proposal is directed at me, it has to be turned down. Does that ever happen? We only hear about the ones where the bride-to-be says an ecstatic “yes” and the groom-to-be fishes a ring out of his pocket and they live happily ever after.

Or for all we know, maybe the proposee is just being kind when she accepts the public proposal. Maybe it’s a different story once they’re in private, alone together.

As for me, I’d say, “Not a chance, honey.” It’s my essential crankiness. I’d be glad though that I caught a glimpse of this side of his personality before the wedding and not after.

When I first started my website, I wanted it mainly so I’d have a place to bring together all my archival writings — interspersed with occasional pieces dealing with present-day issues. I have always called it, “my website.”

Others though, refer to it as my “blog.” Now, I think of a blog as a journal, a diary, a regular life-update — indeed, a “log” which is the part of the original word “weblog” that gives the blog its common nickname. I don’t mind that people refer to it as my “blog.” It just has never seemed accurate to me.

So I have decided to remedy the inaccuracy. I’m turning it into a blog by which I mean I will write here much more regularly and the nature of the writing will take on a different tone. I will still deal with issues, of course, because that’s what I think about a lot of the time. Because I’m closely related to the Nova Scotia NDP government — by marriage — I will avoid writing about provincial issues and will leave that to others.

But I will write on a variety of topics that interest me — and I hope interest you — because really, interesting things do happen every day.

For example: A few days ago, I was browsing in the produce department of my local supermarket. I observed one of my fellow shoppers, casually roaming around choosing her vegetables wearing a see-through dress. It wasn’t “see-through” the way a sheer fabric would be or the way a piece of plastic wrap would be.

It was something like an eyelet cotton, something like this:


It was short — a few inches above the knee — and she was wearing a black bra and panties underneath, and that’s all. I should also say — because you’re wondering — that she was not a nubile teen nor a sexy supermodel. She was middle-aged, average build, a little stocky maybe.

I confess that my first reaction — aside from bemusement — was a little judgemental. Did she look in her mirror before she left home? What could she have been thinking? Tsk, tsk.

But as the days have passed, I keep asking myself the same questions but now, not rhetorically. Did she, in fact, look in her mirror before she left home? What could she have been thinking?

It isn’t as if I have anything against alluring/revealing clothes. Quite the contrary. But am I uncomfortable in this case because she was middle-aged and didn’t have a perfect body? If she had been a five-feet-eight, 120 pound, 22-year-old in a see-through dress, would I have forgotten all about her before I got home?

We talk a lot about the hypersexualization of young girls but not too much about the sexuality of middle-aged women. And was she sexy? Not to me but I wonder if she felt sexy. Or was sex involved at all? Maybe she was just in a hurry to grab that broccoli for dinner and she didn’t even take the time to consider what she was wearing.

Going out shopping in your barely-covered underwear: another feminist issue to ponder. Do you have any thoughts about this?

July 1, 2010

Canada Day

Get Adobe Flash player