Wednesday Confessions of A Hungry Itinerant
I confess this is not the normal place for you to purge your indiscretions and revelations. This is Wednesday Food. A place for us to talk about what happens in the kitchen– what we cook, read, drink, produce and consume— from our context beside the stove.
But I don’t have a stove right now, and I’ve made exactly one meal in the last 25 days. There have been beers and books, none of them more than exactly what I needed at any time, and none which were particularly exceptional.
In the past three weeks I have migrated from a temporary job in the Bay Area, to packing and storing personal belongings up and through Southern California, to a week in Arizona, and where I now find myself, on the north side of Chicago, in my latest week-long stint of employment. This is an enormous transition from the perspective from which I wrote four short months ago.
A great difference is that I am very far removed from my comfort zone in the kitchen. I miss losing myself in the act of cleaning, chopping, baking, and boiling. I miss bringing sustenance and pleasure to the people I cherish. As I am around equally ambitious family members, I am no longer the primary authority in any kitchen. I have been learning to embrace new roles and experiences.
One thing I have learned in my nomadic streak is the curious conditions of a memorable food experience. The greatest bite of food I had from a full week in a state new to me did not come from any of the rustic or sophisticated restaurants in which we ate. It came from the simple snack at a casual wine tasting. It was a a bite-sized crostini, nicely toasted with a scoop of mascarpone and a drizzle of sweetly reduced balsamic vinegar. Four of us were so satisfied in this single instance of gustatory processing that we spoke of it the rest of the trip. Upon our return we recreated that single bite of food from quality ingredients. It wasn’t the same.
I can’t help but conclude that the properties of the ingredients, while entirely important, belong within a place and time that cannot be replicated even if the meal can. Think back to a vacation or holiday you vividly remember, and to a meal you can single out within it. Was it not the external circumstances that contributed to that food as much as the things you were eating? The elementary but delicious combination of sweet, creamy mascarpone and tart vinegar participate as much in my memory of that meal as the fact that I was with my sister, Aunt, and friend, in a historic town at the beginning of a trip, hungry for adventure.
Then there are the flavors that are entirely ordinary, but continuously captivating. Like the pictured beer, my favorite for many years. I wasn’t 60 minutes off the plane before opening a deeply nostalgic bottle. The four months I’ve lived in California I’ve sought out a beer that is as readily available and consistently satisfying, as regionally heralded and precariously boozey as Two Hearted from Bell’s. This, I confess, to no avail. So I will enjoy every moment and every sip of my brief week in the place that used to be home with the beer I’ll always love. Then I’ll continue forth, to wherever I next may sojourn or settle.
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