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Since reading JoAnn's comments about potatoes, I've found myself thinking more and more about food. I think it was "multiple heads of roasted garlic" that got me, though as I rolled over last night I distinctly heard myself say, "Dusted with sea salt." I can only imagine what I was dreaming. As a result, I have remembered three more one item meals.

The first is an old memory, all things considered. It has to do with my father, a man who still makes his way through the produce section shamelessly tasting grapes and strawberries in season. When they sold bins of individual candies, he always came out with extras in his pocket. A product of Welsh immigrants and the Great Depression, he valued particular things in ways I was incapable of understanding. Ice cream, for example. We never made a meal of ice cream, though we may have missed a few because of it. But I do remember us eating nothing but seedless grapes, an entire shopping bag filled to the brim with grapes, the day they hit 2¢ a pound. I remember heaping them into the cart, and once home, rinsing and distributing them in bowls — one bowl after another. As a tradition, it came from somewhere, the old country, I suppose, or from his barefoot boyhood memories. Anyway, we sat on the floor those nights watching Sid Caesar, Ed Sullivan. We did this several years running and then never again. Maybe it was the price of grapes, maybe the effect the grapes had, or maybe we just forgot. I was too young to be bothered by it. I was also more interested in cake than grapes, but I do remember it. No plates, no table, no television after the table is cleared, just grapes and grapes until there was nothing left but stems. As for the ice cream, it's still in the freezer. I think he lies to his doctors about it. But, he's well into his nineties now, so whatever bad habits he has have proven themselves effective. What possible harm in a few scoops of ice cream?

The other meals, many years later and an ocean away, were asparagus. We only had canned asparagus growing up. To this day I'd rather die than eat canned asparagus, though I'm more mature about it now than I was then. So, when my new mother-in-law, beaming with pride, announced she had just had the good fortune to purchase an enormous quantity of first harvest asparagus from a Parisian marketplace, memories of pound-sized portions of steak tartare flitted through my brain. Seeing my perplexity and mistaking it for curiosity, she explained the tradition of having nothing but asparagus the first night of the first harvest, and nothing but cold asparagus the following lunch. She cooked a small separate dinner for the dog that night.

As it turns out, dark green canned asparagus and the pale, fresh, perfectly prepared variety have nothing in common. If you've got your notebook ready, you'll be disappointed to learn that I was not allowed to observe what went on in the kitchen. My presence there interfered with its natural functioning. I was only a relative by marriage, after all. White wine to be sure. Obviously salt. Garlic? Maybe just a touch. There was no effort to conceal the asparagus, only to enhance it. Chicken stock? Pointless to ask. The white wine in the pot was probably the same white wine that we drank — and drank. I don't think she would ever use two grades of wine. However, such things were well above my need to know. And clarified butter in large ramekins on every plate. Anyone who says you can only eat so much clarified butter hasn't had enough first harvest asparagus. There was no salt or pepper on the table, only an enormous long pile of neatly stacked oddly shaped logs. The thing I learned, that I simply never imagined, was that you eat them down to the point where they become tough and then cavalierly throw the rest away. The French do this in one graceful motion. Americans were held to be extremely wasteful, but this to me seemed positively sinful. Aren't you even curious to know if you missed any, I wanted to ask. Still, they were right. There's an edible part and an inedible part. So why was the inedible part such a prominent part of canned asparagus?

Lunch was the same, but cold. Only, the butter had become fresh mayonaise with capers on the side, and next to that was another ramekin of olive oil with pepper(?) and lemon juice. Everything was simple but secret. It seems like I'm confusing this with avocados, but perhaps I'm only remembering that we ate them both in similar ways. Except, the avocados we ate with very small spoons.

Unfortunately, these are memories without many answers, which is disappointing and probably why they required so much effort to retrieve. It's difficult to remember the taste of asparagus, even steak tartare, when it's tied to memories of an ex-wife and mother-in-law. It's much easier to remember the taste of the wine and the Gauloises I was forced to smoke on the balcony with the door tightly shut. I still have dreams that involve smoking after all these years. I'll notice a cigarette between my fingers and wonder whose hand it is, or take a long tasteless drag, watching the tip glow and crackle in response, wondering what seems wrong about this, but in all the years and in all the dreams I've never once found myself regretfully unmarried, or wished I had ordered snails.
 
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