Why Oaxaca? Because of Tuscany, of course.
When I was a wee 20, I wrote an application for a fellowship that grants a handful of year-long travel projects with two basic requrements
- Your trip must have a singular, specific purposes that advances understanding in the humanities or sciences
- You can’t return to the US for a full 365 days
It seemed like my dream scenario: set off to see the world on my own semi-secret personal mission. So I drew up a plan to study women chefs across the globe, hitting up Mexico, Spain and Italy. Alas, it wasn’t to be back then. I promised myself, as I emailed off the final draft of my essays and sat through interviews with the college deans, that regardless of the outcome I’d make it happen some day.
Then, of course, life happened.
I met a boy, got a job, and events proceeded in very different directions than I’d imagined. There was indeed a (brief) time filled with jetting around on tight schedules, and there was also a time off the grid, where I didn’t set foot in my home country for (half) a year. But all in all my culinary knowledge remained ensconced in books and the occasional blog.
Being in Italy a few years ago reminded me that for as much as I love Marcella and have learned from her, there is nothing like being in a place to animate the soul of a cuisine. I will forever remember a rainy autumn afternoon when my parents and I rumbled into a foggy Volterra having missed lunch hour. The Italians are SERIOUS about their lunch.
We timidly rang the counter bell at a deli tucked in the corner of a plaza, waiting to see if anyone would emerge from the back. When the owner finally did, I plaintively (and in rather poor Italian) asked if there was anything, anything at all she could serve us for lunch. She glanced at our sorry soggy selves and shrugged–not much. A soup and some cold meats. Nodding vigorously that yes, yes, this was more than enough, we sloshed back to a table to deposit our coats on sturdy wooden benches.
What followed was the best meal I had in Italy. Since that afternoon I have yet to find finocchiona equal to theirs, and the memory of that Tuscan soup still fills my head with herby steam on hungry winter days. I could never have found that meal in a book; sometimes I forget this impossibility. For all my love of words and my plans to get out there to see the world, it is hard to actually arrive. Sometimes it’s easier leave those ideas on the page or in my head.
So that was a long way of saying that when I heard my friends were moving to Mexico, I bought a round-trip ticket without thinking twice about what would fill those 14 days, allowing vague notions of unfulfilled promises, layers of chiles and spices and epic batches of mole to win out over prudence and thrift. Good decision indeed.