In all this reminiscing I keep talking about food. Forgive me but food is a passion of mines. It hasn't always been a thing but travel revitalized it. I'm into other stuff too in fact a lot of various hobbies and things. As a Gemini I find myself dabbling in anything to keep from being bored. I even consider myself a "Jill of All Trades" and it gets hard to focus on one particular talent. Yet as I think back to Europe I can't help but recall the food. Its like all my memories are linked by foodie moments and amazing meals. Since last Summer I've realized when you peel away all my likes - food and cooking prevails. I've been exposed to so many cuisines and techniques abroad; I'm exploring something new almost daily. I've always been one of those kitchen supply store people who buy gadgets and funny colored salts. However, now my passion is driving me to evolve beyond that. I'm thinking about my experiences. I'm remembering my first introductions. So before I go onto things I learned from Spain and move onto my game changing time in Italy - allow me to get back to the basics. At the end of the day it all comes back to food.

I basically started my trip in NY. I go up north every 2 to 5 years to … eat. Each time I go there is a proper foodie succession and then a few dips back to my childhood. I need a good old-fashioned hot dog, some Stop 1 candy and NYC pizza of course. Then I engage in the pretentious dining of the city which I've talked about before. But there is always room for an a-ha moment in food that takes me on a new journey. So I've always been prepared for travel for New York City is a world party in itself. Oddly most of these places in the city that changed my life were places she took me to. I will never forget these great places that still amaze me. I always wondered were those meals the same for her? Was she an adventurer or overly exposed? In life people share great things. They go somewhere, they tell a friend, they bring someone and the process repeats. So she could have been de-sensitized going to these places again and again. Maybe I was the only one who felt like we shared this bond over sacred meals. I guess that is why I was so disappointed in her while overseas. How could she show me the world here and then we were there and nothing?! 

I continually thought about the expression - "some people eat to live and some people live to eat". I grew up in two separate households. My father was a well-traveled Marine who loved to entertain and cook so he was way more enthusiastic about food than my mom. She was an awful cook who liked to admit that she was pretty down home about her food and preferred a hot meat & three. So my father would take me on friends boats to eat oysters and then I'd be faced to argue over a liver and onion dinner. I never had elaborate dining experiences as a child. There was really nothing beyond Sunday dinners, soul food holidays and the occasional life change celebrated at Ponderosa. Well sometimes dad would take me to underground dim-sum and one time I tried fried shrimp which were overcooked. Sadly, it wasn't that we couldn't afford great meals or food. It was all a matter of exposure. My mother was never open minded and ate to live. My father cooked to please and lived to eat. I became happy with yeast rolls and salad bars. In moving from the north to the south, attending private school and meeting a diverse group of friends my palate changed. But in doing this I still had to be shown new things. I just didn't know I had choices when it came to eating. 

Fast forward to age 23 when things really changed. This was the first time I was in the company of people that actually talked about food. I was drinking and getting a feel of going out with different types of people. I was also going to parties and work meetings where regional foods and amuse bouche was a thing. Someone took me under their wing and showed me better food. They took me to fine restaurants, we drank wine and they let me see them cook at home. This was my first introduction to garlic not in a McCormick container and knives and cooks showmanship. I hate to admit it but I didn't get it until that point. Surely, I'd been cooking since a young age and dining out but never like this. Years later I found myself in a room with this person just being myself over a glass of wine and was questioned about it. They took great care to mention that I didn't even like wine until I met them. At the time I laughed it off but I see now how reluctant I am to share my interests or lack thereof. I simply take my food experiences more seriously. The more exposed I am nothing gets contrived and even if its not new to me theres still ways to make it better or new for someone else. Or so I thought.

