On Saturday morning I found myself following Ruth Reichl around the Ferry Building Farmers' Market, taking photos and tasting food as we made our way around.
For anyone who doesn't know, Ruth is the former editor of Gourmet magazine as well as a former New York Times restaurant critic. She's written a trilogy of best selling memoirs, has won four James Beard Awards and is most recently the Editorial Advisor to Gilt Taste.
And I was following her around? Chatting, tasting and taking photos?
In an ideal world, I would have finished reading all of her books. I would have intelligent, memorable questions to ask advice for an aspiring food writer. I would have taken a shower the night before.
As it so happens, I don't own any of her books. What I know about her I learned while sitting on the floor of a balcony when she gave a talk at Stanford last year. What I ended up talking about was growing up eating chicharon, how I didn't really know my mom's paella recipe and how I thought UCSC's education was comparable to Stanford's. And I hadn't taken a shower the night before.
I'm not witty on my feet. I work for my words and say a little prayer of thanks when they come. Looking back on Saturday is like looking back on a wasted opportunity to learn more. It stings.
But what I lost in never asking, I gained in watching.
I'll always remember how her face lit up when she talked about the fragrance of strawberries-- and how the scent was universally cathartic. How she's never eaten good sushi in San Francisco and how she describes her time at the NYT as having a lot of "sharp elbows." How she remembers a time when goat cheese didn't exist in America and how she wishes every family had their own Ferry Building Farmers' Market to buy fresh, local and sustainable produce and artisanal products. How she was kind to everyone, always willing to listen and learn.
I may not have sharp elbows but my ears are a great substitute.