Is our memory of food really an accurate rendering of a meal? Or do we indulge in the dangerous side of nostalgia -photoshopping away imperfections to create false versions that never really existed? Is my idea of my grandmother’s sweet potato pie true to how it actually was on the plate and in the mouth? Or have I set myself up for a lifetime of disappointment as I try to recreate the exact blend of the spices, the silky texture, the perfect crust? If I’m being honest, I remember her complaints over various pies’ imperfections: a new recipe for a crust that didn’t turn out as she had hoped, a teaspoon too much of cinnamon, a “low-fat” version from some magazine that disappointment.
That said, I couldn’t help but indulge my nostalgic tendencies this past Monday when my new friend Laura and her husband Ernesto would be bringing chicken enchiladas with Oaxacan chocolate mole sauce and tostadas to our semi-weekly family dinner. I thought back on my four years in Mexico and in particular, my last year, when I lived a street away from a beautifully shaded Oaxacan restaurant that served these gigantic mole tamales wrapped in banana leaves. I remembered, too, a birthday party for one of my students where tostadas were served and I tried to mimic the decorous eating habits of my hostess and her friends when all I really wanted to do was eat a half a dozen or so.
This time, however, memory did not disappoint. The dishes Laura and Ernesto brought to my parents’ house were as I remembered them: the complexity of the mole that covered the spectrum from bitter to sweet with a dense indulgence, the layered flavors of the chicken that had cooked slowly for hours before being shredded for the tostados. And there was the added delight of these longed-for flavors sharing a plate with new dishes like my mother’s watermelon and feta salad (which has, compliment of compliments, made its way onto the barVino menu) and Kevin’s grilled zucchini topped with a fresh, spicy red salsa.
Of course there was wine. And Kevin and I, inspired by a bottle of pastis on my bar and a cocktail Kevin had imbibed in D.C., created a drink that
dangerously was really only consumed by the two of us, leading to out-of-focus photographs being taken later in the evening and a pounding headache Tuesday morning. Nonetheless, I would say that this week’s family dinner was a rousing success. Good food. New friends and old. A well-stocked bar. Even a few rounds of Taboo (the game of unspeakable, natch).