We're all sitting around a long, wooden table. Evening sunshine. There are bowls of golden sultanas, fat apples, fresh walnuts, scones, black grapes, green grapes, pomegranates, bowls of home-cooked raspberry conserve and marmalade — the whole spread so perfectly like some imagined late-summer cornucopia, even down to one wasp balancing delicately on the lip of each glass bowl to munch on jam with its scissory mandibles, yum, that I'm almost singing with happy happy harvesty bonhomie.
And then — our hostess put a little bowl down in front of each of us. Inside was a block of white matter. About the size of the palm of my hand. Clearly some form of dairy product. And with this, my stomach gave a little pang. I've never been good at dairy goods. Blame the enforced milk-drinking at school. Oh, I hated that. But worse, I'd been sick — oh so sick — for the past few days, and the last thing I need, I thought, in my rising panic, is something like this.
Whatever it is. I ran through the list of Central Asian dairy goods in my head, trying to work out what it was. Fermented mare's milk? No, this was solid. Maybe there's a solid version? It wasn't those tiny, hard balls of sharp cheese that I ate in Tashkent? No. Oh lord, what a nightmare.
And I felt my brow starting to sweat, and my stomach rebelling against this white stuff's imagined taste, and I watched our host pour milk all over hers, and that befuddled me even more — ??! — and then I took a deep breath, swallowed back my nausea, and told myself not to be stupid. Whatever happens, you have to eat this. Just eat it.
It was the best ice cream I've ever tasted, of course.