The first time I ate edamame, I was 32 years old.
And the person who introduced me to the vegetables? A one-year-old.
Those of you have been reading this site for awhile might remember some veiled references to the CFP (Crazy Famous People). I worked with these people in New York for some months, and then lived with them in London for six months, working on a book with the woman I call Madame CFP.
It was a crazy time, never to be forgotten, and certainly never to be re-lived. I was hired as a last-minute replacement nanny (only for the weekend), and walked out the door at the end of the night as a book editor.
The first night I was there, there were glasses of champagne and movie producers hovering in the apartment. Mr. CFP donned his celebrity sunglasses again — even though it was fairly late into the evening — riffled his fingers goodbye at Madame, and then he slammed the door behind him.
I cannot tell you who they are. In fact, my book originally contained a chapter about my food experiences with with the CFP. But in the end, the legal department decided to cut it, and I agree with them. I’m glad that chapter is not in there, now.
There are a few reasons for this, besides the fact that I feel a little thrill, like I’m the food memoir version of Deep Throat, by protecting the anonymity of my sources. But in all my experiences with them during that year and a half, I realized they really could have been any celebrity. I met such excess all along the way, in their celebrity friends, and in the stories told to me by personal assistants and chefs, that I am convinced that fame and money can often lead to such extravagance and insanity. And when I lived with them in London, I had to sign a confidentiality agreement form, before I could put my bags down in my bedroom.
I cannot tell you who they are. They would sue me.
There were egregious excesses every day. Like the time that Ms. CFP purchased a $500 pair of shoes to wear to a dinner party, then attempted to return them, as though she had not worn them. When the assistant accidentally dropped that shoe box off the toppling pile of shoes for which she wanted her money back, then stepped on the box out of his own clumsy nervousness, she shouted at him so loudly that he cried and ran out of the room.
One day in December, the accountant called to demand that the CFPs decide where to spend their charity money for the year, right now, or else they would be in a higher tax bracket come January. So, they spent fifteen minutes perusing a list — the whales? Tibetan school children? Organic farms? — checked five off of it, and spent close to a million dollars before I could finish my lunch.
One afternoon, their little boy was allowed to spend ten minutes on his mother’s lap. He smiled and played, and vied for her attention with the magazine in her hands. To distract him, she let him flip the pages of the FAO Schwartz catalog on the desk. When he happened to reach the page with motorized kiddie cars, she lifted him off her lap and handed him back to the nanny. He cried and screamed, flapping his hands and throwing a temper tantrum, immediately. Not able to stand the sound of it, she looked at the nanny and said, “FAO Schwarz is eight blocks from here. Take him down there and buy him this.” An hour later, he walked into the apartment with a $4,000-dollar car.
Why did I stay when I was so obviously ambivalent about the life I was witnessing? Cashmere sweaters plopped into my hands when I started to visibly quibble with myself for staying. Bottles of expensive champagne were tucked into my arm at the end of every week to celebrate the work on the latest chapter. Since I had been a struggling writer longing to be published for most of my life, the repeated promise of a powerful literary agent, once the project was finished, lured me in. They paid me better than I had ever dreamed possible when I was a high school English teacher. Mostly, it was a great story — a grand adventure — and a taste sensation I had never experienced before.
Still, when I moved to Seattle and became a high school English teacher again, life in that penthouse apartment in New York — and the mansion in London — felt far, far away. The most I would say to my classes, if any of my students found out the story and asked, was true: “I’m very lucky. I lived in the middle of the rich and famous, the People magazine life. I had what so many people wanted. And I don’t want it. I’m not exaggerating when I say, I would much rather be here in this classroom, with you, than with those Crazy Famous People.” This always went over well. I think it made them trust me. We started working, as a team, immediately.
Because, the thing is — I told them the truth. After my experiences with the high life (caviar flown in from Russia that morning! juice out of gold-rimmed glasses! glittering parties out of The Great Gatsby and drunken guests crying at 4 am!), I wanted none of it anymore. The unhappiness of the CFP was only thinly masked by their riches.
And now, loving the Chef, and living the way we do (humbly, simply, focused on the best food), I can eat as well as I did there, minus the acrid taste of a bad relationship.
Everyone deserves good food. Everyone.
One of my favorite memories of my time with the CFP? Edamame. The baby son of the CFP — the one whom I babysat that first weekend in New York — ate edamame. The first day I looked after him, I put some shelled edamame in the microwave, as per instructions, and plopped the little sauce in front of him. To my surprise, he gobbled them up, delighted. When he finished, there were a few left over. I popped one in my mouth. Ummmm. A tender sweetness, a loving give, a texture like no other, and all that green.
I have not stopped eating them since.
Some afternoons, when I am sitting in front of the computer, writing, I grow hungry. I throw some shelled edamame beans in boiling water, for five minutes, drain them, and fleck them with sea salt. Steaming and alluring, those edamame remind me of the best moments of my time with the CFP. Everything teaches me, after all.
And best yet? A bag of all that goodness only cost $1.99 at Trader Joe’s.