I started gardening because dinner is super-important to me. I have no explanation for the huge, outsized significance I find in the evening meal other than I had a European mother. She, too, thought dinner was the most important part of life. Last summer, I visited her sisters and nieces and nephews in Bavaria for the first time in a long time and experienced the shock of recognition. Life in Haag an der Amper is about cooking, eating–and then discussing in animated detail the quality of what one has just eaten. My people.
It might seem life a very boring existence to someone with an insensitive palate. But that’s not me. To me, eating is a colossal adventure. I recently took an amazing vacation to Nicaragua. There, I ate the native cuisine in a few of the nicest restaurants in the city of Granada, so I feel I can safely say that the Nicaraguans are not Bavarian, and certainly not Italian or Thai. The food was a snore.
But then we travelled to an island in Lake Nicaragua, so primitive that the IMF is only just building the first road around it. But so paradisiacal that it has attracted just enough foodie expats to hit the complete sweet spot for me. We had two of the most memorable meals of my life after stumbling up stone paths in the jungle to a backpacker commune owned by some Italian hippies. They had built a giant outdoor pizza oven, and served amazing pizzas in the dark with delicious wine, blasting fantastic music from all over the world into the trees, where weird birds and monkeys screeched. There was also a cafe down the road owned by Brits that served outrageously good curries and stir fries and what Amy Stewart needs to note are the best cocktails in the world: dark rum and fresh passion fruit juice. The nine hour hikes up volcanoes in 95 degree heat favored by my husband, the bicycling on roads of volcanic rock so rough that they threaten to dislodge internal organs, I’ll put up with that nonsense if there is a great dinner at the end.
When I was young in New York City, my roommate worked on Wall Street and brought home lots of men amused enough by the whole scene in our apartment to treat all of us to fantastic fancy dinners. I thought those were great meals. My highest aspiration back then was lunch at Le Grand Vefour, the exquisite Paris restaurant that is over 200 years old.
Now, I’m bored stiff by fancy cooking, spoiled by years of vegetable gardening. My idea of a toweringly great meal is completely different, something so fresh that it’s shocking. Pizza with hot peppers and tomatoes grown in the village. A really great gumbo with okra and cutting celery and garlic and bay and scallions from the garden. Something cooked by my Thai sister-in-law Na, who is also a great garden scavenger–used to seeing what’s happening in the garden and making something of it.