A Sense of Structure

“It’s never just the food.” —James Salter

“Life is many things, and among the best of them, it is meals.” —James and Kay Salter, “Life is Meals: A Food Lover’s Book of Days”

Almost two weeks into 2017 and I’m still in the process of lugging my mind, rhythm, and spirit back to work. Thankfully, I’ve found a few things that have given me a sense of structure. Private daily journaling is one. Another is a book I bought back in 2006, Life Is Meals: A Food Lover’s Book of Days, a collaboration between late novelist James Salter and his wife, playwright and journalist Kay Salter/Eldredge.

It all began with the Salters’ dining books, notebooks in which they recorded their dinner parties. I couldn’t stop smiling while watching this video of them talking about the origin and the writing of the book. Life Is Meals is written like a journal of sort, with an entry for each day of the year. It doesn’t contain only personal accounts. Some entries focus on the history of a single food. Some are about a person, place, concept, or thing that one might not immediately associate with food or meals. There are recipes, too—their own, their friends’, from sources one wouldn’t expect.

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The book is peppered with beautiful illustrations by French artist Fabrice Moireau.

I remember loving this book when I first read it, even recommending it as a gift in a holiday story for the Bangkok Post. I never finished it. And I didn’t read it in chronological order, just here and there as I pleased. I had forgotten about this book until my visit to my family home on January 2 this year.

This time, I’m treating it like a journal. Reading one entry per day. It takes a certain amount of discipline and self-control to not skip ahead, to take it one day at a time. And I’m quite enjoying it this way. It’s comforting to think that this book will be with me for the entire year. Reading this and daily journaling make me feel time very differently. It slows me down.

Each day, as I read the date in Life Is Meals and as I write the date down in my journal, I am reminded of the present.