You may find yourself standing in the kitchen, sorting through your poor man’s mise-en-place, the spinach having passed the halfway point towards dissolution. A plum tomato jogs the memory of a man you dated: the one who taught you to give the cut red flesh a shake of salt before dropping them into the salad proper. You complete this act still, a decade later, and it’s automatic – your left hand gravitates to the salt cellar as you set aside the knife with your right. Only in a reflective mood, perhaps crafting a salad for a new beau, does your brain sort this memory to the slide behind your eyes: an impish tickle, a smile trigger.
There are memorable meals, a select group of good people whom gather to share cheeses and stories, and there are the more intimate memories – the teaching memories. Learning likes and dislikes, hoping culinary cleverness will translate into something post-kitchen.
The fellow who brought home radishes from the market, explained that their sharpness can be taken down with a quick pickling. The white bowl we placed in the fridge, full of sugar water and small pink circles, floating. The vegan boyfriend, with whom you crafted hearty, chunky pasta sauces; dessert was branches of raw rhubarb dipped in an open box of Domino sugar. Oats in everything, always. Or the apartment you gathered at after high school, the air rich with pork, a rice maker always full and at the center of attention at the table. And all those beautiful sneakers, a rainbow of suede, tucked under the boy beds just off the kitchen, adding their note to the mix.
Who was it who taught me to slice an avocado? To free a mango appropriately of its skin? I dated enough in my 20s that some of these memories are muted, and beautiful for it. It is me and some platonic, benevolent shadow wielding the expert knife. I’m sure in the moment I was freeing the mango from its clinging seed I was ecstatic, pleased with myself, and creating the type of mess we never allow ourselves as adults. Discovery, mistakes.
I lure my husband to the kitchen when I can – I am the teacher now, a hilarious bit to those who came up with me, foodie girlfriends for whom I was a gremlin of bad luck, too full of giggles to remember when to check on the rising bread. But I did learn some things: my own version of the honeyed, herbed popcorn that my roommate and I would sneak into Seattle theaters; lemon on everything, especially if you think you need salt. Acid first.
Together we have learned that we love mustard peppercorn crusted salmon with roasted lemony asparagus; he favors rice as a convenient sop. The husband disliked ginger; I learned to sneak it in. For our first anniversary, a bowl of gingery lemongrass coconut broth with mussels; we drank it down after the mussels dwindled. His duty is salad: the spinning, the slicing. Our kitchen is small, built for intimacy. Our memory dish: sliced, sautéed kohlrabi in butter, salt, pepper, finished with shredded Parmesan. Served as a warm, melty, lovely mess.