Overcoming Trauma: Poached Quince Recipe

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

-Oh, the drama of trauma.-

Before I met BF I wasn't looking to date at all. In fact, I wanted nothing to do with men. Previous experiences had left me burned out. My first long term relationship ended in a fit of exploding meth labs, identity theft, running for my life from a giant sumo-like bouncer armed with a pipe, and a mohawked pornstar trying to ring me into an orgy. Of course, this is just the stuff that I was able to take in stride. The rest is simply unfit to publish on a food blog, or probably any blog for that matter.

To say I was traumatized would be the same as calling RuPaul only slightly eccentric. The idea of trying to let someone into my life was somewhat daunting. For the most part dating turned out to usually be a total waste of time and only left me with colorful stories to regale friends with.

Having been horribly immersed in the dankest cesspools of gay culture by my ex I had, apparently, gotten a bit of a name for myself. Infamy isn't exactly a hard thing to wrack up in a small city with a small community. Yet, at least - or so I was told - I was talked about in good light. Though I was with the sketchiest crowd I was informed that I was considered to be the smart, responsible, trained in first-aid and CPR, good guy of the group. That is assuming you actually wanted to hang out with anyone from the t-drudge. But, then again, why would you?

I chose to remove myself from the social world for a good year before dating in earnest. It gave me a chance to disappear and then reemerge forgotten. That's the great thing about social circles, people cycle in and out so often that there are always new people who have no idea who you are. Those you do know eventually forget everything about you except some vague recollection that you met at that one guy's party. We met before, right? I don't recall everything, but I remember liking you. What's your name again?


Still, I was a bit nervous about trying to romantically engage with someone for the long term again. I pushed myself to continue dating based on a fear of a future where I ended up a photography subject for Daine Arbus after decades of spinsterly, single living. The dating pool, however, sucked. Until I met Collin, that is. Or Jason. Depends on who you talk too. I knew him as Collin.

-No, the picture isn't fuzzy, but the quince sure are.-

I met Collin online. We had had some witty banter and after a few weeks of talking we decided to hook up one fateful night. It was amazing. Fireworks. Epic nights under the covers (and on top of them, and once or twice on the staircase, oh, and once on the kitchen table) that sent vibrations though us both and left us glowing and rattled for days after.

I didn't give much thought to what it was. I simply assumed he was a friend with benefits. If we were both free he would come over and we would have sex, then afterwards we would spend a few hours just talking in bed naked before getting up and going for a bite to eat. Our meals would go for another hour or two and we would make each other genuinely laugh. It was quite wonderful really. It was like having a boyfriend without actually having a boyfriend. No commitment or responsibility on either one of our parts.

A few weeks later I got sick though. Working with children all day I was constantly surrounded by whatever the newest strain was and while I was normally resistant to them one particularly nasty bug took me down hard. Collin called and asked if I was free. I explained that, no, I was not and that I was sick. I apologized and told him to call in a few days.

An hour later there was a knock on the door. Before I could get up I heard it open and then heard Collin calling my name. I was surprised and walked down the stairs to meet him standing there soaked from the rain and carrying a thermos. "Chicken broth. I made it myself," and he smiled.

As I stood there, flush with cold, unshowered for two days, and clothed in little else but old flannel pants and a blanket I smiled back. So that night, as he sat with me in bed while I ate homemade chicken broth, he became my boyfriend.

-Vanilla bean, cinnamon, and star anise flavor these rosy quince. Oh, and a bottle of Riesling.-

Things were good for the four months we dated. I never went to his place. He said he had a roommate and that they both had an agreement not to bring guys home. I found it odd, but simply accepted it. His work, something about creating firewalls for government computer systems, a job that required frequent travel, kept him out of town three or four days out of the week. When he was in town it was just us. Nothing else in the world. He would make me laugh and surprise me with nights on the town. I secretly learned how to cook a few Italian dishes so I could surprise him with his favorite foods. We became that horribly, damn near insufferable lovey-dovey couple you just hate.

I was overjoyed to discover that I could be this happy again and my faith in the male sex was revived.

