Today, I am taking a break from the gluten-free wisdom, the goofy stories and the romance through food, to share this with you:
my dear friend Gabe turned 29 today.
Gabe is my second little brother — if not by birth, then by endless connections and ridiculous laughter. Impossible as it may be to me, we have known each other for fourteen years. He was a pipsqueak sophomore in high school, and I was a brand-new teacher when we met. No, we didn’t have that kind of relationship and we never have. We recognized something in each other. After grading his papers, shepherding him through graduation, and reading his stories from a tortured time in Paris, I simply became his friend. We both lived in New York at the same time and professed a mutual passion for music, films, writing, love, good chocolate, Paul Auster, photography, late nights of talking, tiny used bookstores in Manhattan, absurdities, expansive friendship, meditation, comfort food, existential dread turned into peace, family stories, unexpected gifts, subway rides with unpredicted kindness, listening in on conversations, Central Park, Keith Jarret, trying to understand our own minds, diners late at night, eerie coincidences, pratfalls, tiny moments of joy, and life.
For years, it seemed that Gabe understood me most in the world, probably because we spoke nearly every night, in telephone conversations that left our ears almost permanently dented from the receiver having grown warm over two or three hours of rapid-fire stories. We rambled through every topic, and we never felt as though we had finished what we wanted to say. We just picked it up the next day.
Now that I am writing and eating in Seattle, and he is making films and music in Brooklyn, we rarely have the chance to see each other or talk in more than ten-minute bursts. Long ago, we stopped those all-night conversations and simply became good friends instead of each other’s closest companions. And now, I have the Chef, who is my best friend and confidant, and my late-night whisperer. That doesn’t make Gabe any less important to me. Instead, he is deeply embedded in my life.
When I turned forty, Gabe flew across the country to help celebrate my birthday. He and the Chef approved of each other. I couldn’t have been any happier.
I remember, when Gabe was nineteen, having a conversation with him in which he could not imagine being 30. Having just turned that epic age myself, I told him, “You will. And you will see. You’ll feel better at thirty than you do now.” We both shook our heads, at the impossiblity of him spanning those years, so far away. And today, he is 29, and nearly there. Now, he is fully alive in his life, less neurotic than that teenage boy, and endlessly kind.
I could tell you stories, all day long, about this incredible young man. But this isn’t the time or place. Instead, I will point you toward his website. If anyone needs a filmmaker or musician or video editor or juggler, this is your man.
Today, what I’d like to share in honor of Gabe’s birthday, is memories of food we have shared. Think about your closest friends — don’t you have a montage of these as well? Gabe understands the primal pleasure of food, and even when he was doing badly, he could always put his thoughts on hold and take a bite of food and taste it fully. This is one of the reasons I love him. After all, this is a young man who brings quince paste and goat cheese to a young woman’s house when they are starting to date. As he told me today of a new, possible relationship, “She really loves food. She understands how important it is, and she tries to make every taste an experience.”
Clearly, he is my friend.
And so, for Gabe — and those of you reading — a montage.…
Our weekly ritual: turkey burgers at the Metro Diner, salads with balsamic vinaigrette, and thick chocolate shakes.
On a hard night, a walk in the rain to a diner in Bronxville, eating tuna melts at two and trying to make sense of the world.
Drinking a cup of tea late at night in the Village, after I had completed a meditation retreat, and he laughing at me, kindly, at how intently I watched the tea swirling into the hot water from the bag.
Making meals in my Vashon kitchen, the smell of fresh ginger rising from the cutting board, and both of us bending down our noses to smell it.
Bagels from Absolute Bagels, when he lived down the street, in my honor, the year after I had moved away.
Thai food every Thursday night at Tup Tim Thai, the same spicy-hot dishes, the same sweet waitresses, and those necessary glasses of Thai iced tea.
Seared tofu with mango-chili sauce, which he had learned how to make from his father, in his New York apartment kitchen.
Rice and tahini sauce, something with sprouts, all food from the health food store on Broadway, sitting in the median watching cars go by.
Coffee at the Grey Dog, late at night.
Eating slices of pizza, folded over, feeling like real New Yorkers in our first month there, on a stoop in St. Mark’s Square.
Crepes smeared with Nutella for Sunday brunch, which he learned how to make from his French mother.
Lunch at the Dahlia lounge, after a long time of not seeing each other.
Gluten-free pizza with Monica at Risotteria on a cold February night.
A bowl of crispy thin French fries at Cafe Luluc.
Omelettes and Cafe Veselka and goat cheese and chicken apple sausages and fresh juice from Rainbow Grocery and Angelika’s Kitchen and take-out Chinese and picnics in Central Park and bottles of Snapple and sandwiches at Le Pain Quotidien and small squares of exquisite dark chocolate and a thousand meals between us so many that I cannot remember them all.
Once, Gabe told me that he had a childhood memory, of being in elementary school, the day another kid had his birthday. After the treats were eaten, the boy’s mom packed up the leftovers of the cake and smooshed them into a bag. Gabe always dreamed of that — eating cake out of a bag, the icing smeared to the top, soft bites emerging from the least gourmet of places. I teased him about this — how weird is that? — but that night I baked him a cake and smashed it into a bag, then left it in his mailbox.
When I was feeling down, one time, Gabe left a loaf of Essential Bakery’s Rosemary Diamante bread in my mailbox, because he knew it was my favorite, and he knew it would make me feel better. It did.
Now, I could not eat that bread. But the kindness — and the love of food — remains the same. Gabe is one of my dearest food friends. I hope we have the chance to share a thousand more meals in our lifetime. Next summer, he’ll be eating and taking photographs at my wedding with the Chef. And long ago, before he even turned twenty, he told me, “Someday, I’ll teach your children to juggle.” Gabe, if we are so lucky to have them, our children will be waiting for your instructions.
For everyone reading, please forgive my indulgence today. But I know this, more and more, for all of us: to eat well in this world, we need people around us who love food. Gather friends who taste each bite and want you to try a bite of something glorious, and you will be rich. I feel enormously blessed, with Sharon and Meri and Cindy and, of course, the Chef. They feed me. Gabe does too.
So, my dear friend — Gabe, Clown, Boo, SFC — happy birthday. I’m so glad you are in the world with me, loving and laughing and performing pratfalls in the middle of the street and doing your art and eating well. Stick around for a long, long time, okay?