My dear friend Sharon has a broken heart.
For those of you who have been reading for awhile, you might remember that Sharon and I have been close friends since we were in high school. And in November, her boyfriend flew me down to Los Angeles to surprise her for her birthday. It was a time filled with great food, much laughter, and a Paul McCartney concert. At the time, who could have predicted that by April, Sharon and the boy would be no more? Well, unfortunately, I could have, and I did. Why? That’s between them. I have to be circumspect here. Let’s just say that, as sad as the sudden absence makes my lovely friend, it’s really for the best. In time, Sharon will see that. With her act of bravery, she has opened a door to her new life. However, right now, she’s only looking back. Right now, she is enormously sad.
And so, what could I do? All our lives, in essence, we have been each other’s consolers. In long telephone conversations, silly inside jokes, and frequent visits throughout the year, we have listened to and loved each other. There was nothing else for me to do but fly her up here and hold her close. We’ve been watching familiar, ridiculous British television, taking walks in the warm spring air, and going to the movies. We have stayed up late talking. We have sat on the couch, crying. We have gone to every local coffee shop for tea. We have been together.
But mostly, there is food. Sharon and I have always shared food. There have been sudden stops for slices of rhubarb pie, greasy breakfasts in Wyoming, citrus salmon with herbs, steaming plates of Phad Thai with chicken, cider doughnuts, summer peaches, baked brie at New Year’s, bowls of cafe au lait, and spare ribs that make us grin at each other through mouths stained with barbeque sauce. We have eaten in London, New York, Ireland, Seattle, Los Angeles, Ashland, and Shipshewanna Indiana. Not only have we spent almost twenty-five years eating meal after memorable meal, but we have taken photographs of many of them. We have reminisced about every one of them. We have taken notes, and kept food journals, to remind us of what we ate, and we have discussed every food we love in vivid detail. When I gave up gluten, I worried I would lose some essential part of myself, because Sharon and I could no longer stop for burgers and pie on road trips. But there is plenty of other food I can eat with Sharon, and she has supported me through it all.
And so, I am doing the only thing I can to do to take care of Sharon: I am feeding her. Like the best (non-Jewish, not-a-mother) Jewish mother I can be, I am feeding my friend. All year long, Sharon has been envious when she hears about the meals I am making for the friends gathered in my kitchen. So, we have gone through the website, and my edible memories of the year, and we have chosen the best of the bunch to cook again. Roast chicken and rosemary potatoes. Gluten-free pancakes and apricot sausages. Tart Meyer lemon sorbet. Gluten-free fig cookies, the figs marinated in port and pomegranate juice for twenty-four hours before. A pork roast salad with butternut squash, this time served warm on a bed of sauteed spinach. Cauliflower roasted with cocoa powder and smoked paprika. Popcorn made with truffle salt for the movies. We also made a few new favorites from other food blogs. Molly’s habit-forming radicchio-radish-endive salad. And the lemon-creme-fraiche chicken thighs that Luisa wrote about last month. (Yum.) We have woken up late — I have been on spring break this week — eaten breakfast with our strong black coffee (me) and Irish breakfast tea (Sharon), while watching something silly on tv. Then, we clean the kitchen and start preparations for lunch. A trip to the Market, a walk in the neighborhood, and then it’s time to start making dinner.
(Hopefully, you will understand, therefore, why I have been silent on this site the past week. I’m too busy cooking and eating to write about it right now!)
And there have been forays to food experiences outside my kitchen as well. A big breakfast at Glo’s. Steaming spicy goodness at Thai Tom. An indescribably good sampler of six different types of salami from Salumi, which we ate slowly, moaning, in the sunlight, on the bus ride home. (We both declare the small slice of mole salami the best we have ever eaten.) There was even a chocolate milkshake from Dick’s.
I think it has been helping. But she has a long road ahead of her, and she is entitled to her sadness. So, rather than declaring that she should just be in a better mood, I have gone out of my way to make sure she has every bite that appeals to her right now. Including — gasp — a handful of gluten treats.
