Friday, August 27, 2010

My favorite Massachusetts meal

My friend and former graduate school colleague, Tinky Weisblat, who lives in Hawley MA, asked her many blogging friends to publish a post on Massachusetts food during the week of August 22–28 as part of Loving Local: Celebrating the Flavors of Massachusetts, a “blogathon” celebrating the Bay State’s Farmers Market Week. I highly recommend her blog, In Our Grandmother’s Kitchens: Cooking, Singing, and Sharing in New England and Beyond. Tinky, this post is for you.

My favorite Massachusetts meal of all time is probably one at which I wasn’t even present. It took place during the fall semester of our senior year at Williams College. Heather lived off campus that year, in a funky old two-story house on Water Street that she shared with three housemates, an enormous wood stove, and some unidentified fungi in the upstairs bathtub. I had long since become convinced that she was The Girl For Me, but she did not yet share my conviction. So one chilly winter night when all three of her housemates were elsewhere, she invited our classmate Bill Holt down for an intimate dinner, with distinctly romantic ends in mind.

Bill was actually a good friend of mine—he lived one floor above me during freshman year, and he was a kind, funny, sweet-natured guy—a real gentleman. Cute, too. Heather was in one of her Molly Katzen vegetarian phases, and made one of her specialties—a vegetable pie—for dinner, with ingredients carefully selected at the Slippery Banana, the little organic grocery store on Spring Street. She even bought a nice bottle of wine, by which I mean one that cost more than two dollars. (This was college, remember?)

After Bill arrived, they opened the bottle of expensive wine and chatted for a while, and things seemed to be going according to plan. When they finally sat down for dinner, she placed a steaming slice of pie before Bill.

He took a bite and said, “Wow, this is great! What’s in it?”

With the earnestness that often characterizes youthful vegetarian evangelists, Heather proudly rattled off the ingredients: broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, peas, peanuts for complementary protein, in (naturally) a whole wheat crust.... Bill nodded, patted his mouth with his napkin, and stood up.

“I’m sorry," he said. “It’s really delicious, but I have to leave now.”

Heather was stunned—this was definitely not how she had imagined the evening ending—but Bill was politely determined. She was left with most of a vegetable pie, an almost-full bottle of wine, and a lot of unanswered questions.

When she next saw Bill, on campus a few days later, he immediately apologized for his abrupt departure. In the course of the conversation, he grudgingly let slip that he had actually gone straight from her house to the college infirmary, where he had spent the next three days recovering from a severe anaphylactic reaction. Turns out he was deathly allergic to peanuts—she’d almost killed him with that vegetable pie and its complementary protein!

Bill was hardly one to carry a grudge, but the romance between them never blossomed. As for me, I knew an opportunity when I saw one. I spent the next several months discreetly and repeatedly reminding Heather that I, unlike some others I could name, had no food allergies. That spring, perhaps intoxicated by the scent of the lilacs, she finally succumbed to my many charms, and the rest, as they say, is history; we were married four years later. But who knows how our lives would have turned out had Bill Holt not been allergic to peanuts?

Heather’s vegetarian phases seem to be behind her; we still have a well-thumbed copy of Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook on the shelf, though I don’t think Heather has looked at it in years, and she has permanently retired that vegetable pie from her repertory. Perhaps that disastrous romantic dinner remains a little too memorable for her.

What we’re reading
Oscar Casares, Amigoland
Martin: Peter Fish (ed.), California's Best: Two Centuries of Great Writing from the Golden State


  1. I love this: "discreetly and repeatedly." I have a much stronger memory of your resilient repetitions than I do of your discretion. (:

    Thanks for calling up memories of Bill Holt. His light was dimmed far too soon, so it's nice to see it re-lit in the only way it can be: by those of us who have outlived him.


  2. Martin, this is a darling story! Thank you for participating in the blogathon.