Thursday, November 8, 2012

Tour de Monterey

Comfort food is an edible hug.  It can be most anything, but it automatically transports you to a place and a feeling.  Normally that feeling is of warmth and love.  That comfort food feeds the soul its fuel.  I have enough comfort foods in my life to write dozens of these entries.  But I need to start with a 62 mile bike ride for a salami sandwich.

When I was a teenager my family lived in Luxembourg, a cycling-crazed nation nestled between France, Germany and Belgium.  My Peugeot road bike was my freedom on which I explored most of that country.  As a fourteen year old I spent virtually all daylight hours on my bike, often hanging out with friends, but just as often out in the countryside soaking in sycamore-lined roads through miles of farms and miniature, story-book villages, castle ruins, and vineyards.  I would stop and eat from time to time and one of my favorite snacks was a simple salami sandwich on a baguette with butter and a Coke.  A summer day could hardly be better enjoyed than out in the middle of the European countryside with my sandwich and my bike.  

This past summer my family bought me my first road bike since college.  I have been riding it with childlike joy throughout the Santa Cruz area, particularly enjoying its beautiful coast and feeling like I am 14 again.  I am blessed with some great friends who also road bike, so we planned a big ride around Monterey Bay.  I figured we could make it a family event – the guys would head out at sunrise, circle the bay and meet our families at a park on the other side.  I knew immediately what I needed for my picnic lunch – that salami sandwich!

We had a stunningly gorgeous ride – the sunrise silhouetted the cement ship of Aptos, migrant workers picked strawberries in Watsonville backdropped by the Bay, seals barked at Moss Landing, the tourists strolled in Cannery Row, and golfers went for par in Spanish Bay.  The most surprising part to me was the way the farmland brought me back to Luxembourg.  The soil mixed with morning air creates a scent that only comes from a farm.  Almost 30 years later, here I am again – exploring on a bike, cruising through farmland, using all my senses to remember it all. And there’s a salami sandwich waiting for me. 
After a morning on the bike, we pull into the park and are greeted by our families.  My stepdaughter pulls out a giant sandwich she made, and I know it’s for me.  If it weren’t for the soreness, I would swear I was 14 again!  The kids run and yell, occasionally running past the picnic tables to snag a carrot or a chip.  The adults are charmed by the grins and giggles of the infants.  The dads relax, telling our wives of the beauty of sunrise, the colors of the surf, or how “easy” 62 miles on a bike really was.  As I eat my sandwich, savoring the combination of brie, salami and crusty bread, I am in the Luxembourgish countryside again with a world to explore, surrounded by family and friends and a life of dreams ahead of me. 

The Sandwich
Comfort foods can change, they can be dressed up and altered to meet our evolving tastes and needs.  The salami sandwich of my youth really was nothing more than a handful of salami on butter-slathered baguette.  In my 20s I discovered it dressed up in Paris – add arugula and some brie and you have a wonderful adult version of the same sandwich – and it tastes beautiful as you stroll around Notre Dame’s exterior.  My post-ride comfort sandwich was much the same – a crusty baguette, lots of butter, a few large slabs of brie and more salami than you think is appropriate.  Partner that with some San Pellegrino mineral water, some chips, carrots and follow it with some amazing chocolate chip cookies – now that is an edible hug.
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