Then one day at work my personal phone beeped and a text message from an unknown caller popped up. "Cheat!" was all it said. I assumed it a wrong number and deleted it. A moment later another message appeared, "Why?" I looked down and wrote back that my name was Garrett and that they had the wrong number. Almost immediately my phone rang with the same incoming number. I picked it up. "Hello?"

"Why are you trying to destroy my marriage?" said the voice.

"Excuse me?" I replied with total befuddlement. "Look, I think-"

"You're sleeping with Jason. I know it," accused the voice.

"I don't know a Jason." I composed myself and began to explain in a calm voice, "Sorry, but you have the wrong number. I'm dating someone named Collin. I am going to hang up now."

"Collin is Jason's middle name!"

I paused, "What?"

"Jason is my husband and I want to know why you are trying to rip our marriage apart!"

-Quince are in season from mid to late Fall, but you can still find a them in December if you keep an eye out.-

Over the next two hours I learned that Collin's name was actually Jason. The voice belonged to his husband who had become curious of Collin/Jason's overnight work meetings in Reno (translation: sleeping with me) and strange behavior. I learned that Jason had not only lied about his name, but also his job, what pets he had, his mother being dead, his hometown, college, and job. Everything. The person I was dating, Collin, did not exist. Only his true to life doppleganger in disguise, Jason. Through the entire discussion I could feel my entire insides collapse on themselves like a dying star, the light going out, and my body barely able to support itself. I had to sit down.

I explained that I had not known any of this. (The husband even asked if I had never looked him up on Facebook to which I replied that I didn't have one.) As his husband cried and sobbed I did my best to reassure him that I never, ever knew this and that I wish that I had known i would never had even met with Collin, or, I meant Jason. I couldn't figure out which name to use.

After a while, the husband told me he was going to leave Collin. Jason. I promised that I would cut all ties. I hung up the phone and crashed on my bed (I had left work shortly after the revelation in order to deal and freak out in the privacy of my own home). I texted Collin. No answer. Normally he texted back in thirty seconds. For the first time ever the phone was silent. I sent e-mails, phone calls, more texts, all looking for an explanation. Still, no answer.

Frustrated, I finally went online to Facebook and looked up Collin under his real name, Jason. There it was. Jason. There with his picture and real name was his whole life. Husband, honeymoon in France, a golden retriever, job in downtown Sacramento with a mortgage lender, and an adopted child whose paperwork was just being finished. Jason's whole life. Collin was a lie. I cried.

Later that night my phone rang again. It was the husband. "He denies everything you told me." I could hear him choke back the tears and anger.

I was more furious than I had ever been in my life. At that point the only thing that mattered in my life was hurting Jason as much as possible. He had to be destroyed.

"Did he? Look, I know you must be hurting, but your husband is a fucker and an asshole. You need to know just what kind so that when you divorce his ass and you can get everything. What's your e-mail?"

He gave it to me. With it I sent a copy of every text message, sexy photo, and romantic e-mail I could find. I even scanned and sent a copy of a sweet morning post-it note he left for me when he had to get up early one morning. I signed the e-mail, "Have him disprove this. Sorry you have to see this, but he's a liar and you should know. I know you hate me, but please know I did not know you even existed. I am so sorry. If you kill him make sure it hurts. He broke my heart too."

I never heard from the husband or Collin ever again. No apology or I am sorry was ever given. The last thing Collin said to me was, "See you tomorrow," before kissing my forehead and leaving for work.

-Alice Waters approves of quince, but probably not of cheating on your spouse.-

I didn't go out much the next few months. The exception was the doctor's office when I went to get an STD test. We had been safe, but who knows how many other people he had been with? I was embarrassed, angry, and heartbroken that someone who could lie that much could even exist.

"Screw the world," I thought to myself. I was convinced there was no love in it. Cheats, twinks, losers, and druggies was all that out there.

Then, one day, I ran into an old friend I hadn't seen in years. We got together for dinner and had a wonderful time.

It's almost two years later and BF and I are as happy as ever.

Trauma can certainly make you weary to try something out again. Why wouldn't it? We don't want to suffer the shame and horror we faced before. It's common sense.

