Our senses can serve as time machines. Listening to the first notes of a favorite song can send us back to a poignant moment. Smelling certain whiffs can bring us to special places. Tasting favorite foods can transport us to home or to a sense of coming home to ourselves.
Today is a hot July day. I am packing up the kitchen and cleaning like a madwoman. At noon, I feel hunger pangs. I search in the nearly empty cupboard and I remember my craving for hummus a few days ago. Luckily, I have all the ingredients stocked, and I came across a recipe that is similar to my oft-used one, with promises for ease in making and spice in tasting. Still, I improvise.
I drain the can of chickpeas (or garbanzo beans, if you prefer that term, but they are the same thing) and I flashback to my first year of college. I turned 18, declared myself a vegetarian, stopped shaving my legs, and enrolled in a school where the admissions advertising campaign included pictures of brightly colored canoes and artistic shots of Lake Superior. This New Mexico girl, raised in a home with a kitchen where pinto beans were a constant staple and on the grasslands where cattle raised for beef dotted the landscape, had never heard of chickpeas. I figured life as a vegetarian would be relegated to salads and vegetable side dishes. In 2015, hummus is quite popular in the US and mass-prepared versions are available in small town grocery stores, but not so in the early 90s. My first taste of hummus was on a canoe trip as part of my first-year student orientation. People smeared it on bagels and dipped their carrots sticks in it. Back on campus, in the cafeteria with a celebrated vegetarian cook, hummus had its place of honor in the well-stocked salad bar. It was kind of like Frito-Lay bean dip, but not. It was salty and contained a spicy mix of herbs. Part sandwich spread, part dip, I dug right into its creamy texture and clung to its trap on my taste buds.
In my hippified years of college, I volunteered for and shopped in the small and local natural foods co-op. I stocked chickpeas on the shelves and brought them home in wonder. People brought hummus as a snack to Friday night potlucks and I delighted in the special joys of a pita stuffed with hummus and spinach. I made batches by the tubful, but never quite seemed to replicate others’ tasty concoctions. I added lemon, but missed the subtleties of spice mixtures. I ate the college chef’s garbanzo masterpiece, dipped my fingers, carrots, and even tortilla chips. Finally, I perfected my own version.
If I had a food map of my life, hummus would mostly represent my college time. Few foods bring me back to those crazy and idealistic and optimistic years, the way that hummus does. It was cheap and easy to prepare with a spoon and a bowl. I hauled it on hikes, I made it when I was down to my last three dollars, I ate it at a party while a shaggy boy and I talked of music and poetry. I soaked a bowl of chickpeas when I had no furniture and five feet stacks of books on the floor. I mixed up a batch the night I broke up with a dear love. I mashed garbanzos in an angry furor in a spiritual breakdown.
I graduated from college, but I took the garbanzos with me. Today, I shave my legs and am just a part-time vegetarian. Now, my shopping lists include both chickpeas and pintos, canned when I am in a rush and full of impatience, and dried when I have grace and make time. Today, I rip open a sleeve of crackers, cut up chunky carrot sticks, and slice a cucumber. I take bites of the veggies and crackers dipped in my warm summer batch. I lick fingers stained with newspaper print as I sneak in a lunch while packing.
I am at once 18 on my first canoe trip, I am 25 in my apartment in Saint Paul, I am 32 hiking with a boyfriend in Colorado, I am 40 and on the cusp of new adventures. I can imagine my grey-white hair at 73 as I mix up a batch for an old college friend coming to visit and reminisce. I am ageless, I am every age. I am me. I am hungry and excited. It is hummus and I am home.