I believe in food memories. I have a lot of them — never-ending hot pot on special occasions, due to growing up in a Taiwanese household; the first time I ate goat cheese (in college, at a friend’s family’s New York brownstone); my father’s secret-recipe barbecue sauce; the first time that C and I made ceviche and discovered that it had actually worked.

H and I spent a lot of time writing in graduate school. After all, that’s what we were there to do. Both of us were wildly, although in a complicated kind of way, ambitious about our literary careers, and so as the months went on and we began to figure out what the hell we were doing, we spent increasingly long periods of time in silence in one another’s apartments, typing on our laptops and writing in our notebooks or legal pads. Occasionally, we’d stop to refill the coffee pot, or churn out another shot of foul-tasting espresso from the espresso pod machine I’d gotten back home in California; sometimes we’d stop and read something out loud to one another to check for poor prose, or ask about a plot point that seemed to be sticking. Food wasn’t much on our minds in those days. What we needed, when it came down to it, was something that was cheap and fast. Something that we could make quickly and eat just as quickly before getting back to work. And so there was one dish that made it to our mouths for dinner more than a few times during those two years.

“Fiery pasta?” she’d ask.

“Sure,” I’d say.

Gin and tonics were a given accompaniment.

I made this fancier version of Fiery Pasta, which was her name for it, recently, and eating my portion brought everything back: the sour-sweet olive juice in my g&t, the characters and phrases that churned in my brain, and the ferocity of the love I felt for so very many things, back then.

Recipe for H’s Fiery Pasta, Updated (Gin & Tonics Optional)


  • whole grain spaghetti noodles
  • shredded Parmesan cheese
  • diced fresh basil
  • halved cherry tomatoes, preferably perfectly ripe
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • lemon juice
  • red pepper flakes


Boil the spaghetti noodles until al dente, usually for 7-8 minutes. Drain and serve in bowls before drizzling the pasta with olive oil. Allow those eating to add their own perfect ratio of basil, tomatoes, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, and shredded Parmesan. If you’re like me, you’ll go back and add more Parmesan a couple of times before the bowl is empty. Eat with someone you love, even if it’s your lone self.