March 21, 2011
We were so pleased with the variety of entries we received for our last Inviting Writing, about food and dating—they were sweet, funny, endearing, sad. Let’s see if we can top it with this month’s theme, a topic that anyone should be able to relate to: memorable meals. If it was the food itself that made it memorable, that’s fine—make our mouths water sharing every delectable detail. But it’s also acceptable—maybe even preferable—if the reason it was memorable was only tangentially related to the food. Maybe it was memorably disastrous (Dad burned breakfast, making you late for your driving test, which you subsequently failed), or was connected with a momentous event in your life (your first meal in your own home, for instance). Set the scene and let us feel whatever it was that still lingers in your memory, for better or worse.
As a reminder, submissions should be true, original personal essays somehow inspired by this invitation. Send yours to FoodandThink@gmail.com with “Inviting Writing: Most Memorable Meal” in the subject line by this Friday morning, March 25. We’ll read them all and post our favorites on subsequent Mondays. Remember to include your full name and a biographical detail or two (your city and/or profession; a link to your own blog if you’d like that included).
When In Rome
by Lisa Bramen
I had the most memorable meal of my life (so far) about 15 years ago, on a summer night in Rome. It wasn’t the fanciest food I have ever eaten. It wasn’t the most impressive feat of culinary skill; I don’t even recall every dish that was served. It certainly wasn’t the worst meal I’ve had—that dishonor may belong to a plate of lukewarm spaghetti swimming in orange grease, served by a grumpy waiter about an hour after I had ordered it. This was also in Rome. A travel tip: unless you are dining with the Pope himself, get as far away from the Vatican as possible before attempting to find a decent bite.
Here’s some more advice: If you have the good fortune to be 24, a recent college graduate with a three-month Eurail Pass (acquired with a deep discount through the job you just quit at a corporate travel agency), make sure one of your stops is Rome. There, look up a former co-worker named Lisa (no relation to yourself), who moved there to start her own travel business. Even though you don’t know her well, she will be happy to show you around. She will take you to off-the-beaten-track places, for instance, a church decorated entirely with human skulls and crossbones. She’ll introduce you to local delicacies like pizza rustica—thin-crusted squares with little or no cheese—and candied chestnuts. She will know the best spots for gelato.
One night she will invite you to dinner with her Italian friends, Francesca and Paolo, and another man whose name you will not remember. Although they will attempt English conversation with you, they will speak Italian most of the time. You won’t mind—all the better to soak in the atmosphere and the pleasurably melodic sound of the language, stripped of its meaning. Dinner will be at a small trattoria on a side street far from the tourist attractions. You will be seated outside; it will be a warm summer evening. You will drink wine.
The others will order food for the table to share. Each dish will be unfamiliar to you, exciting: fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with a soft cheese and something salty that you realize too late is anchovies (but, even though you have been a vegetarian for years, you will not care because it will be so delicious); orecchiette with broccoli rabe.
For dessert, you will order some lemon gelato to bring back to Francesca and Paolo’s apartment. You will sit on their lovely terrace, eating gelato and drinking small glasses of pear brandy. You will feel giddy from the alcohol, the setting, the company.
At the end of the night, the nameless Italian man will offer you a ride back to your hostel. It will be on a Vespa. As you buzz through the streets of Rome on the back of his scooter, you will feel as if you could launch yourself into the heavens like Diana, the Roman moon goddess. You will remember this feeling forever.
September 7, 2010
This month’s Inviting Writing takes on the theme of college food, which, judging from all your responses so far, is the opposite of health food. Maybe that’s because the strange new taste of independence is so potent for many of us as freshman. It tempts us to eat crazy things like raw ramen noodles (yes, that was me) and makeshift Rice Krispy treats. Or just to eat at crazy hours, as in the case of today’s featured writer, Jennifer Walker of the Baltimore-based food blog My Morning Chocolate.
But it sure was fun, wasn’t it?
Late Night Eating
By Jennifer Walker
During my freshman year, I lived in a dorm with other students in my university’s Scholars Program. As part of this program, we took classes in a chosen specialty, and, in theory, lived on a floor with other students in our track. Yet somehow I ended up as the lone Arts student on an International Studies floor, across the dorm from my classmates.
Since I’m a quiet person anyway, I was nervous about living with a group of people who already shared a common interest. I felt like an outsider. But I quickly made friends, thanks in part to a classic college ritual: late-night eating.
Sometimes that literally meant going to “Late Night” at the university’s dining halls, which reopened between 9:00 p.m. and midnight to serve some of my favorite college junk foods: mozzarella sticks, burgers, French fries. (There may have been salad too, but I don’t remember anyone eating it.)
