"Domesticity: A Gastronomic Interpretation of Love" by Bob Shacochis (third edition). Publisher: Trinity University Press, September 2013.
Detail of book cover for "Domesticity: A Gastronomic Interpretation of Love" by Bob Shacochis (third edition). Publisher: Trinity University Press, September 2013.

While guests sample recipes from the new book, “Domesticity: A gastronomic Interpretation of Love,” Trinity University Press will host a lively, on-stage conversation between author Bob Shacochis and his culinary muse and wife Barbara Petersen at the Pearl Stable, 7 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 12.

The free (but ticketed) evening of food and conversation will feature hors-d’oeuvres prepared by Culinary Institute of America students and moderator Patricia Sharpe of Texas Monthly, an award winning food columnist and author herself.

Bob Shacochis and his culinary muse and wife Barbara Petersen. Courtesy photo.
Bob Shacochis and his culinary muse and wife Barbara Petersen. Courtesy photo.

Shacochis is also author of the National Book Award-winning “Easy in the Islands” and the critically acclaimed novel “The Woman Who Lost Her Soul.”

Doors open at 6:30 p.m. with a cash bar. A dessert reception and book signing will follow the conversation. Tickets are available here.

Trinity University Press has shared the following excerpt from Shacochis’ “Domesticity,” a quick tale of love, food, and surprise:

Before I met Miss F., I used to think of bleak, icy February as the devil’s own month, but falling in love with her altered that perception forever. February became our anniversary month—this particular February marking our fourteenth year together. Not a shabby record for a relationship that is mutually self-invented, which is to say common-law. The arrangement suits the two of us just fine, thanks, though upon occasion Miss F., whose materialistic needs are modest, will become wistful about one aspect of weddings: the ritual whereby everybody you know and even selected strangers are stuck giving you presents. In this regard she has nothing to be ashamed of, judging by the behavior of her cutthroat peers, and it is incumbent upon me to take up the gift-giving slack.

"Domesticity: A Gastronomic Interpretation of Love" by Bob Shacochis (third edition). Publisher: Trinity University Press, September 2013.
“Domesticity: A Gastronomic Interpretation of Love” by Bob Shacochis (third edition). Publisher: Trinity University Press, September 2013.

I had been absent from my domestic life, gone some few but faraway and lonely months, teaching at a midwestern university. Now, I was coming home to Miss F., after promising her that on the first day she had me back I would cook the most romantically glorious supper I could devise. The week before I repatriated myself, I visited a jewelry store in the Kansas city that had adopted me for a semester. I knew exactly what I wanted: a diamond ring. In our many years together I had given Miss F. plenty of rings and such, but never a diamond. We couldn’t afford a proper one, so why bother?

“I don’t like diamonds anyway,” she would occasionally state in a brave voice. “They’re so ordinary,” she’d say and sigh. Now, however, my paycheck was adequate to skim off the price.

“When’s the wedding?” the sales clerk asked as I inspected a tray of gold-set solitaires. “My dear fellow, I don’t want to marry the girl,” I replied, rubbing my unshaved cheek, “I only want to squander a sufficient amount of money on her, for the usual reasons.” I found the right stone and setting I was looking for, bought the ring, drove back to my apartment, and phoned Miss F.

“Miss F.,” I said, “I just procured for you a big, fat, expensive present. Don’t ask me what it is.”

“What is it?” she begged.

“Now, now,” I clucked. A man is out of his mind if he gives the love of his life a really good present without using it to extort some small pleasure in return. I told her I would give her the aforementioned item during the promised dinner, but she would have to reciprocate in some manner.

“You have something in mind, I take it,” she said warily.

“As a matter of fact, I do,” I said. “I want you to have a surprise for me, and it must me a surprise that’s concealed in such a way that I can’t possibly know what it is until you undress.”

“Well, all right,” she agreed, “but tell me—”

“I’ll say no more,” I said. “I’ll see you next week.”

I knew Miss F. would work hard on her assignment. In vain, she petitioned her girlfriends at school. Sexy lingerie, they advised. Miss F. shook her head. It’s not that he wouldn’t like that, she told her friends, but it wouldn’t really be a surprise, and he’d be disappointed. Inspired by revelations concerning George Schultz, Miss F. considered the notion of an elegant and elegantly placed tattoo, but an aspiring lawyer with just such a tattoo warned against it. An image began to form in Miss F.’s mind. She queried one of her male colleagues for his opinion.

