Tonight, feeling a bit ambitious, I decided to make a fusilli-with-wild-mushroom recipe that I made several times in New York and loved. Going in, there were obstacles. I don’t actually have the recipe here in Spain, but I was sure I could remember the important parts, and improvise the rest. I don’t know the translations for any of the types of mushrooms I like to put in, but I rounded up a few that looked similar: dark, dried mushrooms in a small box, sliced white mushrooms in a Styrofoam tray, and a can of what seemed to resemble shitake mushrooms (which, I know, don’t ordinarily come in a can, but I was improvising). And our grocery store had no fusilli, so I chose regular penne instead.
I soaked the dried mushrooms, boiled the pasta, and cooked everything up with olive oil and thyme. It smelled delicious. When we began eating, Andrew praised the meal, claiming he loved it. However, I soon noticed that he was covertly pushing all the mushrooms to one side of his plate and eating just the pasta. “Do you not like it?” I asked. “Of course I do,” he said. “It’s delicious.”
It became increasingly clear, however, that Andrew did not, in fact, like the meal. I may have doomed it from the start when I called Andrew into the kitchen to show him the box that held the dried mushrooms. “These are edible, right?” I’d asked. They were small and much more mushroom-like than the dried porcinis I was used to. “Um, yes,” he said. I should have known then that I’d made a mistake.
“You can tell me if you don’t like it,” I said, as Andrew continued his resolute separation of the mushrooms. I admitted that it wasn’t my best effort, that the recipe was much better when it was followed the right way, that I wasn’t crazy about it either. But Andrew persisted in claiming he liked the meal. He looked seriously and kindly into my eyes. “You remember what I used to eat for dinner, before you arrived?” he asked. “Crackers.” He put a warm, reassuring hand on my arm, giving me a moment to imagine him, alone and hungry, eating crackers for dinner. But I could tell he was struggling to figure out his point. He knew what he’d said wasn’t much of an answer, and, after a second or two, he continued. “Compared to crackers,” he said, still smiling warmly, “this is pretty good.”