Since my roommate left Colorado for the Bay Area, it’s been really wet and rainy here in Denver. We even got some snow. This is pretty unusual for us. We get 300 sunny days each year. The Chamber of Commerce says so. Today was yet another gray day. I’m kind of savoring it because it’s been a while since we’ve had a proper wet spring, and I know this will be my last one here for a while. I also just flat out love rain, so I don’t mind one little bit.
I kind of overdid it this weekend. I had way too much energy and did not rest enough. I knew this would have ramifications, but I did not know it would mean awful asthma symptoms this morning. Apparently, moving things around kicks up a lot of dust–which makes my asthma not so happy. So, I made the executive decision to stay home from work today. I recognized how tired I was, and powering through it would probably land me in the ER. So, to bed I went–and stayed, for most of today.
I was really glad I’d made a crockpot full of chili last night. The smell woke me up a couple of times, but Rilly’s yowls for food mid-afternoon is what got me out of bed.
All of these things–the rainy weather, the not feeling well, and the chili–triggered that old friend of mine: nostalgia.
I’m prone to such things. I think it’s the writer in me. In any case, food–especially–takes me to a very sentimental place. When you’re a chef’s daughter, you can’t help but become a foodie with friends who are also foodies and a whole host of memories surrounding certain dishes. For me, food will always be about connection, and it’s a way to stay close to people I’ve loved and maybe lost.
The chili I made yesterday is my ex’s recipe. He was known for his chili and would often make big pots of it for friends who came over for creativity parties and small dinner parties. I remember how much I loved cooking with him and his brother. It still brings back such happy memories. I’ve riffed on it here and there, but it’s essentially his–though I don’t use buffalo like he did and I’m much more experimental about the chiles and beans I use. I also usually add some corn. I still have to have a big handful of Fritos–in the bottom of the bowl with a big scoop of chili on top. He taught me that.
It’s the one thing that–for years–I kept from that relationship…even when I hated every single thing about him ever being in my life. I think it stayed in my life because it was so comforting. Nothing mends a broken heart better than a big bowl of delicious chili and a slew of romantic comedies on the couch. To be honest, I needed that tether to keep me open…and not hate him for the rest of my life.
Thinking about that chili recipe reminded me a lot of the people who’ve been in my life–who aren’t here anymore…either by choice or by fate. It reminded me of how much these things make impressions on our lives. How every time I make this chili–I tell some story about that guy I thought I’d marry one day. And, despite all the bitter venom that happened between us and despite how far away we are from each other now, that memory will always be sweet.
Just like music and books–food stays. Maybe even more powerfully. Food is a drug, of course. Eating something can take you back in time.
So, since I’m feeling nostalgic tonight…I think I’ll share a few food memories–based on eras in my life.
My childhood was this mix of abject poverty and riches beyond belief. On one hand, we had nothing. We’d make many trips to food banks in my childhood. On the other hand, my father was a chef, and we lived next to one of the most culturally diverse parts of Denver–a place filled with exotic spices and strange things on shelves. I walked a tightrope of a life nourished by rice, beans, and all things gluten-y along with the excesses of American convenience in the ’80s & ’90s. Lots of bread. Lots of dairy. Ramen. Freeze cups. Pizza with giant salads and fast food fried chicken. Counteracted by the most amazing Asian food and Mexican wonders. I spent many days cooking with my parents. I learned how to make these Mexican beauties from my auntie. I never liked my Daddy’s chili. But his cornbread was the best–and I still make it, sometimes. I learned how to cook by instinct. I never measured anything. Which is why, to this day, I’m not the best at cakes. They’ll taste good, but they may be inverted. Ha.
I’ve eaten powdered eggs. I’ve made desserts out of powdered skim milk and saltines. I’ve had canned pork and government cheese. I think these things inform how I eat today–and why fresh food and high quality food is now so important to me.
Young adulthood was a mix of cafeteria food at school and discovering what existed beyond Westwood. I ate a lot of grilled turkey and cheese and iced mochas. I spent countless mornings at the top floor of my school’s library, behind the clock–watching the campus walk by–while drinking a strawberry banana smoothie (the best) from Brewski’s and chowing down on a toasted everything bagel. I also ate a lot of giant salads. But then, I ventured out into this new world of North Denver. It had hole-in-the-wall Mexican that was hotter than anything I’d ever had. But it was the Italian food that won we over. And I became a coffee snob. And an apple cider freak, thanks to working in the Writing Center.
It was then that I started experimenting and trying to learn new ways of cooking. I’d get these classic cookbooks, and I’d cook a dish each week. For holidays, I’d cook these huge feasts with my mother as sous chef. We’d always find our way to the couch and would collapse in a heap at the end of the day.
Chili ex came into my life a few years after college. He introduced me to Guinness. I didn’t drink much–if at all back then–and was back living in Westwood. I guess, with him, I learned how much fun food could be. It became a social activity. I cooked with his brother, and we’d challenge each other to do complex things. They loved to grill things.
There was the ex that was obsessed with pizza and boozy drinks filled with diet vanilla cola and something else I can’t quite remember. I think it was vodka? I think I only cooked for him once–in his old apartment in LA–and it was my special pizza. We took it on a roadtrip and ate it cold. We ate a lot of takeout, and he would bring me ice cream sandwiches before he left for work.
There was the guy who got me obsessed with caipirnhas who liked simple food who I tried to impress with my cooking. The guy who showed up and whisked me away for pancakes at 2 am. The guy I never once shared a meal with. And the one who couldn’t stand bits in anything. (Bits meaning anything with texture–like nuts). And I would laugh at him because nuts are delicious. We would rhapsodize together about spaghetti. He once sent me a pineapple bouquet. He knew me all too well.
There’s the guy who became my roommate, who I baked cupcakes for–which were fantastic, but came out a little too moist. He made me my first bowl of homemade Indian food, and I discovered I don’t hate lentils. Every time I made anything for him, it never came out quite right. But we’ve made heavenly baklava and yummy feasts together.
No matter what has happened, there are these memories that make me smile…that are so unique to each relationship I’ve had. These are the memories that stay with me–that I think of when I remember them. Not the heartache or the hurt feelings. I hope they remember these things, too. Or maybe they have their own memories of me that aren’t about the weird times in our lives. I suppose the fact that these are my memories of them means I’ve grown up a bit. Well, here’s hoping.