“How long have you been with this guy?” the colleague, a married man, asked in his best courtroom manner.

“Fourteen years,” answered Miss F. correctly.

“Forget it,” he said. “That’s too long. You can’t surprise him. It’s impossible.” Miss F. confided in him, telling the fellow what she thought might get the job done. His jaw dropped. He stared at her. He turned and walked away, speechless.

My first full day back home was a Friday. A friend we hadn’t seen in years flew into town on business and we met him at a tapas restaurant for a leisurely lunch. As a result, I got a late start shopping for the night’s heralded meal. The menu I had settled on was culturally illogical but not without its own gastronomic sense: lobster-and-asparagus sushi, leek bisque, tarragon duck with mushrooms and crushed pumpkin seeds, and the real clincher, visually—a raspberry charlotte. And of course Miss F.’s favorite food, champagne.

As much as I love to shop for food, this day I was defeated by the ambition of my menu. Some scoundrel had gone before me, pillaging the town’s stock of live lobsters. Store A sent me to Store B, where I was waved on to Store C, each fishmonger reporting that the lobster glutton had been there already and laid waste to the inventory. It was the same story, butcher-wise, with ducks; the same story, produce-wise, with raspberries; and the same story, bakery-wise, with the ladyfingers required for the raspberry charlotte. I persevered, however, haunted by the mystery of this alter ego forever one step ahead of me, and I was dying to know what sort of great surprise his dining companion had in store to reward his foresight in having gotten there first. Well after dark I found my way back home, far too exhausted to establish myself in the kitchen. Miss F. consoled me and we went out to eat.

Saturday was different. I entered the kitchen in the late afternoon, mentally and physically fit. By eight in the evening, the right music rippled from the stereo, the dining-room table blazed with candles, the sushi cooled in the refrigerator, the leek bisque simmered on the stove and the duck on its platter, the raspberry charlotte sat on the back porch chilling in the February air. The diamond ring was centered on the table inside its velvet box, and the kitchen was a magnificent mess. I popped the cork on the champagne, yodeling for Miss F., who had wisely isolated herself in the bedroom. She appeared—staggering—gorgeous, wearing a high-necked, long-sleeved, long-sleeved, low-waisted, full-skirted, publicly disruptive black dress with equally incitive high heels. With her hazelly eyes flashing mischief, she kissed me.

“Gosh,” I said. “Wooeee.” I could have said much more, but I knew Miss F. preferred understated dignity to slobbering proclamations.

“Look at you,” she said. “You not only shaved, you put on a tie.”

“Heh-heh-heh.” I can be shrewd upon occasion. When you rarely wear a tie, the presence of one around your neck is akin to a major social accomplishment, with all the impact of a promotion. This is a trick that won’t work is you wear a tie every day. I poured champagne. We drank. We sat. We stuffed ourselves with sushi. Rice tumbled off our chins. Our sinuses dilated from the potent horseradish in the sauce. We licked our fingers. The music whispered perfect, perfect, over and over. I ladled the bisque into shallow enamel bowls. Miss F. discoursed about God knows what, and I felt tears in my eyes. She displayed enormous self-restraint by keeping her eyes off the little velvet box. I brought out the duck on its platter.

“I don’t know what’s gotten into you,” Miss F. said, “but I just can’t imagine living without it.”

At the appropriate moment I stumbled to the kitchen, shook the charlotte out of its soufflé dish and brought it in. “You son-of-a-bitch,” Miss F. gasped, aptly, because the charlotte was truly a wonder—I couldn’t quite believe it myself. After we both had had seconds, after the champagne was gone, after the smoldering thematic tension had been pushed into the red zone, I told her to go right ahead, and slumped in my chair when I saw the ring on her finger. I want my surprise, I croaked, and my dear Miss F. rose to her high-heeled feet. The shoes alone had the romantic capacity to make me bark. She crossed her arms over her waist, bent to take the hem of her long skirt into her hands, straightened up. Off came the whole shebang, pure Miss F. except for—. All I can say is that Miss F. knows the way to this boy’s heart is through a damn good boffo laugh. You can have your bawdy panties and lacy bras, you can have your inedible tattoos. This was the sort of side splitting surprise that would keep me home for years, indentured to the kitchen. Sorry gentlemen, no unmerited thrills here. It was my dinner, my present—and my surprise. Surely there are merchants selling diamonds, ducks and raspberries, wherever it is you live.

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San Antonio Report Staff

This article was assembled by various members of the San Antonio Report staff.