I remember the day I stopped believing in best friends. It was winter of seventh grade, the time of tipping from one age to the next, those years of middle school, which felt very much transitional, and very much awful.
I had had the same best friend since first grade. We were like sisters. Her family was mine, her little sisters my little sisters. We regularly slept at one another’s houses, hers a beautiful two-story house in the neighborhood just across Carpenter Road from my subdivision. Her father was a businessman. He wore suits and went on business trips. My father worked at Cape Canaveral on the solid rocket boosters of the Delta IV rocket. Her side of the neighborhood was where the chiropractors and dentists lived. Mine was where the hourly workers lived, the union members.
By the time we were in middle school, my friend had outgrown our friendship, had outgrown me, but it took me probably a solid year to figure it out. The day I realized what was happening, I had caught her in a lie. A blatant lie she didn’t even need to tell. It doesn’t matter what about now. What matters is, I didn’t say anything. I didn’t call her out on it. I hung up the phone and sat alone in my room.
I remember the windows were open that day. Mom was cleaning, and the house smelled of bleach and dryer sheets. The wind brought the smell of orange blossoms inside, the line of citrus trees blooming in our backyard, the tangy green leaves brushing each other in the wind. I remember this as clearly as anything: the coolness of the air, the lovely sunshine, the smell of a clean house, and the sick feeling in my stomach, the heavy knowledge of being very alone.
After that, I made two attempts at having a best friend. Both those attempts ended much the same way. And I knew then that I would never have a best friend. I didn’t believe in best friends. I would not allow myself to be hurt like that again.
It was ten years after that day that I met you, Simona. But it would be years still before I realized that I had found my best friend. That I could even have a best friend. Years before I even realized what a best friend really was.
You were patient with me. You waited, as I very slowly opened myself up, as I very slowly began to trust. You told me your secrets and asked me to share mine. I kept you at arm’s length for a long time, but you were persistent with me. It took me probably five years to realize we could be best friends, that you weren’t going anywhere.
I remember one weekend last year that you and Darren came to visit us. It was early May, and we went to Oak Island, and the boys played bocce ball while you and I walked the beach, telling each other our secrets, letting the waves wash over our toes. We lay on beach towels until the sun had nearly set.
I remember the salt air, our hair blowing in the wind—yours light, mine dark—you, the poet, me, the prose writer, the sun soaking into our skin, the clear beautiful beach air filling our lungs. Everything about that weekend was perfect: the Mexican food we ate the first night, while talking about art and God. The beach. The dinner we cooked that evening together, hours in the kitchen.
It was that weekend that we cooked up the idea for this blog.
Once the sun had gotten low enough to let a chill in the air, we left the beach and went home to cook from Madhur Jaffrey’s Ultimate Curry Bible. We drank red wine, our messy hair pulled back from our faces, aprons tied around our waists.
The day was perfect, as was our food.
This past weekend was cold and gray and rainy and cold, so far from that day at the beach, the sun’s glow the color of butter. You are in Atlanta, and I in Wilmington, a six-hour drive away. We are both nearly buried under our work this semester. We have been busy, too busy, and I miss you desperately. So I made a yellow curry from the cookbook we cooked from together, and I thought of you. I thought of your sweet soul, how you were willing to chip away at my defenses, how you were willing to love me as I stayed distant and self-protective.
You know things about me no one else does. I take a long time to open up, and you are one of the few who have been willing to learn. You know what my tone of voice means, you know the punctuation I use when I’m happy and when I’m sad or distracted.
What a beautiful surprise this friendship has been, what a beautiful surprise you are. I admire you so. You are pure brilliance, a loving teacher, a passionate artist. A poet who always knows the perfect words. A soul that loves justice and mercy and goodness. You inspire people to be better, to notice what’s lovely about life. You are complex. You’re fashionable, with an eye for design. And you give. You give of yourself and your talents, to your students and to your friends. And we are all the better for your presence.
You are the best friend I always wanted but never had. Never—not even when I thought I had a best friend all those years ago. It was always meant to be you, Simona, you my sweet Romanian friend, dear soul, my best friend.
Chicken in a Yellow Curry Sauce (Gaeng Kari Gai) – Thailand
Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s Ultimate Curry Bible
14 oz. can of coconut milk, left undisturbed for 3 hours or more [I used a non-canned version of coconut milk, so I substituted coconut cream later on]
4 Tbsp. peanut oil
2.5 oz. shallots, peeled and very thinly sliced into slivers
5 Tbsp. Yellow Curry Paste [see below]
1 tsp. hot curry powder
1 lb. boned and skinned chicken thighs, cut into small pieces
1.5 Tbsp. fish sauce, or to taste
1 tsp. thick tamarind paste or lemon juice [I used lemon juice]
1 tsp. palm sugar or brown sugar
If you’re using the canned coconut milk, carefully open the can and skim off thick cream at the top (4 Tbsp). Stir remaining contents and set aside.
Pour oil into large lidded pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add shallots and stir. When the edges start to brown, reduce heat to medium-low. Stir as they fry, reducing heat if needed, until they are golden brown and crisp. Remove and place on a plate lined with paper towels.
Add coconut cream and curry paste to the pan with remaining oil from the fried shallots. Stir until oil separates and paste is slightly browned. Add curry powder and stir a few times. Add chicken and stir for a minute. Reduce heat to low and add fish sauce, tamarind, sugar, and 6 oz. water. Bring to a simmer, then cover and cook on low heat for about 15 minutes. Check to make sure chicken is cooked through. Stir in coconut milk and adjust seasoning to taste. Cover and simmer gently for another few minutes.
Serve topped with fried shallots.
Yellow Curry Paste
By Madhur Jaffrey
7 dried hot red chillies (cayenne)
5 oz. shallots, chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon grass, thinly sliced
10 small or 5 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1/2 tsp. white pepper powder
1 tsp. curry powder
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. shrimp paste or 3 anchovies from a can, chopped
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
Soak the red chillies in 5 Tbsp. hot water for 1-2 hours, or microwave them for 2-3 minutes and let sit 20-30 minutes.
Blend or process chillies, with their soaking liquid, with all remaining ingredients. Push mixture down with a rubber spatula as many times as necessary, until you have a smooth paste.