New Year’s Eve 2011. Neil and I dined at one of my favorite restaurants in Alexandria: Bilbo Baggins. Yes, that’s right Bilbo Baggins as in Bilbo from Lord of the Rings. When I lived in Maryland, pre-New York days, I thought Bilbo Baggins was the shit. I dreamt about their grilled lamb chops. It was also the first place that I had bread pudding and have compared it to every other bread pudding I’ve ever had.
Saturday night, we walked into the comforting restaurant ready to have the meal that I have kept close to my heart for so long. The familiar lamb chops arrived and I dug in. I prepared my first bite carefully: a small piece of lamb with a dash of mashed butternut squash. My expectation was immediately squashed by the reality that this was not the flavor that I had held close to my heart. When I commented on my disappointment, Neil replied with, “you don’t have the same palate anymore…you’ve lived in New York.”
This response got me thinking about how easily my palate changes based on what it has access to. After a visit to India, it takes a month for my palate to recover. After living in New York City, I can’t eat bad Chinese food. What’s interesting is once I have experienced a certain level of flavor, it is extra hard to go back to mild and generic flavor profiles. It has been seven years since I’ve eaten a meal at Bilbo Baggins. The memory of my favorite meal here still distinct.
I was happy to see, however, that the bread pudding hadn’t been challenged since I’d left. This bread pudding comes with a white chocolate and raspberry sauce. Unlike most places, the sauce is not the star of this dessert. The bread pudding is the perfect consistency: moist, fluffy, and light. There are no raisins or rum to interrupt the sweet, creamy flavor. As I ate it, I looked back at my early twenties with fondness believing those were the best of times.
It is a habitual pattern for me–to look back and believe that my past is filled with good times. I am that person who looks back with rose-colored glasses. Thus, it’s no wonder that I am living here in VA and looking back at Boston and Nashville, and New York as the best of times in comparison to my life now. It is a most annoying trait. But the truth is I am a different person now because of all these places. New York gave me a new sense of style and a deep yearning for complicated, yet low-key food. Nashville gave me serenity and an appreciation for simple, yet orgasmic flavors. Boston gave me a look at the fighter in me and a love for fresh calamari, oysters on a hot summer day, a soul filling clam chowder on a snowy evening, and a thirst for all things coastal.
Although it is easy to continuously look over my shoulder at what I used to have, it is nice to know that all of what I used to have is still with me today. It’s in the flour dusted Grouper that I made for dinner. It’s in the way I let go of people’s opinion of my ways as a teacher. It’s in the palate that dissects each bite. And although, there are days when I yearn for New York, Boston, and Nashville, I carry them (I carry them in my heart).
–as E.E. Cummings put it.