When her and I went somewhere it was always an experience. Most times she was showing me something and it could have been just as above. She could have been there a thousand times and was totally over it but you would never know. Why? Because she knew how much I loved food and was never too heady about taking me someplace I'd never been before. She was also open to going outside of her comfort zone because that is what you do when you're out and with friends. After all that is what got me in this food mess - friends. Good people, great places and fabulous food. So when her flame sort of dulled out abroad and we couldn't experience and share those feelings - it was the worst. Surely, we continued to eat - we had to! It just wasn't the same as before. It wasn't us sitting at a table nervous, with our eyes dancing over a menu and then picking the same things and agreeing to just share two. There were times where she was suddenly inclined to eat and I wasn't. There we're times where she sat there and ordered a salad when there was much more variety to choose from. There were times where she ultimately declined to eat and I never knew if that was over finances or emotions. Then magically we'd both be broke and chose to explore the likes of a "foreign" Taco Bell. Each moment I'd reevaluate the experience and our friendship. Just the above had pretty much told me our friendship was dissolving.

And not until the above happened did I realize the ultimate value of the trip - when it came to food that is. I'd read one night about the exchange in cultures food provides. I had never thought about it that way. We had so many deep conversations about art and music but never food. We had all these travel manuals and magazines and we never discussed the suggestions about restaurants. I don't think either one of us even looked in those sections. We never wondered about the experience when walking the streets it was more about what to eat and when. Even in new moments for both of us we didn't find common ground. I'll admit I didn't get how special it was for us to be eating foie gras or a bread recipe eaten for a hundred years until I was back home. We sort of took it for granted. I'd valued the shittiest experiences in New York and dismissed incredible dining abroad. So now as I surmise a pretty amazing trip all I can think about is the food. I think about the cheese plates. I think about the one night her friend made tuna croquettes and she explained how she made them fueled by jet lag and sheer hospitality. I remember the crudités on the train as I sipped on drinkable yogurt dotted with real vanilla bean. I recall the fifty or so viennoiserie we devoured during walks to and from. 

Now at home I understand the influence. Dining out, food shopping and cooking are all entirely new experiences. I believe in good butter. I peruse the wine aisles instead of buying the one covered in feet or a flock of birds. I've always been a fan of cheese but now I'm slave to the cheese bin. In the midst of all this unscrupulous eating both here and abroad I'm better for it. So all the fat shaming and restraining was pointless. I found myself forgoing making notches in my belt but actually cutting inches off of them while overseas. So my overindulgence was just counteracted by walking, good water and a constant fear of going broke. Now home I've plumped back up but my health is bar none. I vow to cook with something new every week. I've also taken to eating new things even ones I didn't try abroad. So now after an entire life without I eat whole tomatoes, fresh garlic, sweet peppers, plantains, cucumbers, Indian… I'm more open than I ever was to cultural cuisines, exotic ingredients and just better food. I'd rather do without than to eat bad ever again. I also never feel guilty about my American pleasures. I'm happy Twinkies are back and I still enjoy my BBQ and Southern sweet tea. However, it is in moderation. The European absence of ingredients used in popular foods here has made me re-think things like milk, sugar, frozen items. I used to drink a gallon of milk a week and now I barely buy any. I haven't bought any sugar subs or low-fat items either. The reality is whatever was in that stuff doesn't afford you any better quality of life. In fact, a lot of it is bloating and killing us. I saw the opposite and I choose that. 

So if you get the chance to go don't forget about the food. I wouldn't over think it and start making reservations. I would go beyond the basics. The primary goal should be taking more interest and risk in eating while abroad. Try to explore other cultural cuisines and styles of cooking. If you have access to a kitchen try some new ingredients to cook with. You can also just roam the grocery stores and open markets for a learning experience. There are so many options available that differ from ours. So in lieu of standard junk food or on the go things try a new type of drink or eat a local fruit or vegetable. I really wish that I would have snagged a cook book in Spain or some herbs de provence in France. When I return I plan on engaging more with the food culture and spending most of my money on dining experiences. Oddly enough I don't see myself eating at places with brasserie china or white tablecloths. I more or less see myself trying street sardines, more of those strange little fruit drinks at carts and old-fashioned bon bons. I would buy some of that salt, the honey with the comb in it, saffron and loose leaf tea. I'd love to see the inside of one of the old bakeries or sit at the chefs table of one of those gastropubs. I'd take the French resurgence of mixology more seriously, have some absinthe and kickback a 1664. For now I'll fry my chicken like the Scots, go to World Market for candy and keep trying to make madelines. 

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