More Theology & Less Heavy Cream is a never-before-published collection of Robert’s essays featuring his and his wife’s alter-egos, Pietro and Madeleine. Join them in this charming episode as they ruminate on cooking, shame, and a law by the name of Irving.
Pietro looked downcast. “I just can’t cook when people like Irving watch me. You should have kept him in the dining room where he couldn’t shame me into not using enough butter and cream.”
“You? Ashamed? About using butter and cream? I’ve been trying to inhibit you for years. You mean all I have to do to lose weight is stand in the kitchen and look over your shoulder?”
“No,” Pietro said. “With you it wouldn’t work. You’re different.”
“Different? How?” she asked. “Other than that I’m a prisoner in Fat City?”
“No, no. That’s a compliment. A person can cook around you without feeling guilty. If he starts to salt something, you don’t lay a low-sodium trip on him. If he wants to add butter, you don’t scream ‘Calories! ’ If he puts in more cream, you actually smile.”
“Stop, already. Your idea of a compliment sounds like my idea of a confession.”
“All I mean to say is that you judge food on the basis of whether it tastes good, so it’s a pleasure to cook for you,” Pietro said as his eyes brightened a bit.
“Well! Thank you, I think. But what other basis is there?” Madeleine queried.
Pietro sighed. “Unfortunately, there is the basis most other people use—the one that makes them, like Irving, a pain in the kitchen. They pay attention, not to food, but to fads.”
“Think of cream, for instance. To you it’s just a delectable substance to be spooned, ladled, poured or slathered in all directions. In your perfectly reasonable view, an entire container of it—plus, of course, some onion, a splash of white wine, a bit of reduced stock and a judicious pinch of salt—would make barely enough sauce for two sautéed chicken breasts. Is that correct?”
“No, fortunately. You should be thankful to be so far from the fadding crowd—from ignoble Irving and all the rest of the nutritional nudges. Do you know what cream is to them?”
“It’s not cream at all. Instead, it’s whatever the journalistico-medico-dietetic establishment has frightened them into calling it this year.”
“You mean, like, calories?”
“That was last year’s scare, but it will do for an illustration. A calorie is a measurement, not a thing. It is no more a real being than an inch is. Therefore to judge food on the basis of calories—to look at a cup of cream and have as one’s principal reaction the words ‘800 calories’—is as irrelevant as looking at a copy of the Declaration of Independence and saying ‘32 inches’. Or, come to think of it, ‘800 calories’: a large copy might well give off just that much heat.”
“Aha! So Irving gave you a lecture on calories, huh?” Madeleine asked elatedly.
“No. That would never have fazed me. He did something worse,” Pietro answered gloomily.
“What? He accused you of pumping your guests full of cholesterol?”
“Hardly. I would have been ready for that one, too. Cream contains dozens of chemicals, some of which may not sit well with certain unfortunate creatures. But at the level to which those substances are present in even a generous dose of cream, they have yet to be proved harmful to ordinary, healthy people. No. If Irving had badgered me with such nonsense, I would have laughed in his face. I’m afraid he was cleverer than that.”
“You make him sound demonic. What on earth did he do?” Madeleine questioned impatiently.
“He didn’t do anything. He just stood there and thought. I could feel the brain waves.”
“You actually felt him thinking? About what, for heaven’s sake?
“Calories. Sodium. Cholesterol. Obesity. High blood pressure. Arterial plaque. All of it.”
“But you have an answer for every one of those things.”
“True. But not to all of them at once, just hanging, unspoken in the air. It was as if there was a dietetic grease fire in his head and the kitchen was full of intellectual smoke. My mind couldn’t breathe.”
“You’re saying, then, that Irving jammed your thoughts? That’s why you forgot to add enough cream?”
Pietro hung his head. “I wish it were that simple. Actually, I remembered, but I lost my nerve.”
“What? You mean he thought so hard about nutrition that he broke your will or something? I can’t believe that,” Madeleine exclaimed, as she shook her head in utter disbelief.
“No. He thought another thought. They always do, you know.”
“You make it sound terrible. What did he think?”
“He used their ultimate weapon. He said to himself: ‘Pietro is not a good person’. My convictions collapsed on the spot.”
“That’s ridiculous. You’re the stubbornest cook in the world,” Madeleine stated almost proudly.
“He got me to hold back on the cream, didn’t he?”
“Hmmm,” she said.
“But you don’t think I’m a bad person, do you?”
“Hmmm,” she said again.
“Please,” Pietro begged. “Tell me I’m not.”
“Hmmm,” Madeleine mused the third time. “Maybe I can go on that diet after all.”
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