So it is for me and quince as well. Maybe not as dramatic or nearly as full of heartbreak, but my first quince experience was traumatic all the same.

The first time I picked them up I was so eager to get them home. I decided I would poach them so I could best get an idea of what their core flavor was.

-Not pictured: Worms of the wriggly or human kind.-

I grabbed my knife and crunched in through the mantle of the fruit. It was fibrous and hard, like cutting through a raw butternut squash. Applying a little more preassure the knife slowly made its way through when suddenly it slipped right through the core of the quince with an unappealing squishing sound followed by the tap of the knife hitting the cutting board. I pulled out my knife and saw it was covered in murky-colored juices. Now, I had never worked with quince before but I knew this wasn't right. I opened the two quince halves and gasped in terror. The entire core had been eaten out and turned into a writhing colony of worms. There had to be nearly a hundred of them and I had just cleaved through their tangled mass. Their ichors streaked down the fruit and onto the cutting board as their still wriggling halves angrily flailed for their missing parts.

I never bought a quince again. I was too put off and disgusted. The bad experience left me without any desire to wade into the world of quince. Who needed it?

However, last weekend I ran into a friend, Kira O'Donnel, a smart woman who knows her pies, at the Farmer's Market. She noted that she was planning to buy some quince. I told her my aversion and she insisted that I had simply had one bad experience. She took me to a vendor and pressed some quince into my bag and sent me on my home with instructions to poach them in Riesling and spices.

I decided to get back on my pomme horse I did as she instructed. Perfumed and heady with spice the quince tasted ethereal, like the very idea of fall and winter softened and warmed in a kettle. I had overcome my quince trauma.

Sometimes, after something truly awful happens, you just have to stick it out and try again because what happens as a result can be and taste absolutely amazing.

-Store in the poaching sauce to deepen the floral flavor of the quince. Reduce the sauce into a bitchin' syrup for cocktails or pancakes.-

Poached Quince
4 quince
3 cups Riesling
2 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeded
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup sugar
peel and juice of 2 tangerines

1. Place the Riesling, water, vanilla, cinnamon, star anise, honey, sugar, and tangerines in a sauce pot. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.

2. While the pot heats peel, cut and core the quince into eight pieces. Slip each into the poaching liquid. Cover the pot with a round of parchment paper with a walnut-sized hole cut in the center and place it on top.

3. Simmer the quince (do not boil) for at least an hour, until the quince are cooked through and can be pierced with a fork. Serve warm.

-Dear Collin/Jason, seriously, if I ever see you again I will kick you in the balls. Love, Garrett.


  1. Great post... as always!

  2. What a horrible story! I think you did the right thing by sending Collin/Jason's husband everything, though. That must have a been a tough call. Wow. So um...happy holidays sounds awkward now, but yeah, happy holidays :)

  3. This is like the time that I bought a red bell pepper and there were maggots inside. It took me MONTHS before I ate bell pepper again.

    As for Jason/Collin, the best thing you could have done was move on from such trauma, and you've succeeded with the BF. Your readers are proud of you for overcoming such a horrible situation!

  4. Garrett,

    sorry to hear about your story. As you said we can bounce back after some time. Poached quince looks delicious.

  5. I'm sorry that happened to you, but you wrote about it beautifully. And convinced me to re-try quince, all in the same post.

  6. This post is the reason why I follow you, Garrett. Loved it.

  7. Dear Garrett--I adore you! And seriously appreciate your story though it was difficult i'm sure - I love the happy ending on both the food and love side.

