Monday, December 1, 2008

Food memories

When it comes to Thanksgiving, I can be kind of, well, eh. Food and family, I know—what's not to love? Well, food and family.

Turkey and mashed potatoes just don't get me going. I think I'm one of the few people who comes home from Thanksgiving a few pounds lighter. (Christmas, now, that's a different story--one that starts with pork and ends with cheese and doesn't consider yams a moral imperative.)

I'm happy to be home, where the air is sharp and the knives sharper, with the baby sleeping off her vacation and me watching the blue jays take over the bird feeder.

Because I went back to my childhood home for Thanksgiving maybe, my thoughts were on the memories of food, the ghosts of meals past. I went to my favorite sandwich shop, the Great Central Hoagie Company, after, as is only right, a morning of doing this:

And the fries were finger-scorching hot, ribbed with potato peel, and piled into a double layered brown paper bag, just like I remembered. The turkey hoagie had more cheese and meat than I like, and an insipid slice of tomato under the finely shredded lettuce, but it was perfectly balanced with those pulled out just like I remembered. The peperoncinis were twisted into white paper, and we rushed to gobble our sandwiches before the olive oil dressing turned the buns to mush, just like I remembered.

But something was off. In my memory of those sandwiches, eaten over and over again in my old Volvo while watching the winter waves, the olive oil was studded with flakes of oregano, not the powdery bits in my sandwich of last week. The peppers were spicier, the fries more crispy outside and softer inside. The bread wasn't blandly white. It was an unexpected perfection passed through the window of a run-down stand on an unlikely corner.

And yet, sort of like I pretended to believe in Santa Claus even after I was much too old, I pretended that sandwich was that magical hoagie of high school, of college, of road trips, of sea salty skin and sunburns. Hoping that maybe, if I pretended hard enough, it would be so.

And you know what? The more I think about it, the better it tasted.

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