Yeah, it's one of those posts.
I was still a teenager; Stacy was a little older and a thousand times as worldly. She invited me to a party being held at a restaurant. When I arrived, I debated going in, because I could see through the windows that the guys there were all wearing suits that cost more than my car. I did go in, found Stacy talking with a group she tried to introduce to me and with whom she left me, while she went looking for some drinks; the conversation revolved around artists I'd never heard of and vacation spots I'd never see. I hate small talk. I hate mingling.
Eventually she returned with a tray (no drinks) and told me I had to try the stuffed mushrooms. There are some things that are just inedible: Coleslaw. Meatloaf. Stuffed vegetables. I tried to say no, but she convinced me to try one. It was a revelation; grilled creminis stuffed with a salmon mousse, shallots and something sour and green (probably minced cornichons). As a midwestern teenager, the foods I recognized came on top of pizzas; mushrooms were button, salmon was canned, pickles were dill. I had never eaten anything like this and couldn't get enough. In fact, the next day I went back to the restaurant for lunch - and could afford only the appetizer and nothing else - and now the mushrooms were awful. Well, serviceable, maybe, but nothing like the night before. I asked my waiter about it and he said they depended upon who made them; I considered offering money to find out who made them the night before, but I'd emptied my wallet already.
One day, Stacy invited me to her place. When I arrived, she wanted to offer me something to eat, but said there wasn't much in the apartment. Would cheese and crackers do? It wasn't food I came there for, so it didn't matter. She said it'd take her a minute to toast the almonds and she'd be right back. I thought: "doesn't cheese and crackers consist of... cheese and crackers?" She came back with something that looked interesting. "Try it and tell me what you think." I found the still-warm almonds had caused the cheese to soften and almost melt. The cheese was unfamiliar, not cow probably, a little nutty, but perhaps that was the almonds. The cheese was held to the cracker with a green paste I couldn't identify; it was tart, somewhat like a thick applesauce made with green apples, but with a different texture and a unique flavor. "It's manchego and quince paste. It's a classic combination. And the cracker?" It was nothing remarkable. "You're right. The cracker doesn't work. It's just there to give you something to hold."
It suddenly dawned on me that she had made the stuffed mushrooms herself. I recognized her technique, though I couldn't say what it was.
Another day, she remarked about how I like extremes. Coffee has to be overwhelmingly strong. Chiles have to be blistering. I had told her once about how, when I was groing up, we had rhubarb growing in the yard and we'd eat it raw like celery, dipping the end into sugar; my brothers did it just to eat sugar, but I abandoned the sugar and just ate the rhubarb; I liked the unadulterated sourness.
She told me I needed to learn how to meld the extremes into a balance. She brought some things out of her kitchen: rhubarb (out of season), stilton cheese and a ruby port. "I have to see you eat raw rhubarb." I had a bite of rhubarb, and then I wanted something else, something to take off the edge, soft, warming, sweet - in other words, the port. The port was a little cloying and astringent at the same time, so now I wanted something sharp in flavor, but smoothe in texture - the cheese. The cheese left an aftertaste that I wanted to remove with something sour - the rhubarb. I don't know how many circuits I made of the cycle of rhubarb, wine and cheese before I realized what she'd done, but I was a little sick to my stomach and a bit tipsy.
She told me, "People are not that different from food. You need to learn the parts, how they go together, how they respond to different treatments. The rest is just technique, and that comes with time. It helps if you have someone to teach you." Then she led me into her bedroom.
They say you never forget your first time.
2 days ago