Menu Photo 1

A graduation and therefore a menu. How else to memorialize a monumental event if not a meal? We’ll start with fresh figs and goat cheese canapés and we’ll adjourn over a 1995 Jurançon. That sweet and nutty nectar of my birth year. Marker of milestones. A bottle when you turn eighteen, another for your twenty-first, he said and then delivered. A bottle when you cross that high school stage, diploma in hand, and another when you do the same four years later at college. A sip to bring in the year 2000; at five-years-old, I thought it tasted of apricot juice.


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Reserves running thin yet? I ask. He chuckles. Still a bottle left for the wedding. By which he means my wedding. I shudder. A strange reaction to a day five-year-old girls fantasize over, their fixations facilitated by reality television. Say Yes to the Dress. Me in white, that bottle veiled with dust, golden in age. I wonder what my mother will wear. If she will witness that day, muse over that musty bottle. I wonder what will be on the menu.

I hope it’s not pork.


He’s put pork on this menu. Tenderloin with pomegranate-cherry-grape sauce. Succulent and a little saccharine sounds pretty good. Except that I don’t eat pork. Never liked it. Been telling him that since I was ten. I stare at the white typeset with the black drop shadow, stare at the letters hovering on top of the grainy forest green of the menu. My eyes flick up: Lexi’s Graduation Dinner: Sunday, June 11, 2017. I pause. I scan down again. There’s a zippy white gazpacho and a nutty cake with tarragon sorbet—he’s remembered that I like preserved lemons and pistachios. A patrimony of preferences. He likes preserved lemons and pistachios. And so twenty-two years later, dozens and dozens of menus later, I do too.

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Menus. Multifarious little things. There’s the menu as artifact. Menu as to-do-list. Menu as save-the-date. Menu as semblance of choice. As bragging rights. Portfolio. Itinerary. Queue-er of saliva. Prompt for meditation and preview of mastication.

They are gastronomic anchors in history. Powerful objects—they freeze Chronos. Wormhole-like in their ability to suck you in and spit you outside of the present. Even in the moment of the meal, the menu pulls you forward. What’s for dessert?

And between lines of saffron-infused serif, a promise of togetherness.

Menus Photo 5

Me, my father, my mother. My mother’s boyfriend, Gary. My mother’s cancer, silent and lurking in the shadows. My father’s sister and her husband. Another couple of couples. My twin sister can’t make it. So it’s just we three—mother, father, daughter—happy family. Haven’t been in a room together since the last bottle of Jurançon, when, in 2013, we toasted my cap falling off mid-graduation speech and the ensuing laughter of the crowd. We hosted a party and champagne flowed and the lamb was saporous. People liked the cupcakes. My father hadn’t included them on the menu, but my sister insisted, and he relented. He didn’t bake them—he needed the ovens for the lamb—instead, they were ordered, delivered, ex-pats among his cornucopia. Soft shades of yellow and periwinkle. Snackable, simple, Instagrammable.

I doubt anyone noticed “cupcake” missing from the menu that doubled as graduation announcement.

Menus Photo 6

Menu as compromise. My sister wanted cupcakes to celebrate the completion of thirteen years of education; the crowd always wants cupcakes. But the cook doesn’t like cake. Prefers a bitter end to the meal, sorbet perhaps, or a tart with tea. Menu as clashing wills: creativity stymied by the ill taste of the crowd. He wants to craft and curate and control. Because he cares. So he fixates and finds recipes and fabricates these little gastronomic anchors. Granular details. But I’m stuck on the macro: that room. That promise of togetherness. Space sharing his zeroed-in-zeal and my mother’s excusable cantankerousness and my never-remembered dislike of pork. Reclaim some space. Reject the pork. I reply could we substitute the pork for Chicken Marbella? He says it will take too long to marinate and logistically the pork will be simpler. He says he will ship the Juronçon via Fedex and it will require a signature upon delivery.

Alexa Sonnefeld is a Colorado-born writer and journalist currently based in New York City where she’s helping launch The Correspondent, an ad-free, member-funded journalism platform. Previously, she worked at The Atlantic’s digital consultancy. Her essays and reported features have received numerous distinctions, including Dartmouth College’s 2017 Mecklin Prize for the best undergraduate writing in creative non-fiction.