I Believe in Food Memories

By June 9, 2011 May 17th, 2020 This I Believe

Cynthia Chalker

This I Believe, 2011


Recently my New York family and I traveled to Philadelphia to celebrate my birthday with a combination of friends and family with whom we’ve remained connected in spite of time and distance. The dinner and celebration reminded me of all the wonderful people I’ve made along this journey so far. And how friends and food memories remain powerful connectors in my life.

Days later, as I cleaned and chopped swiss chard for dinner, I remembered the first time I tasted this green after an outing with a colleague to an Italian market where greens were fresh and cheap. You see, my good food education began late in life. Upon moving to Philadelphia in 1992, I was eager to make up lost time. As I continued fixing our meal, breaking apart garlic cloves and chopping them fine, I thought about the friends and family with whom I had celebrated my birthday plus other friends who had called or written with birthday greetings. There are wonderful food memories connected to everyone.

That we celebrated my birthday at the Indian restaurant was a perfect reminder of the first meal I had with my partner Sandy and son Ben over Indian takeout. Sandy and I had our first date at a Portuguese restaurant where I was reluctant to order pork. You see, my  Philadelphia housemates were/are observant reconstructionist Jews and I had become conditioned to be considerate of religious dietary restrictions. Additionally, I came out as a lesbian while living in Philadelphia and had also become conditioned to assume lesbians might not eat meat, sugar, white flour, hot spices or salt.  I knew that Sandy was an active member in her congregation but not understanding the full meaning of Humanistic Judism, I assumed she might not eat meat and most especially pork. Add to that my ill-informed, stereotyped views of lesbian eating, all of which I shared with her that evening, and all of which have been fodder for many a joke and always sweet smiles.

Going further back in time, I remember dinner parties at Heather’s when we lived and worked in DC that ended with coffee made in a French press. Cool! Another DC friend, David, taught me how to make paella and the beauty of restaurant-grade pots and pans. Under the tutelage of Joe, I learned to seed a cucumber, as he sighed disbelieving that I did not pick up this skill in Social Work school. Rodger, upon learning I never eaten lamb at the ripe old age of 37, cooked the most perfect lamb chops for a dinner to take my mind off an upcoming surgery. And I will always remember celebrating the completion of my brother’s master’s degree by eating his signature sushi rice in his tiny kitchen in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Even the newest addition to our family, Jessica, my sister-in-law, provided a chocolate cake at our Philadelphia party that made my eyes tear up at its moistness.

Anndee and Elissa and their daughter Sasha were my housemates for almost three years before I moved to New York in 2003. And in the way the universe responds, I found kind and generous friends, who love to cook, love to feed people, and from whom I learned that making challah every week for Shabbat is really easy and doesn’t take that long.

Sandy and I have lived together almost ten years now. At least some part of our weekend is spent talking about food, planning meals and assisting Sandy as she fills the house with the aromas that fill our home with warmth and love.

As I finished sautéing the chard and removing the pan from the flame, I smiled as I added the last ingredient. A spritz of lemon. Sandy taught me that!