To be fair, I have had lots of delicious food in my life, some of it in fact quite recently. For example, the scarily addictive fried Brussels sprouts at the Capital City Gastropub in Albany or the other-worldly balsamic vinaigrette at Baba Louie’s in Great Barrington (which I have been known to refer to as “my boyfriend”) or even the pizza I had a couple summers ago at Co. on 24th street, which rendered me completely speechless (difficult to do, if you know me). But what I’m talking about here is food, for reasons that will soon be made clear, that was both insanely good and impossible to ever have again. Sadly, all of them exist as but a memory now.
Vegetarian lasagna in Cork City, Ireland. About 20 years ago, I was spending a couple of weeks in Cork with my vehemently vegetarian friend Christina when we came upon this restaurant somewhere and had the most remarkable vegetarian lasagna. We couldn’t quite figure out what made it so even though we discussed the possibilities (many years later I realized: Bechamel sauce) and we went there every single day, so stunned were we by its deliciousness in a city known more for its, shall we say, beverages. I’m thinking that if I ever were to find this restaurant again (unlikely) they couldn’t possibly still be serving that vegetarian lasagna. Could they?
The falafel. You’ve heard about this one before, yes? Just an ordinary day it was, but I have no idea what I was doing in the 20s on the east side. I know I was walking somewhere, but I can’t remember where. And then there was the cart. And I figured, Oh, I should get a falafel. And then the guy said, all casual-like, What do you want on it, everything? Sure, I said. And that’s what did it. Whatever combination of things he squirted out of his many bottles of wonderfulness, it turned out to be the most remarkable falafel I ever had. For years I have been trying to find something that at least approximates it. So far I have yet to find it.
Annie’s Mac and Cheese at North Cascades National Park. My friend Betsy is a national park ranger and has been for most of her working life. This job involves much hiking up and down mountains. When I was about 25, I visited her in Washington and spent five days living with her in the backcountry. One evening, we came back from a long hike, tired and starving, and Betsy made us dinner. You realize I’m talking about boxed mac and cheese, right? So what happened? What I saw was some Annie’s mac and cheese going into some boiling water and then Betsy scraping in some carrots and some other vegetables, I don’t even remember what. But it was, in fact, one of the most delicious meals I have ever had in my life. I don’t really like to question the magic of that dinner. Just take me at my word.
My grandmother’s potatoes and spinach. This was a combination invented to get me to eat spinach, but it was fantastic, trust me. She would mash up potatoes, mash up some spinach, and then mix them together. Whenever I am really sick, this is the only thing I ever want to have when I feel better. And I’ve tried to reproduce it, but of course I can never get it quite right. I never watched it happening, is the problem. It just kind of appeared. Sometimes my girls watch with horror as I absentmindedly mix mashed potatoes and spinach on my own plate, if I ever make them both for dinner. And it’s always good, but not quite as I remembered.
Steve Golby’s salad. Many years ago, I went with my friend Leah to her dad’s house in Elmira, New York, a small town somewhere near Binghamton. I don’t remember what we had for dinner, but I remember my complete astonishment as I watched him make a salad. First he took a garlic clove and rubbed it around the inside of the salad bowl. You gotta season the bowl, he explained. I had never seen anything like this. How do I explain it except that it was the late 80s and no one was really making salad like this yet. He put in the usual stuff, but also as I watched, still astonished, he cut up a kiwi and put that in too. Then he mixed up his own salad dressing, something I wasn’t accustomed to seeing either. It goes without saying that this was the best salad I'd ever had in my young life. And this salad changed the way I thought about salads forever. Never again would I be satisfied with iceberg lettuce and bottled Italian dressing. What I had seen was the beginning of the salad revolution. And Steve, who unfortunately died just a few short years later, made it possible for me to be right there when it happened.