I have an especially good memory for three categories of things: email addresses and URLs, what’s in any particular book that I’ve used or read, and good meals. The first two things are handy for my job as a librarian. The last just makes me nostalgic, all the time, for meals I have had with friends: ad-hoc picnics while traveling, fancy restaurants, not-so-fancy restaurants, cooking adventures at home. Things I remember: the hotel breakfast in Istanbul that first day and afterwards, looking out to the deep dark blue of the Bosphorus, eating hard-boiled eggs, olives, cucumbers, and feta, and drinking dark strong coffee. It was the best thing I’d ever had. Other things that were the best I’d ever had: a pasta dish of nothing more than fresh herbs and olive oil, in a restaurant that is now out of business in Seattle. It had mint and oregano, and was a one-time special; it was extraordinary. Similarly, a lemon cream pasta in Italy, the first time I went to Europe as a teenager; I cannot remember where, or really much else, but the texture! the flavor! I have been trying to recreate it for 20 years. (See also from that trip: eggplant pizza somewhere on the Adriatic coast; gelato in Rome; onion soup at Chartres; Roquefort salad in Paris. I was impressionable).
I remember the less notable meals, too. I used to get this cream of tomato soup at a restaurant in my hometown, when I was hanging out after school. It was perfect; I used it as the inspiration for my own recipe that I’ve made ever since. Fried chicken from the grocery store, at a 4th of July picnic, a few years ago; that store’s recipe on that particular day was just right, and we had a spectacular time. A veggie soup I used to make while living in Seattle, but rarely do anymore, but still associate with cloudy days and homework. The first time, a few years ago, that I had the perfect falafel at my favorite middle eastern place in San Francisco: I fell in love and couldn’t understand why this place wasn’t world-famous. A dish of pasta in butter, in Ontario (was it a mining town? outside of Toronto?) when I was eight and traveling with my parents, that I can visualize perfectly, shining bright, in the midst of an otherwise hazy memory of a trip. A single amazing meal of fajitas in West Texas when I was driving across the country 14 years ago to move to California. I said to my boyfriend, enthralled with how good they were, “let’s stop here when we come back!” He turned to me and said, “we’re moving; we’re not coming back.” I nearly cried.
So many meals, so many memories. That’s been somehow in the back of my mind this weekend as I’ve done a little soul searching about where I’ve been and where I’m going: in my career, in my home life, in my writing and goals. I don’t have any particular updates to report, or things that have changed. But I have been laying out the choices in my mind, matrices of options and constraints, punctuated here and there by a forkful, a spoonful, of joy and possibility.