We’re judged by the company we keep. Some may argue that it’s unfair that we be ancillary critiqued based on the actions and words of those we associate with. However, it stands to reason that if we willingly befriend people who can hardly be considered upstanding, then we too must be. Why else would we be friends with people unless we we approved of their actions or behavior? We pick our friends because they possess traits we enjoy and admire. Judging someone by the company they keep, then, is completely practical.
Shortly after turning eighteen and graduating high school I found myself at UC Davis for freshmen orientation week. It was a chance to familiarize myself with the campus and its resources, take placement exams, and learn how to pick classes using the incredibly complicated class guide. More importantly, it was a chance to socialize and make friends. Most everyone was coming from all corners of California, others from various other reaches of the U.S., and a few from overseas. People from practically every race, gender, religion, sexuality, ability and so on were present causing some people to engage with individuals of certain communities whom they had never interacted with before. It was week of social mixing and everyone was a little awkward.
Of course, the first person I bonded with was my assigned roommate for the week in the dorms. I can’t recall his name but I recall my interactions with him and the people he quickly associated with and, thus, I associated with. They all seemed normal enough. We spent the first night at the dining commons talking about our potential majors and backgrounds. Who had a girlfriend, if we thought we placed well in the chemistry placement exam, and if there was a decent coffee house nearby were all fair topics. Nothing anyone would red flag.
The group seemed normal enough, though we seemed to have established ourselves as the popular kids (I understand now that no such thing exists on a college campus) and as expected began to act in condescending manner towards the other students. Nothing extreme or too offensive, more along the lines of picking out who was wierd and making a point to convince every other freshmen how that person should be shunned else their new collegiate reputation be tarnished.
Having been one of the super-weird people in high school who had been on the receiving end of this sort of treatment - I played the flute in marching band and founded the anime club - this should have been the first warning. Still, I was in a new environment and, gosh darn it, I wanted to find some friends and fit in. If some poor shmuck with a bad haircut who climbed trees in the middle of our campus tour had to suffer our roundtable mocking, so be it.
Later that night we ventured into downtown not looking for anything in particular. We eventually meandered into a convenience store for what I assumed was something to drink. It was dark out and I had no idea where in the town I was so more than anything I was just trying to get my bearings.
I have an intense need to know exactly where I am at all times in foreign places, and not having a map I was more concerned with landmarks, star positions, and street names than whatever the others were doing. While downtown Davis is set up as a grid, if you aren't familiar with the town every block looks exactly the same. Compound that on top of the fact the campus itself was a strange maze of mismatched and awkwardly placed buildings and that it was dark out I realized I was totally lost. I certainly wasn’t paying attention to what anyone was buying or, in this case, not buying.
The group moved out back to the street and we meandered over to what seemed to be a park.
“Walk faster,” said my roommate in hushed panic. I just looked at him curiously.
“Why? We don’t have to be back for a while.” I looked up ahead to the rest of the group and called out, “Hey, does anyone know where the hell we are?”
“Dude, shut up!” hissed the guy with the punk-look ahead of us, pink hair in spikes and boots that looked like the belonged to The Starchild. I couldn’t recall his name, and had begun to address him as Punky.
This was the point when I knew something was up. It was the same feeling you get when you find a letter in the mail that can only be bad news, or that split second after you hear your car make a sound that you unequivocally know will cost you $300 to fix.
“Dude, hurry up!” said my roommate. He, Punky, a blonde girl, and the German guy we met a lunch began picking up speed.
Suddenly, a few blocks away, we saw a police car turning the corner.
“RUN!” someone called.
So, I ran. The reaction was automatic. If someone suddenly yells “Heads up!”, you look up and brace for falling objects. If you see people crowding around on the street, you’re likely to investigate in order to see what's going on. Humans are creatures that are good at following the pack and taking directions in a primal sense, especially when our brains tell us it’s for self-preservation. So, I ran. I took off like scared teenager in a horror film, which wasn’t too far from the truth.
We were in the park by now and there was zero lighting nearby thanks to the City of Davis’ aggressive light pollution policy. (You can see the stars, just not the serial rapist hiding in the bushes ahead.) Following the lead of the people in front of me I leaped over a stone wall and took cover, flattening myself against the ground. The others were doing the same, all of us still as statues and no one breathing a word for fear that the slightest whisper would sound like a siren. A few minutes later we heard the car drive up, pass us, and slowly drive away. We hadn’t been seen. Even more, I realized that they weren’t even looking for us.