Now, don’t misunderstand. I have not been eating gluten. I love my friend, but she wouldn’t want me to be sick for the days of her visit. But it has been a little sad, going to Top Pot doughnuts on 5th, and watching her eat a blueberry-cinnamon cake doughnut without me. Or walking through the crowds at the Market on a Saturday to make sure that she can have a little bag of the fresh-made doughnut holes at the best little stand in the world. I grew so immediately sad at the delectable smell, and the knowledge that I could never eat another one, that I had to duck into DeLaurenti’s and hide. (Then again, they had the first lactation goat’s milk cheese of the spring. I quickly forgot the doughnuts.) We walked to Macrina Bakery almost every day, and she bought delectable treats each time: little apple tartlelettes; Scottish oat cakes; brown sugar cupcakes; pear clafoutis. Luckily, I had tried them all before I had to stop eating gluten, so I could remember them. I didn’t feel bad. Later, she tried the Matiz olive oil crispbreads with sugared almonds and fennel that I have been seeing everywhere. Since they arrived after I stopped eating gluten, I didn’t have the sense memory of them in my mind. I longed for them. Luckily, Sharon is good at describing the taste of food, so I had some sense of them. But still, I know, it’s not the same. I felt a sudden sadness I only rarely feel: I can never eat gluten again.
But as soon as I felt it, I remembered to let that inform me. Sharon’s sadness at never being with her boyfriend again — suddenly, I felt a small sliver of what she must be feeling. And I hugged her even closer the next time.
(Also, Macrina has a chocolate ganache cupcake with a little slug of peanut butter inside — no flour here — so I wasn’t entirely deprived.)
Sharon and I started riffing last night on the idea that she could be the only person in the world allergic to teff. What if her visit here is the first time that is revealed to her? What if eating in a gluten-free household was as dangerous for her as eating gluten is for me? What if her body desperately needs gluten to stay alive? I was grateful for the silliness — this was one of the few times in the visit that she has been able to laugh.
I don’t know how much this visit has helped her, although I hope that it has done her some good. That is my sadness — not being able to take away hers. After all, time really is the only healer on these matters. But in the mean time — and I intend that phrase in the literal sense of the words — I can make sure she feels love, in the form of hugs and a full belly.
Fava Bean/Tomato Salad
Spring is, quite naturally, the season of re-birth. Trees that had been bare for months suddenly sprout pale lavender buds. Two weeks later, seemingly overnight, they are full in green leaf. How did it happen that I’ve been watching the trees intently for the first sign of spring, and then I look above my head, and there it is?
Healing a broken heart goes the same way. We carry the sadness around on our shoulders, sighing into it, day after day after day. Then, suddenly, we look up, and we can see the light slanting in through the window, instead of only our sadness. And then we are free.
With all this in mind — and as a palliative against some of the richer foods we were eating this week — I made Sharon a version of this springtime salad I made up a few weeks ago. Fava beans are leaping into season here in Seattle. The first grape tomatoes made their way from California to my produce stand. And the gruyere and prosciutto? Well, they’re just always good.
Sharon seemed satisfied with this salad. I certainly was happy to see her smiling. I’d like to believe it helped to lift some of that sadness with every bite.
twenty grape tomatoes
one pound fresh fava beans
one-quarter pound finest prosciutto
one-quarter pound gruyere
three tablespoons fruity olive oil
one tablespoon white vinegar
one-half teaspoon cracked black pepper
pinch sea salt
Set a pot of water, with a pinch of salt, to boil. Put a bowl of ice water in the sink. As the water is coming to a boil, shuck the fava beans. How to do this? Snap and extract. There should be three or four beans per pod. (Be sure to feel the inside of the pod, which is as soft as dryer lint.) When the water has come to a boil, plop all the shucked fava beans into the pan and let them bob there in the boiling water for thirty seconds. After that, immediately drain them and plunge the fava beans in the ice water. After a moment, take them out and let them chill in the refrigerator for a few moments.
Meanwhile, slice the grape tomatoes in halves, lengthwise. Cut the gruyere into small squares, about the same size as the fava beans. Make up a simple vinaigrette, by combining the olive oil, white vinegar, salt, and pepper. Toss everything together, with the fava beans, then thread small slivers of the prosciutto in among the beans, tomatoes, and cheese. Eat with the small sigh of spring.