An Anniversary to Remember

The Queen of Hearts
The Queen of Hearts

Three years ago at this moment I was sitting in a room in a hospital waiting.  Restlessly waiting, for the heart surgeon to stop by.  It was a beautiful cold and sunny day, just like today.  Christi was there.  She had flown in from New York City for a couple of days.  Mr. and Mrs. Burns were there. Mrs. Burns quietly reading, Mr. Burns checking his Blackberry, making sure every one was taken care of.  We were a bundle of nerves.

Lily had gone into surgery earlier that morning.  Open-heart surgery.  Not your normal lets change a valve or two surface scratching in your chest cavity brand of surgery you hear are so routinely done these days.  The doctor was going to stop her heart, cut into her heart, sow up a tiny little hole in the middle of her heart, and then close it all up in hopes to alleviate the cause of her recent stroke.

A little past 11 that morning, the doctor came in. He spoke with us and told us that the surgery had been a success. Just a short 8-10 minute operation. A routine task, for him, as he had developed this procedure. Lily would be in the ICU soon and we would be able to see her soon.

At half past noon, we were allowed to go see Lily. I still remember her laying there in the bed, with all those tubes in her. Later, as she awoke from the anesthesia, still groggy from the surgery and the pain drugs, she turned and smiled at me. I felt relief. The beginning of the road to recovery and physical healing for Lily and for us. The stroke that happened earlier that summer had been a life-changing incident. The open-heart surgery repaired that little hole, the culprit, of that devastating event. It did not stop us. We were moving on.

The last three years have been some of the best of my life. We still live with the aftermath of a stroke and open-heart surgery. This is now a part of our story. I am still amazed at her strength of will and at her courage. We were both lucky.  Living in Boston. Close to such great medical centers. An incredible support group of friends and family. But most of all, I am lucky for still having Lily in my life.  Thanks for all that you are and all you mean to me.  Besos.

If you want to know more about stroke and heart disease, please visit the American Heart Association web site. Please help stop the number 1 killer of moms, daughters, sisters, friends, and lovers in this country. Know the signs.

Love at First Bite

I had known of her for a while. We crossed each others path. It was a rocky start. I asked her out. She turned me down. Twice. We saw each other at the coffee stand later that summer.  I was teaching biochemistry for high school students.  She invited me to stop by her office. I stopped by, later, my cart full of molecular models and biochemistry stuff. We talked.  She, sitting down at her desk.  Me, leaning against the filing cabinets by the window. Trying to be cool. As if. She asked me my age, 30? No older, 33? No older. Older than 35? Yes. So, she said, do you want to go have a drink sometime? Sure I said. How about this Wednesday?

I make sure I wear my signature straw fedora, a nice dress shirt, and one of my sport coats that evening. I dressed to impress. Too cool for school.

We went to a bar downtown. Made fun of people. Had some appetizers. Had some drinks. Talked food. Made more fun of people. Talked a lot about food. This girl got my attention. I dug her. She is leaving the following week on vacation. She and two girlfriends. Two weeks on a hot rock. In the middle of the Mediterranean. She promises me dinner when she came back. We walk to her place. One of those perfect summer nights in the city. Almost there, we stop for a quick nightcap. We talked some more. Drinks, a mojito, dirty dirty martinis, proseco. The summer night moves so quickly. I walked her the rest of the way home. She left me by the sidewalk, quickly closing the gate and dashing inside. Over the bridge I went. Back to lab. Intrigued by the evening. By her. I send her an e-mail in Spanish – the geek romantic that I am.

I don’t hear from her till Friday. How about that dinner before I leave, she said. Does Tuesday sound good? Yes, I said. Tuesday is good. What should I bring? Nothing, she said.

Tuesday comes. I am nervous. What is her food going to taste like? What about the flavors?  I am latino.  Cebolla, ajo, comino.  I need flavor, some adobo.  Does she remember discussing likes? Dislikes? We walk over the bridge, stop at the market for some limes. Walking on, casual but nervous chatter. We get there. I give her the bottle of dessert wine I brought. She pulls out a bottle of Havana Club given to a family friend by Castro himself and makes me a mojito. It tasted good.  Damn good. She knows how to make a mean mojito.

She starts dinner. Another mojito.  I feel warm inside.  The aroma wafting from the kitchen starts me drooling. Pavlov’s dog I am. She won’t let me nibble. She sets the table. The plating gorgeous. Colors blending with the scent invading my olfactory ducts. A frontal assault to the senses. I fight impulses, controlling the desire to devour. I take a first bite. Flavors burst in my mouth. Chicken, moist, falling apart under the tug of my fork and knife. Just the right amount of salt. The herbs convey a cool summer evening feel. Pears caramelized to perfection. The arugula crisp and fresh. A nice red helping to wash it all down. Then the coup d`etat. Home made truffles. 70% dark chocolate. Smooth ganash filling the crunchy outer shell.

Dinner over, we talk late into the evening. Another bottle of red, and another. Strong coffee. Steamed milk. She cast a spell over me. Enchanting me with her insightful observations, her long curly hair, her sensual body, but most of all her, snaring me in her gastronomic web.

It was love at first bite.

What was your first experience with food or science?

Cooking at Lily's parents house in TivertonI remember the growing up and watching my grandfather cook.  He was a chef who loved French cuisine and made wonderful deserts.  I got my love of food and science from him.  He would sit there and tell me about what the heat would do to the sugar while I watched the sugar slowly caramelize.  I listened in rapture as he explained the changes in consistency the and flavor of caramel.  He also loved to make sauces and gelatin.  The gelatin kind of grossed me out, but the sauces always smelled so delicious and tasted even better.  I learned about blending the spices and about ratios and combination of ingredients.  I remember the care he always took in measuring ingredients, how he would clean and sterilize his work area.  How he seemed to cook from memory, but he always had his trusty notebook where he kept his notes on food and recipes.

These memories have wakened in me the desire to take the principles I practice in the lab, and transplant them into my kitchen. I love to experiment and think of new ways to prepare food.  Not just changing the flavor, but changing how it is cooked and prepared.  I am extremely lucky to have a partner who is as interested in cooking and creating good food as I am.  We share recipes, ideas, menus, and generally wreak havoc in the kitchen, but we create great meals.  She bakes and makes great deserts, while I love the salty and meaty foods.

I am lucky that I had a great introduction to food and the science of cooking at an early age.  I learned that food was much more than sustenance.  It excites and nourishes the soul just as it provides nourishment to our bodies.  Now more than ever, I miss my grandfather and I wish I could prepare a meal for him like the ones he prepared many times while I was growing up.

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