Try To Remember

People have a tendency to remember the “Firsts” in their lives: first kiss, first love, first time you meet someone.
I remember the first time I had certain foods. Not every food, mind you, I’m not that fanatic, but I can tell you when and where I ate a specific food. That’s usually because I reacted so positively to the tastes and texture that the experience is etched in my flavor memory.
Sun-dried tomatoes are a prime example. We were in Chicago after a weekend in Madison, Wisconsin to check out the campus when our daughter Riene was thinking about going to UW.
Chicago is one our favorite and we couldn’t pass up a visit. Anyway, we stopped in at The Corner Bakery, which at that was just getting started, and ordered lunch. Mine was a chicken sandwich on crusty Italian bread. That first bite was amazing, everything tasted so fresh, but what really popped was the layer of sundried tomatoes; bright, deep tomato flavor with a lingering sweetness. I knew that I would have to have more.
I also remember the first time I had risotto. This time it was right here in Tucson at the now shuttered DaVinci’s. Everyone else had pasta of some kind but I wanted something different and I’d read so much about risotto, I decided to order the seafood risotto on the menu. Now this was way before that trip to Chicago, but the memory of that meal still lingers. Creamy and rich and packed with tons of seafood, I was wowed. I couldn’t such rich flavors could come from rice. Risotto, when I can get it, remains a favorite just because of that first time.
Then there was the time we were in Iowa City for Christmas. We were there sharing the holidays with my son-in-law Sam’s huge family. It reminded me of the Christmases I grew up with: kids everywhere, piles of presents, snow on the ground, fun and lots of great food. For Christmas Day dinner Sam made cassoulet. Now this wasn’t just any cassoulet. No Sam had cured the bacon and confited the duck and stuffed the sausages and shipped it all to Iowa from NYC. The dish was revelatory. So many deep savory tastes and textures. I woke up the next morning craving more but alas we’d demolished the entire huge pan.
Of course, not all firsts met with such wonder.
The first time I had refried beans in a restaurant in Santa Barbara I was so turned off by their appearance – they looked like dog food – I didn’t want to even try them. But I did and ended up leaving most of them on the plate. I have since learned to love good refries, but these were not good refries (looking back I think they were canned.)
I’m not sure other foodies have such memories. I hope so because those meals taught me so much about how flavors work, about my personal palate, about how food can connect people. I hold them dear and hope that somewhere in my future there are foods that will be as memorable.