Tuesday, March 6, 2012
The Power of Memory
"Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky at morning, sailors take warning."
Having grown up near the ocean on Long Island, New York, I've heard this (true!) weather lore for as long as I can remember. Visiting my native Long Island this past weekend, I was reminded of the phrase again on Saturday, as the sunset to the west lit the sky a fiery orange. Not red, mind you. But beautiful, nonetheless.
I snapped a quick photo before Kelli, the girls, and my mom all hopped in the car for the short drive to my aunt and uncle's house, where we were meeting up with more family for a dinner of freshly caught lemon sole (procured from one of our favorite local fishmongers) and a show of old slides from my grandparents' house. It was an evening of togetherness, reminiscing, nostalgia, storytelling, memories.
We returned to my mom's house late that night satiated in every sense of the word. We tucked the girls in to bed, and I set my alarm for early the next morning.
A week had passed since the Febapple Frozen 50k trail race, my legs were fully recovered, and it was time to log another long training run. Sunday morning would be the day. I pulled on my running tights, a long sleeve T, strapped on my lumbar water bottle and a single packet of GU, pressed the start button on my stopwatch, and I was off.
I ran the Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail, which stretches 26 miles from Massapequa on the Island's south shore to Cold Spring Harbor on the north shore. My mom's house in Farmingdale is just under a mile from the trail. Once on the Greenbelt, I ran north on a stretch of paved recreation path before turning off-road onto the white-blazed Greenbelt trail proper.
The parklands that comprise the Greenbelt are sometimes a narrow sliver of nature snaking its way through suburbia. At other times, the Greenbelt balloons into a large, gorgeous tapestry of forests, meadows, wetlands, lakes, parks. It is a wonderful resource for trail runners and mountain bikers, remarkable not just for the quality of the trail, but also for the fact that the Greenway exists at all. It somehow managed to escape the development that otherwise swallowed up the natural areas in this area of Long Island, where suburban community seamlessly blends into suburban community.
As I ran north, I was struck by the familiarity of the trail. A sandy section here, a section of pebbles there, a familiar climb, a recognizable descent, a notable stream gully, a particular meadow, a conspicuous switchback. Each trail junction, each turn, each stretch of trail, seemed somehow imprinted in my DNA. Which in a way it was. I used to mountain bike that trail regularly.
But that was a long time ago. By my best guess, I haven't been on that trail in 15 years. Yet it remained with me. Some memories do not fade; they merely require a trigger to bring them back.
When I had run as far north as I cared to go I turned around and returned the way I came. By the time I strode onto the front porch of my mom's house, 2 hours and 45 minutes had elapsed. I'd covered 19 miles, running at an average 8:40 per mile pace.
A funny thing happened, though, in the final miles of my run. As I wound my way home along the paved recreation path and then through the neighborhood to mom's house, I was struck by the strongest urge to deviate from my route, swing by one of the ubiquitous Long Island bagel shops, and pick up half a dozen hot, fresh bagels to bring home. I couldn't do that, of course, since I'm aware of no Long Island bagel shop that sells gluten-free bagels. But the desire was strong, triggered—I think—by memory.
Food is one of the things in life most strongly associated with memory. And it's retaining—or even recapturing—those memories (and continuing the experiences that forged them in the first place), that in part motivate our gluten-free recipe development. They are what prompt us to develop a gluten-free version of a proper boiled-then-baked Long Island bagel. And they are what drive us to create a very particular version of a San Marzano deep dish pizza.
Recipes such as these are about much more than simply making great gluten-free food. They're about sustaining memories. And when we get them right, we know it in our DNA, like running a trail that becomes suddenly familiar, when memories come flooding back after having been absent for a decade and a half.
What about you? What foods trigger your strongest memories? What "lost" food are you longing to re-create in gluten-free form? What gluten-free food today connects you to your past of yesterday? Tell us about your own food stories and the power of memory.