Monday, April 18, 2005

I've Got a Crush on Her

I have fallen in love. With a woman. On TV. Behind my boyfriend's back.

Actually, we both caught a glimpse of her a few nights ago as a guest chef on the David Letterman Show. Her gorgeous pale skin was poured into a sumptuous strapless black velvet dress and a curtain of warm brown curls surrounded her perfect face, dark eyes, and rosy lips. As someone who had to abandon all tanning attempts years ago and annually endures derisive cadaver-like adjectives, I couldn't stop staring at her yummy vanilla whiteness. She wasn't hiding her pallor. On the contrary, she had poured hers into a chocolate shell and was serving it up proudly to a national television audience. Yummy.

On a recent foggy Sunday afternoon, while my boyfriend worked in his office, I wrapped myself up in a quilt, too lethargic even to go next door to the mini-mart for a cheap magazine or Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie Frozen Yogurt (or both). I clicked the remote and there she was. Those eyes. Those lips. That milky skin. And those curves! Why hadn't some image consultant put her in a tanning booth and forced her to eat 600 calories a day to "take her career the next level" like Katie Couric did when she was re-negotiating her last contract?

I soon learned why. She no doubt would have told the consultant to "bugger off" while she sat down in front of the TV, draped in a silk dressing gown, and savored a bowl of warm, buttery linguine sprinkled with cheese and pancetta. God, how could you NOT love her? Instead of going on a diet, she wrote a book called "How to Eat". Imagine the allure to a lifetime dieter who sees food as an adversary to be constantly grappled with. Nigella doesn't grapple with food, she massages it. I get lost in her poetic descriptions of color (sometimes she adds spices just to change its hue), the way she inhales hypnotic aromas, and her insistence on adding texture to enhance the visceral enjoyment of eating. Whew! Give me a minute. I gotta take a breath.

Just so you don't think my passion is shallow, let me assure you I am not naïve about Nigella Lawson: I know she is a celebrity chef. I had vaguely heard of her bohemian approach to cooking ("Forever Summer") and had seen bits of various guest appearances, but up until now that was just vague celebrity background noise. Years ago, my mother had embraced Martha Stewart's ideas, bought rubber garden clogs, and even painted her deck the shade of pale green that Martha used on her web site. But, gees, even before she went to prison, Martha was never someone you could warm up to, even in a platonic way.

Nigella is the anti-Martha. Martha is austere and pastel. Nigella is dark, rich, and deep. Martha hides her maturing figure behind boxy, starched, stand-up-collared cotton shirts. Nigella wraps her hourglass shape in clinging red, black, and white. Martha had a contentious divorce while she ruthlessly climbed her career ladder. Nigella is a widow who stood by her husband during a long, painful illness and worked hard to support her family. Martha seemed to use borrowed children as props for her holiday shows. Nigella feeds her own children yummy southern eggs and ham cooked in cola before walking them to school and she makes snacks for "tea" when they return home. Don’t you love the whole "tea" thing? I once heard that while filming, Audrey Hepburn demanded the cast and crew stop each afternoon for tea. Nigella? Audrey? Snacks for tea? I am so in LOVE.

But the ultimate seduction of Nigella is that she is the anti-me. What I fear, she savors. What I try to hide, she celebrates. She criticizes "food fashion victims" who reject certain groceries as "too old fashioned" or who expect a plate to be immaculately presented. And unlike Martha, who stands at a distance acting as a school marm, Nigella generously invites me to join her tribe and to bring all my flaws with me. Her producers cleverly show scenes of Nigella and friends enjoying her food in settings where I can actually see myself: a Christmas Eve dinner, a girls-only night of drinks and decadent desserts, or an easy meal of comfort food for one.

As warm as a bowl of her favorite lentil and chestnut soup, as beautiful as her bejeweled Christmas fruitcake, and as comfy as the house slippers she pads around the house in, she's the perfect partner. As they (sort of) say in the movies, this could be the start of a beautiful relationship.

But please don’t tell my boyfriend.


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