Have you ever cooked an artichoke?
They are a pain in the ass to prepare. If you want to steam a whole fresh artichoke, you first have to snip the spiny tips of every outer leaf so that they don’t draw blood. You have to cut off the stem so that the vegetable sits upright in its steam bath, and you have to saw off a good inch of useless tiny leaves clustered at the top of the globe. You steam the artichoke in a little water so that its tight fist of fibrous petals begins to unclench–but not too much water, and not for so long that the artichoke wilts open like a dying rose. Either by bisecting the artichoke or by patiently delving into the center of its petals with a spoon, you scoop out the bristly inedible choke.
That’s just to cook the thing. To eat, you pull off one leaf at a time. You can also dip the leaf in garlicky butter or stuff cheese and breadcrumbs between all its herbaceous shingles, but ultimately you must slowly tear the artichoke into pieces and scrape off the tenderest part of each petal with your teeth until you reach the heart: delicate and subtle, but substantial.
Artichokes take time and loving attention to prepare, and it takes just as long to consume what little tenderness this spiky vegetable has to offer. For a long time, I only served steamed or stuffed artichokes when I had an audience: boyfriends, usually, but sometimes friends; once a small party of women who were trying to distract one of our number from a bad breakup. Only in recent years did I consider preparing artichokes for myself.
The artichoke is my most visible tattoo. When curious strangers ask me about it, I tell them that it was my gift to myself when I defended my dissertation and completed my PhD in literature. I’ll let you figure out the rest.