I know it might seem like I am obsessed with food. I’m not. Okay, actually, maybe I am. But when you’re staring into the abyss and wondering if you’ll ever eat like a normal person again, it makes you pause.
That’s one reason when I discovered I had Achalasia about the same time my husband and I started planning our 40th anniversary trip, we quickly zeroed in on France and Italy—both places that excel in foods we like to eat. The idea was that we’d celebrate our anniversary—and the joy of being able to eat again post surgery. During the darkest days leading up to my surgery in February and ongoing recovery ever since, when I was feeling particularly bad, I’d close my eyes and imagine myself sitting in a small Parisian café, eating split pea soup with a touch of sherry ladled out of a white porcelain tureen. Or sitting in a Tuscan village pizzeria tasting that first beautiful bite of pizza con pomodoro.
No doubt about it, I love food. When I think about the best times of my life, it often includes eating something delicious, often with my favorite people. Here are some of the best times I’ve ever had eating.
- Eating alone in Tbilisi, Georgia. I prefer not to eat alone, but sometimes, there is no choice. Right before my sabbatical started, I spent about a month in Tbilisi, Georgia (the country, not the state), teaching a class. It was my second time in the country, but the first when I was alone for most meals. That made the comfort of food even more important. When I ate “Georgian beans” I never felt lonely. It’s hard to describe how delicious Georgian “lobani” are. But, every time I ate them, I felt better, I felt at home, and I felt like everything would be okay.
- Eating dinner at the Alvah Stone. My friend Kathy F moved from South Carolina to Massachusetts and I visited her a few years ago on my way to an academic conference. Converted from an old mill, the Alvah Stone restaurant had it all—including an incredible chef. We didn’t know what to expect, but it surpassed everything we could imagine. We enjoyed the food (and wine!) so much that as the hours rolled by, the chef eventually came out of the kitchen to say hello. I seem to remember an inventive take on gnocchi, a hint of lavender water in the shortbread, and a dry Riesling that made me swoon. It remains a dinner for the record books.
- Creating a send-off dinner party. My friend Marcie and I cooked and hosted a dinner party last summer to celebrate our friend Kathy R who was heading up north to begin her presidency of Westminster College. We invented a cocktail (the Presidential Cocktail, of course) and cooked our hearts out (does blueberry soup with toasted pound cake croutons ring a bell?) as we toasted our dear friend.
- Independence Day every year. Speaking of Marcie, many of my epic food experiences involve Marcie. And one of my favorite culinary events is the 4th of July when Marcie heads down to our beach house for a weekend of sun, relaxation and epic cooking. Over the 4th, you can be sure that a blueberry pie will emerge along with any number of salads, fish, and veggies. Cooking with Marcie is always grand.
- Cooking for the hubster. One of the joys of cooking is to cook for people I love. And the ultimate example here is cooking for my husband, Gary. One of the many great things about my mate is that he always appreciates when I cook for him. Doesn’t matter what it is, he eats it and (usually) likes it. During our 40 years of marriage, I don’t think he has ever complained about something I cooked. (And this includes the tater tot casserole with canned peas I made when we were poor and newly married.)
And now here we are, one week before we leave on our “big trip.” In my mind, I have imagined in exquisite detail every meal I am hoping to eat during our 31 days away. There are the four-course meals on our transatlantic cruise. We’re sitting by the window at a table for two, gazing out at the sea, savoring a mango and feta salad. Or a pile of heirloom tomatoes with a balsamic reduction.
Or, we’re grabbing a croissant in Paris on our way to a stroll along the Seine. Or we’re tucking in to a piece of focaccia in Recco, Italy (which happens to be where focaccia was invented). Or eating dinner at our agritourismo in Tuscany, rendered speechless by the lightness of the homemade pasta.
Gary’s worried that I’ve played these scenarios out in my head so many times, the reality of our trip will not live up to my dreams of it.
But, I’m not worried. The trip is already an unmitigated success in my mind, however it ends up in reality. During the most painful days of my recovery, I would close my eyes and imagine the cooking class I’m planning to take in Italy. Or the gelato I am planning to eat. Or the breakfast on our balcony during our ocean crossing.
All of these dreams involve my husband. He’s looking forward to the trip, but probably not to the level that I am. He’s been on one cruise. And he hated it. Still, he is willing to take a two-week transatlantic cruise where we will spend many days at sea (and no way to get off the ship no matter what the weather is like, or how loud the people are, or how obnoxious the lessons in making animals out of towels may be). And any ideas I have had about what to do while we’re in France and Italy, he has basically said, “Sure, sounds great.”
He is taking this trip to make me happy. I am already happy over the whole thing. This 40th wedding anniversary trip is already one for the record books. And nothing like weather, long lines—or even achalasia—is going to change that. I’m spending an entire month with the man who, as a college student, saw my potential. What in the world did we know so long ago?
Turns out, we knew more than we thought we did. And that makes me happy. And grateful. So Bon Voyage! Ci vediamo quando torniamo!