note: this post also appeared here.
Nostalgia is a funny thing. The smell of a certain food cooking can bring back a memory or a place you didn’t even know you missed. Roasting root vegetables in maple syrup transports me back in time to another place. (And, as it is with nostalgia, a place I only remember with fondness because several years have passed.)
Then, I worked as a waitress in a tiny tea room in a city I’ll leave for you to imagine.
There was the local color. A happy homeless man who sold jewelry on the street. To some, he inspired a simpler way of living. To me, he was the guy who came into the shop, drank hot water diluted with discarded, used tea leaves, and told me studying hospitality was a waste of time. And no, I did NOT change my major because of him.
Eric Starchild liked to hang around the shop for those hot drinks, and presumably for the healthy vibe the tea room gave off. Along with tea, it served vegan and vegetarian food. This probably appealed to his sensibilities as someone who only smoked American Spirits (100% natural).
One of the tea room’s best dishes was the Grain Bowl, famous in some circles, consisting of three elements: a bed of raw vegetables, a cooked grain, finished with cooked vegetables. The variation I remember most was topped with maple-roasted vegetables.
I could avoid Eric’s philosophical judgment by doing my job. This involved serving the (very) occasional customer, bringing grain bowls in takeout containers to the hipster magazine writers next door, sampling the teas (so I could be a knowledgeable salesperson) and washing dishes in the tiny sink under the bar. It’s a good thing the place wasn’t busier, because washing dishes for too long probably would’ve resulted in scoliosis.
Until I smell those vegetables roasting, that time of my life is something I’d rather forget. But somehow, the maple sweetness rising from my oven seasons my memories, and makes me want to go back.
It’s either unfortunate or lucky that the tea room went out of business. If I could go back in person, the bad memories would probably outweigh the good. But 89 miles and 4 years away, I can remember fondly with a meal.
The Grain Bowl (one of many variations)
1 cup salad greens, dressed lightly in oil and lime juice
½ cup hot cooked grains, like brown rice
1 ½ cups sweet potatoes, parsnips, and onions, coated with olive oil and maple syrup, roasted until tender
Assemble: first the salad, then the grains, then the vegetables. Eat, and be transported.