Someone asked me if I’d always “been into” food. I thought, “Not really…” and began reviewing my youthful ambitions: Ballerina. Disney Imagineer. Christian martyr.
Being a cook never crossed my mind. But then I went back and did some digging. If I had a bare wall and was allowed to decorate it only with the crispest snapshots of long-ago occurrences, food would be main point of focus. Some highlights in my food timeline:
Age 2: Buying powdered doughnuts at the drive-through convenience store in Miami.
Age 3: Sitting in the yard with my cousins, wearing a ratty t-shirt reserved for the stains from impossibly juicy mangos. Instead of mud pies, my grandmother and I made mud tamales.
Age 4: Tea time with my mother at 3:00pm, prompt: white toast with butter and guava jelly as the sun set in a blaze of orange. Tea time in Buenos Aires: white sliced bread, butter spread evenly to crust-less edges, cut into quarters.
Age 5: Realizing that not everyone had enough to eat. The supermarket in Granada was mostly dusty shelves. Encountering rice pilaf as an individual course in Mexico—and hating it.
Age 6: Experiencing fancy food: Guanábana bombe for a fancy dinner party, courtesy of my grandmother. Profiteroles bathed in warm chocolate sauce at a white tablecloth restaurant in Mexico City. Getting sick after eating marzipan grapes at a First Communion party. Discovering consommé.
Age 7: Eating birthday cake with Jell-o. Apparently a common occurrence at Mexican birthday parties. Feeling grown-up because I loved pistachio ice cream.
Age 8: Eating my first TV dinner—I just had to try that cherry cobbler.
Age 9: Reading the Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie series, mesmerized by the descriptions of food preparations. The Hobbit falls into this category as well.
Age 15: Reading Jeffrey Steingarten’s article about Roman pizza bianca, then devouring a 12-inch rectangle of said item at the forno in Campo dei Fiori. It was better than I’d dared to imagine.
Age 16: Discovering Roman peaches. I can still smell them.
Age 28: I don’t think I’d ever really enjoyed lobster until I had it cooked in briny ocean water in Cape Cod.
When I eat or cook it’s hard to stay in the present and not travel back in time. The smell, the taste, the touch—déjà vu and comfort.