“What the hell?! Why were we running?! Why am I dashing two city blocks and hiding in shadowy corners from the cops?!” I yelled.
“Dude, we stole some beer and Jack from the store,” said Punky. My roommate looked at me and smiled. He grabbed the bottle of Jack and offered it to me. I looked at it in my hand and stared down at the Captain, a knowing look in his eye as if to say, "See, yer' a pirate. Just like me. Arr."
"You stole liquor? On our first night in college? Wait. No. College orientation?" I stared at them all. I was shocked and horrified that people really could be this stupid. "Just how much crack did you smoke before we went out tonight?"
"Dude," said my roommate, "it's fine. It's just a bottle."
"And beer!" I screamed louder than I had probably intended.
"It's just a small adventure. Nothing to freak about," said the blonde.
"You made me run from the cops! I've never run from the cops! I like cops!" I looked back down at the Captain. Without any thought I unscrewed the cap and put the bottle to my lips and began to drink.
And, then, continued to drink. And drink. And drink. This was my first drink ever, in fact. Conicidentally, it was also the first time I felt I ever really needed a drink.
"Whoa! Don't take it all," cried the roommate.
I ignored him and continued. I could feel the peppery liquid sear down my throat and burn my stomach. Pain as punishment.
Finally, more for the desire of air than rather to stop, I put down the bottle and gasped. My body began to violently cough and my back arched over as it reacted to the burn. My lungs attempted to suck in air as quickly as possible. I put my arm out in a gesture for someone to take the bottle away. The blonde grabbed it and whined about a third of the bottle being gone or something. At that point I didn't care. I got up and meandered in what seemed to be a familiar direction. I just hoped that my young, healthy liver could process this and that I could find my way back to the dorm.
The next day, my side sore and my head pounding, I befriended the strange tree climbing lad. We hit it off fabulously. By the end of orientation week he and I had made arrangements to become roommates in the dorms once the school year started. We celebrated our arrangement with other new friends who weren’t thieving bastards with a simple picnic in the quad of fruit, cheese, and bread picked up at the Farmer’s Market.
It was during that picnic that I learned the importance of association when it comes to food as well. My new friend, Sarah, showed me how to pair fruit with cheese, particularly slices of fresh seed-studded kiwi on chunks of bread smeared with chèvre. Food, too, can be judged by its pairings, friendly flavors that highlight and encourage its most endearing and exciting qualities.
At that picnic I found foods I was happy to mix together, but even better I found people who supported me . These friends were company I was happy to be judged by.
This kiwi-lemon jam is just as easy to judge through association. It also reminds me of some of the lessons I learned in that first week of college. A wild, somewhat precocious accountrment on a cheese plate this jam is sure to garner attention while simultaneously fawning over anything else your serve. Tangy chèvres and triple cream, ultra-buttery cheeses like Délice de Bourgogne or Red Hawk mingle best with it. It's particular perkiness lends it self well to waffles, yogurt, and ice cream as well.
Of course, this jam shouldn’t be judged by association alone, but on its own merits as well. Bright and sunny, it’s not the kind of jam you expect Fall bounty to produce. The kiwis’ tropical, almost strawberry-ish flavor is best if you can find them at peak ripeness when the skins are wrinkled and the flesh is dark emerald green, which means the fruit will be sweet and aromatic. Ripe, soft kiwis are a whole different flavor than hard, pale green ones that offer too much tang and too little flavor. The strong suggestion of lemon offers a slightly sour compliment to the beryl fruit.
Kiwi Lemon Jam
Adapted from The Art of Preserving
Makes 2 1/2 pints
1 Meyer lemon
3 cups sugar
3 lbs. ripe kiwi fruits
1. Cut off the ends of the lemon. Quarter the lemon lengthwise and remove the seeds. Place the lemon and 2 cups of the sugar in a food processor and process until well pureed Transfer to a nonreactive bowl and let stand at room temperature for four hours or overnight.
2. Peel the kiwis and slice them into thick rounds, about 4-5 per kiwi. Gently toss with the remaining cup of sugar. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 3-4 hours.
3. Transfer the lemon mixture to a large nonreactive saucepan and place over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until the sugar is dissolved and the lemon is translucent. Add the kiwi fruit mixture to the pan, reduce the heat to medium, and cook uncovered, stirring frequently, until the jam is thick. About 15 minutes. (This will be a loose jam. Overcooking it until it become very thick will scorch the kiwi fruit.)
4. Ladle into sterilized jars and process. Processed and canned it will keep for a year in a dark, cool place. Otherwise, place in the fridge and use within two months.