From the garden: cherry tomatoes, basil
Before I moved to New Mexico I lived in Columbia, Missouri, where I attended graduate school. I’m not going to lie: I didn’t love living in a small Midwestern college town. Hailing from Seattle, I never adjusted to the oppressively humid summers, the frigid winters, and the fact that I couldn’t find vacuum-sealed gnocchi or Torani vanilla syrup in my local grocery store. (I once tried to make my own gnocchi but failed to locate a potato ricer to buy, making the task, if not impossible, arduous, but that is another story for another day.) But one thing I did love about living in Missouri was the people. My dad, who lived for a spell in St. Louis during his twenties, is fond of saying, “Midwesterners – you’ll never find nicer people.” During my time there I met some of the best people I’ve ever known, many of whom I am still in touch with today, including my friend, Anne.
Anne and I met when I made a visit to campus before deciding to enroll in my graduate program. She was my hostess during my two-day trip, during which time we quickly bonded over our shared tastes in films, books, and food, and when I came to campus that fall our friendship deepened. Although we were poor graduate students, it didn’t stop us from hosting one another to dinner parties at our slightly shabby apartments. Maikael and I were one of the only ones to meet Mike, a guy Anne briefly dated, who thought it was “weird” that she put grapes in the beautiful salad that she served us that evening. And every year we gathered to watch the Academy Awards while we dined on an Oscar-themed menu (“Cold Mountain” of Ice Cream with a “Mystic River” of Chocolate Sauce, anyone?). Many of my happiest memories of graduate school revolve around Anne and the meals we shared.
The day after graduation the movers cleared out our apartment, leaving us homeless for a night. Anne was quick to offer us a place to stay and a home-cooked dinner. When we arrived at her apartment at the end of moving day we were sweaty, exhausted and starving. I had been eating a strange hodge-podge of foods for the past two weeks in an effort to clear out the refrigerator and was dying for a real meal. The consummate hostess, Anne cracked open a bottle of refreshing white wine and laid forth a smorgasbord, including roasted chicken and this delicious pasta dish made with corn and cherry tomatoes. I loved the pasta so much that I transcribed the recipe on a sunny yellow recipe card and tucked it in my suitcase. The next morning, as the airport shuttle pulled away from the curb, I looked out the window at Anne, who stood there waving goodbye. I wasn’t sure when I’d see her again, but I was grateful to know her, grateful for her hospitality, grateful for such a beautiful closure to my time in Missouri.
I am always amazed how food connects us to time and place. I have made that pasta dish many times over the years, and each time it brings me back to that sweltering late-spring evening, to a time when my life was, in many ways, just beginning. Last week, holding the tattered yellow recipe card in my hand, preparing this dish for my little family, it wasn’t any different. The cherry tomatoes and basil were from my garden, a sunny patch that Abra, then just a twinkle in my eye, adores. Although my life couldn’t be more different than it was on that crisp morning when I said “goodbye” to Anne, I still feel the warm embrace of my dear friend’s caring gesture across the miles and the years.