Artichoke Hearts, A Love Story

My last blog was about “first dates” and since last week would have been my 37th wedding anniversary (had the marriage lasted), I decided to write about a first date with my ex. This is likely the nicest story I will ever write about him. And, as you might have noticed, I enjoy writing about food. I believe food and romance go together, don’t you? Here goes. 

“You’ll love it,” he said, gazing at me across the kitchen counter where he’d prepared his favorite recipes. As a starter, Tim introduced me to what looked like a large green flower bulb, perfectly arranged on a platter alongside leaves of the same plant and a dip he concocted simply from melted butter, lemon juice, and a dollop of mayonnaise. His sky-blue eyes softened–seeing through my contrived smile and raised eyebrows that this was my first encounter with an artichoke. Without a word, he looked me in the eyes, peeled off a leaf, dipped it in sauce and scraped the flesh with his teeth. 

Getting acquainted with the artichoke and the man behind it, I discovered similarities between the two. Both were “an acquired taste” for me, like some of my favorite wines. Just as I’d never seen or tasted an artichoke, I hadn’t dated anyone like Tim, a knowing and caring man underneath a rustic demeanor. With some insight and inspiration, I found myself falling in love with both. Attempting a new and unfamiliar dish for the first time can be a bit unnerving, so preparation and presentation are equally important in making that first impression. 

What family and friends may not know about me is that I’m a curious and adventurous soul willing to tread, cautiously, beyond my comfort zone to try something new. An open mind is essential and it’s best not to bring high expectations to the table. Just be present in the moment with what is directly across the counter in front of you, and you will enjoy a uniquely flavorful cuisine. Take it slow in the beginning, savoring each mouthful, while gradually becoming familiar with its tastes and textures. This process can take time, and it’s wise to sample something new a few times in different settings to fully appreciate its value. One might find, over time, that this newfound fare is a delightful source of pleasure. 

The artichoke, if not harvested, will become a beautiful purple flower or thistle. Since quality matters, one should learn the source of any new acquaintance–vegetable or human. As it turns out, both the artichoke and Tim are products of southern California. At the core, each has a warm and tender heart, protected by strong outer layers, rough and virile on the surface. Unearthing the heart isn’t easy, but the reward is out of this world. 

The artichoke can be roasted in the oven or on the grill. Tim’s artichokes are steamed until soft enough to peel back layers and get to the heart. This delicacy can be served up at any temperature, but it is best after a good simmer, and it’s always wise to let it cool down before handling. You’ll know it’s done when the stem is fork-tender. 

The artichoke and the man may be delectable, but they can also be intimidating and precarious. The reason an artichoke’s fuzzy center near the heart is called a choke is because it is a choking hazard. The danger of marrying Tim was my bringing unrealistic expectations to the table, moving too fast, anticipating the perfect finish, and ultimately discarding the heart. 

Author: Leslie J. Cox

Leslie Cox is a writer of creative non-fiction, focusing on personal essay and memoir. Her essay “My Favorite Chair” was a runner up in the WOW! Women on Writing Q1 2020 Creative Nonfiction Contest, and she published two essays in “Her Vase” in 2020. Her essay "Distracted" appeared in the Pure Slush anthology: "Love, Lifespan," and she has enjoyed contributing to guest blogs and book reviews. Prior to semi-retiring from health care administration in 2019, Leslie wrote and published trade articles and a guidebook for health care professionals for HCPro. When she’s not writing, Leslie tutors students K-12 in the craft of writing, and that fills her up!

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