Like many a romantic comedy, the plot of my big romance that led to marriage included a breakup.
Steve and I had been dating long distance for about six months in December 1992. I thought everything was peachy. He did not, as he made excruciatingly clear during an awkward dinner at an Addison Tex-Mex restaurant with his parents and me. We broke up soon after. After some silence and reconsidering and forgiveness on both sides, we reunited six weeks later.
As for the scene of the beginning of the breakup — well, we had trouble forgiving and forgetting. We associated all our early-relationship angst with that Tex-Mex restaurant. It was years before we even tried eating there again.
The night that we relented and tried to reclaim the restaurant as a happy place, the service was slow and the food was mediocre. We left convinced that the restaurant was cursed and never returned. (Easy to do when surrounded by plentiful Tex-Mex options.)
We all have bad association memories — a song that reminds you of a tragic time, a smell that recalls a sadness, a locale that evokes dread.
My longest-lasting bad memory: The infamous English Muffin Pizza Incident of 1977.
This was my kindergarten year. Miss Green occasionally worked cooking into the curriculum, and one day she taught the class how to make English muffin pizzas. I convinced my parents to buy all the ingredients, and one night we tried to re-create the meal.
Assembly was smooth. The pizzas went into the oven. They smelled delicious as they baked.
We removed the cookie sheet from the oven and then realized trouble was afoot. The English muffins were stuck to the foil on which they’d been placed. The bottoms were burned, and there was no way to separate the pizzas from the foil.
This triggered a dramatic shouting match. As I recall, one parent had advised we use foil and the other parent said no foil. The one who said no foil felt vindicated, but really, no one won because we had no dinner.
I remember standing in the kitchen, devastated that I couldn’t replicate the classroom recipe and upset about the shouting.
I never again asked to make those pizzas. And as I grew up and tried to piece together the events leading to my parents’ divorce, I considered the English Muffin Pizza Incident as the harbinger.
Thirty-something years is a long time to hold a grudge against a recipe. Over the years, I realized that the English Muffin Pizza Incident was significant only to me, and that was because I’d held on to it for so long.
This week, I reclaimed the recipe. Our kitchen happened to be stocked with all the ingredients. I called Cooper and Katie in, and together we sliced English muffins, placed the halves on a cookie sheet (hold the foil), spread pizza sauce on the bread, sprinkled grated cheese on the sauce, and placed pepperoni and prosciutto on the cheese.
They baked for 11 minutes at 375 degrees and emerged from the oven bubbly and crisp but not a bit burnt.
This was no gourmet lunch. It was comfort food. Comfort because there was no shouting, no tears. Comfort because the three of us worked together. Comfort because it reminded me that we don’t have to forget bad memories, but we’re free to create better ones.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at email@example.com.