TallGirl’s friend broke my heart.
“I think I’m too old to try new things. ” She is 22. She was talking about butternut squash.
Maybe I was particularly sensitive to the sentiment because I’d recently had an argument with a travel article titled 30 Places to Visit Before You Are 30. If beer-bellies can yell at TV sports, dark-rims can raise their voices to a magazine. Only fair. I am post-30, and I can totally justify skipping Milan because I don’t own the wardrobe befitting their sidewalks. Besides, they have a Starbucks, so why bother? It’s practically Parsippany, now isn’t it? But do they mean to tell me Venice has nothing to offer now that the bloom is off my flower? At my age, is it so hard to believe that I might appreciate the history of Budapest a little more than I would have twenty years ago when my biggest struggle was keeping up with a scrunchy? Just kidding. Twenty years ago, I had a toddler and my first broken marriage to navigate. I will concede this article wasn’t written for me, or people like me at that age. Still, I think it was a little short-sighted to write a travel article that specifically excludes me, and people like me now, who – precisely because of age, have the time and disposable income to visit the boutique hotels being shilled in the glossy pages of this magazine. But that’s just me.
Through middle and high school, TallGirl’s friend was a frequent visitor to our dinner table. Scratch that. She wasn’t a visitor. She was family; there was always a chair for her. Without fail, every single meal, she ate something for the first time. When we knew she was coming, it became a game of mine to guess, while I was cooking, what would follow her, I’ve never had declaration. Sausage, chocolate chip pancakes, pork chops, broccoli with cheese. We aren’t talking exotic fare, here. After graduation, they chose different paths, and she is now a vestigial daughter, visiting only once or twice a year. We miss her, and I’d forgotten her sheltered culinary life. That she’d never had butternut squash before was only surprising in that I hadn’t even considered it before dinner was served.
But here’s my confession. I have passed the halfway mark in my forty-second year of life and last night, I ate capers for the first time. Ever. I was aware of capers. My first knowledge of them came from Heartburn, by Nora Ephron. I read it about two decades ago, during those tumultuous, family breaking years when apparently I should have been traipsing the globe instead of potty training my beautiful daughter. Between you and me, I made the wiser choice. My life is rich beyond measure because she is in it, and hers is measurably improved by being potty trained. You’re welcome, BooBoo.
Nora Ephron has been accused for years of steering women wrong by romanticizing the troubling character flaws of both women and their male counterparts in her romantic comedies. Forget that. Neuroses are funny to everyone (save for those closely related to the afflicted, and to a lesser extent, the afflicted themselves), and it is exceedingly difficult to move a plot along if everyone in the story behaves rationally. She did what she had to do as a writer, and I, for one, admire both her chops and the battles she fought to be allowed to flex them. Where I take issue with her though, God rest her soul, is the terrible advice she gave in Heartburn. “…The truth is that any dish that tastes good with capers in it tastes even better with capers not in it.”
Living in the homogeneous suburbs of the south-east, it’s not like I had to go out of my way to avoid capers. They were always something that existed in the world but that I would likely never try, not unlike puffer fish or haggis. And equally, I assumed I wasn’t missing anything special; possibly, I was saving my own life by not trying them.
By the laws established by the governing body of dieters everywhere, I think I am required to tell you that I am starting the Whole30 Program. I am probably breaking some cardinal rule by not posting Insta pictures of every meal, or talking incessantly about what I am obsessing about eating, or not eating, next. But that’s just not who I am. I am only telling you this now because I have a cookbook that tells me exactly what to make to stay compliant and last night’s dinner involved capers. I considered leaving them out because Nora Ephron didn’t like them. The ghost of Nora Ephron wasn’t even invited to dinner, so is that nuts, or what?
Nuts, by the way, are allowed on the Whole 30, but not a wise nutritional choice. Now you know.
And you know what? I loved them. I loved them so much that I want to invite TallGirl’s friend over for dinner, even though TallGirl is still away at school, and make her eat them with me.
Last spring I was in Rome. I don’t know if that is a city on that stupid 30 Before 30 list, but I can tell you, no matter how old you are, get there. Our apartment backed up to the Aurelian Walls, and there were lush, green cascades of vegetation with pretty, wispy, white flowers growing freely from the cracks in the ancient brick. I asked a local what they were, and she thought a moment as she consulted her English vocabulary. More like a question of her own than an answer to mine, she said, “Wild capers?”
Because of the way she wrinkled her nose when she said it, and because of my Ephron association with the little beasts, I agreed with her that yes, those must be wild capers. I probably even wrinkled my own nose in solidarity.
I consider myself to be adventurous, but just like TallGirl’s friend, even I sometimes forego new experiences due to preconceived notions, or have those intrusive thoughts that I might be too told to try a new thing. I’ll try harder to recognize them, and nip them in the bud.
We are never too old for wild capers.
As a cautionary side, Whole30 was a terrible time to try capers. They have the same effect on my breath as a pickled garlic-onion might, and gum – all gum – is forbidden. If I accidentally breathe on you this month, I apologize in advance.