Last night, Mr. Twistie and I ate in one of our favorite restaurants. It just so happens it was also a favorite of Mr. Twistie’s mother. Why? Because she felt it was the best Japanese food in the Bay Area, hands down.
She knew whereof she spoke, too. She was Japanese. Not of Japanese descent, but born and raised in Japan and a Nagasaki survivor to boot. It wasn’t something she liked to talk about.
Kamakura was one of her favorite haunts. One year she took us out to Kamakura for my birthday. Since Mr. Twistie’s mother was friends with the owner, we wound up getting some extra goodies added to the meal on the house.
I’ll never forget the appetizers Faith sent out to us. They were luscious little Asian eggplants filled with miniscule shrimps. The downside? Mr. Twistie won’t touch seafood with a barge pole and has even less intention of ever allowing another eggplant to pass his lips. His mother loved eggplant and seafood, but happened to be allergic to shrimp. I was forced to eat the entire plate by myself. After all, we didn’t want to offend.
Okay, and eggplant and shrimp are two of my favorite things ever and I think they’re even better when combined. I was in culinary heaven and my mother in law beamed.
As it turned out, lung cancer took her from us before my next birthday.
So last night as we had our gyoza and shogiyaki and green tea ice cream, it turned out we were both thinking of that night and of Mr. Twistie’s mother. And though I’ve never gotten them again, I thought about those shrimp-filled eggplants. I thought about the flavor, yes, but mostly about how happy my mother in law looked watching me eat them.
There are times, too, when I find myself making a pot of split pea soup and realize how much my decision was prompted by nostalgia rather than appetite…or rather nostalgia for my mother and appetite combined. She made amazing split pea soup. I never asked for her recipe, and mine has never turned out quite the same, but I think of her every time I make it.
Last week I was in the grocery store looking at the ice cream. It was a hot day, and I wanted a nice frozen treat. As if compelled, I reached for the mint chocolate chip. It wasn’t until the ice cream was in my cart that I thought about the fact that it was my fathers’ favorite flavor.
Food has a way of making us think of the people who have eaten it with us. It connects us viscerally with friends, lovers and family years after they are gone. The scents, the flavors, remind us of times gone by. Sometimes it’s a bit disconcerting, but I also find it comforting, in a funny way. It’s almost like visiting with people we miss, including our younger selves.
Last night Mr. Twistie and I missed his mother, but we also remembered the best parts of having her with us. As we left the restaurant, I felt well fed in both body and soul. And I know that when the weather turns colder, I’ll spend time in the kitchen making split pea soup with my mother, too.
I’ll even share it with people I love who are still around to build memories with.