When do you start thinking about a meal? It might be the first thought you have as soon as you wake up: the mental grocery list, piecing together a recipe, imagining what goes well. It could be more immediate than that: I’m awake, I need coffee, and there have to be orange-juice hued yolks cascading onto toast, heavily buttered with curls of the good stuff (salted, Irish) and topped with plump, salty little anchovies, a flurry of chives and a twist of cracked black pepper.
Sometimes, a thought about dinner catches you off guard when you’re walking the aisles of your local store. You see something you usually wouldn’t buy (lamb mince, perhaps), but then you recall the things in your fridge that then make sense: the full fat Greek yoghurt, the extra creamy hummus, the coriander seeds and fennel seeds and the smell they’ll make when you grind them in the pestle and mortar. Before you know it, you’ve stepped out of the store with cucumbers and feta and parsley and pitas.
Anticipation means you can’t always wait until dinner to make this perfect meal, so even though it’s a Monday and only 2pm, you crack open a bottle of your favourite that you’d be ‘saving’ for a special occasion and you begin to go through the motions. Playlist on. Glass in hand. The soothing roll of a meatball and the smell of the spices. The cast iron sizzling, windows flung open. The first taste of the first test, then adjusting the flavours to make them work for you.
We all revel in the build up. To a great love or a great meal. Anticipation is like the crescendo: the crackle of chilli flakes in a pool of olive oil, the sizzle of onions or the hiss of fat from a steak. The back and forth between two strangers who’ll soon become friends, maybe lovers, maybe partners. The first dates and the first fights. The meals you share or the dishes you cook in your kitchen, or theirs. Walking in and smelling before tasting; wondering before knowing.
The joy of anticipating a great meal is that it prompts you to ask the question: why wait?
Cat Sarsfield shares weekly recipes-not-recipes and food/love stories in her newsletter Since No One Asked. If you like this, why not sign up?