  8. Thank you for sharing your story. I am so glad that you have overcome your trauma - in both areas :)

  9. You had me hanging on to every word, a great blog post. I'm so sorry you had to go through that, these things make us stronger and we have more wisdom when the real thing comes along, I'm glad you've found it now.
    Maggots are enough to put me off any food... I had to leave my house suddenly because the water and heating broke and I came back this week to an old thai green curry in the fridge that had turned pink and the mould had eaten through the tin foil it was wrapped in. Your post has inspired me to try eating thai green curry again but I'm thinking it probably wont be for a short while. thedelectablediary.blogspot.com x

  10. Hi Garrett, What a scarring story. glad it turned out for the best in the end.

    Quinces! They are magical the way they transform colour. Be brave! Cook them for 3-4 hours longer than you did and they will become this deep deep bruised red (anthocyanins or Collin/Jason after his just desserts). I use water, sugar, cloves and vanilla only but your recipe will do this too with extra time (just be careful to top up the liquid and not to cook on too high a heat as it will burn).

    all the best


  11. Garrett-- I wanted to tell you that I really like the direction you've taken the blog. I've been reading it for at least a year (and never commented--I'm a lurker!) and I like each new entry more than the one before. Especially when they're so heart-wrenching! You're such a good writer.
    And I'm glad you found happiness after such awful experiences!

  12. I STILL have no idea why people lie & cheat. I met a guy online who asked me out. We met for lunch, no sparks on my side so a simple hug at the end. A few days later, I got an email from his fiance! Who they were waiting for his divorce from his wife to go thru .... the finance's fault the marriage broke up.

    All I could think was get me out of this! I can't imagine being in love.

    I'm so sorry that happened, but it sounds like it set you up for something fantastic to follow!


  13. Thanks so much for all the positive feedback everyone! Wasn't sure what the reaction to my divulging part of my sex life was going to be on here. ;)

  14. I'm so sorry that you had that happen. I can't even imagine how devastated you must have been. Glad you're doing well now. Thanks for sharing your story. :)

  15. Oh Garrett, I love your posts so much! So sorry you were taken in by a douchebag. It seems that those of us with the biggest hearts get them broken the most. But all's well that ends well I suppose, and I really want to make this recipe just for the bitchin syrup. :)

  16. I had a similar experience where my BF was cheating on me with another guy, I caught him red-handed, and it was over. A few months later, I discovered that "the other man" and I had a mutual friend who assured me that "the other man" never knew of my existence while he and the BF were dallying. I realized he was oblivious...but it still didn't make me like him any.

    Great post.

  17. Horrifying heartbreaking story. Awesome kickass ending. I hope you get the chance to kick him in the balls someday. You go, Garrett!

  18. It amazes me how some people go thru life spreading misery and heartbreak like a flower girl throws petals! I hope there is some justice somewhere sometime for the Collin/Jasons of this world.
    And what in the world does the parchment paper circle with the walnut size hole DO? I have never heard of such.
    Happy holidays, Happy New Year!

  19. Burnttoast: The hole lets steam escape and prevents the paper from getting too many air pockets. It also helps keep the fruit fully submerged in the poaching liquid. It's a very handy little trick I learned during my externship.

  20. Wow. I once had a major betrayal too. Not the same, but it does leave you incredibly shell-shocked. Glad to hear the peace and rhythm of the kitchen and its smells helped bring peace.

  21. I am sorry you had to go through such trauma. But thank you for sharing and encouraging us all to be brave.

    Thanks also for posting the recipe for quince. I have always been curious about this fruit. I finally found them at the Asian food store and I made the recipe tonight. They turned out beautifully and I am really looking forward to dessert this week!

  22. I love this post. Really love it. I'm catching up on blog reading after insane month of December and I can't believe I missed this one. Thank you for sharing. I know that it couldn't have been easy having gone through what you did, but it sounds like what didn't kill you made you stronger.

    And I'm glad you rediscovered quinces. They are one of my favorite fruits to work with. Their perfumed laden scent always reminds me of when I first moved to California and discovered them. Thankfully my discovery did not include the surprise on the inside that yours did.

    Happy holidays and new year. Here's to a wonderful 2011. Come visit your friends in SF soon...

  23. I randomly came across your blog as I was wandering the web and this happens to be the best find... in ages.


  24. Jill: So glad you found it. Hope you come back. =)

  25. Dear Garrett,

    Please warn me next time you are going to tell such a tragically beautiful story so that I won't read it at work and explain to people why I'm crying over a food blog.

    Love Rachel

  26. Rachel, thank you for the touching comment. I'm so glad you found the post to your enjoyment. *hugs*


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