As long as I left my dorm room door open, anyone from the International Studies floors could become a dining buddy. Someone would inevitably pop their head in and ask, “wanna go to Late Night?” Then we’d walk to the elevator, picking up a few hungry hall mates along the way.
On these walks to the dining hall, I learned more about the people I saw only in passing during the day. There was Andrea, who shared my belief that typing (as in typing on typewriters) was the most valuable class she took in high school. And Ricky, who, like me, lived for the dining hall’s grilled cheese and tomato soup Fridays.
Granted, I barely said five sentences out loud. But I listened, and I felt like I was part of the group.
When we didn’t feel like walking to Late Night, having Papa John’s pizza delivered to our dorm was just as good. The same rule applied: if I left my door open, I could be asked to come to someone’s room for a slice.
My friend Steve was often the host. We would spread the pizza box on the floor, open up containers of garlic dipping sauce for our crust, and talk. As each person finished eating, he or she would stand up and return to their respective rooms.
These late-night eating rituals were a regular part of my week—and social schedule—until the end of the first semester. Then, looming finals meant I didn’t have hours to spend loitering in the dining halls or chatting over pizza boxes. Instead, I spent my evenings sitting at the desks in one of my dorm’s study rooms. It was there that I found a new type of late-night “cuisine.”
One evening, a group of us had taken over one of the rooms on the first floor. As the hours grew later, people dropped off, closing their textbooks in favor of sleep. Eventually, only three of us remained. We decided to pull an all-nighter.
“Let’s go get some coffee,” my friend Kim said. We left our books in the room and walked to the convenience store in the center of our quad. It was crowded. I wasn’t a coffee drinker at the time, but I still got in the self-service line, ready to fill a large cup with steaming hazelnut brew. Here, I also met quad mates who had decided to caffeinate themselves for late-night study sessions. We commiserated about our finals and the work we still had to do as we drank our coffee through the early morning hours.
I haven’t felt that same camaraderie since I left college. My dorm mates and I were all in the same stage then: living in a new place and asserting our independence, even if this just meant showing that we could eat French fries, order Papa John’s, or drink coffee in the middle of the night.
Today, more than a decade later, I’m a student again. This time, I’m already independent—a married woman with an apartment, a job, and several bills to call her own. I don’t even know where my university’s dining halls are, and that’s fine with me. Late-night eating with my husband just wouldn’t be the same.
May 10, 2010
This Inviting Writing thing is off to a great start, isn’t it? We’ve arrived at the final installment of readers’ stories tied to the theme of “food and manners.” This one comes to us from Debra Kelly.
We’ll give you a new theme next week, so if your story didn’t get picked this time, we hope you’ll try again!
The World’s Best Liver Sandwich
By Debra Kelly
Back in the days of yore, I had a boyfriend. We lived in a small yet bustling Midwestern town. In yore, you eventually got around to bringing home the boyfiend—oops, boyfriend!—for Dad’s inspection. And dads have a way of sizing up young men. There could be a series of tests involved before a true picture could be formed in dad’s mind.
One of the first tests was regarding food and manners—but it had nothing to do with how you folded your napkin or held your fork. It revolved around a simple tenet: When your host cooked a meal for you, you liked it and you said so.
My dad loved to cook and took great pride in every concoction he produced. He was in the kitchen when my boyfriend and I arrived home one day, and he called out, “Are you hungry?” We answered in the affirmative and were asked to be seated.
I was delighted my boyfriend would have this time to bond with my father. Then I noticed my boyfriend tense, ever so slightly, and shift in his chair.
Dad had walked into the room with steaming plates in hand: Grilled liver and onions for each of us. This really wasn’t an unusual sandwich at our house. We enjoyed them occasionally.
“Uh oh,” I thought, suddenly remembering that my boyfriend hated liver.
Carefully, he said, “Ah, I don’t really eat liver sandwiches,” with an innocent smile and tentative tone that seemed to suggest a lack of knowledge rather than a complaint.
My father, not big on nuance, cheerfully responded: “You haven’t tasted MY liver sandwich!”
I thought about intervening, then decided to let my boyfriend handle it himself. I began eating, and scanned his face for clues as he did the same. Not once did he display a hint of dissatisfaction or disgust to his host. He didn’t flinch or even twitch. I was impressed.
When we were finished and it was time to go, my boyfriend rose from the table and said to my dad: “You really do make the world’s greatest liver sandwich, Mr. Dowling, thank you!”
I married him. It’s been 35 years and he hasn’t eaten a liver sandwich since.