A day of good eating

Chairs

Two friends having coffee

Coffee mugsOn a recent Friday, I took the day off work. I met L at the Liberty Bakery on Main Street. We had coffee and carrot muffins. The server asked us if we wanted icing on our muffins but we didn’t need any added incentive: the muffins were delicious unadorned.

Liberty Bakery is the very epitome of the funky little café. Colourful and cosy and unhurried, it’s an ideal spot to catch up on news and views. We sat at a painted table, enjoying being in the neighbourhood. The mail delivery person leaned in through the half-open door beside our table and dropped the mail inside. I took it up to the counter when I went to get our refills. It’s a laid-back kind of place.

L and I usually meet over coffee and muffins. A coffee shop has the right kind of feel: we don’t have a lot of time together, so we want to talk without time pressure in a sort of home away from home atmosphere. This is what the right sort of coffee shops provide.

How many years is it now since coffee shops became such a part of our lives? What did we do before that when we wanted to meet someone for an hour or two?

We tend to socialize over food and drink. Those things, originally the necessities of life, provide a basic structure that makes for smooth social encounters. If we are eating out, the rituals of choosing a table, reading a menu, ordering and eating create breaks for practical or formal exchanges that punctuate the free-flowing, stream-of-consciousness nature of the conversation between friends.

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly. — M.F.K. Fisher

Lunch for a group at a friend’s home

TeapotAt lunchtime, I arrived at the welcoming home of Q. With two other friends, E and C, we sat at the kitchen table, set with the Limoges teapot, milk jug and capacious sugar bowl in our honour. Our hostess brought dish after dish to set before us: salad; red and yellow vegetables in a brightly coloured pottery dish; ham and chicken; cheeses and olives; buns; pesto; grapes: an abundance of good food. Afterwards, we had angelfood cake with fresh blueberries and raspberries. As at the bakery, I stayed away from the extras—saying no to the whipped cream and Breyer’s vanilla and enjoying the unadorned cake with the berries.

Having a friend choose and prepare food for you seems like a tangible mark of their affection. Maybe it takes us back to childhood, when parental care involved three meals a day, every day (and my mother still found time to make special cakes and puddings). And eating with friends in someone’s home is one of the best things I can imagine doing. You catch up, you exchange witty repartee (or, at least, it seems very witty at the time), you eat, you exclaim at how good everything tastes. If you are a certain type of person you take photographs of everything and your friends are even fairly tolerant at being photographed eating. The day after, you receive emails with photos attached and you get to relive the experience.

Joan Didion says, of dining at the home of Connie Wald:

When I think about going to dinner at Connie’s … I feel a great sense that the world is about to be corrected. There will be warmth; there will be the most comforting possible food and the most comforting possible company.

Dinner at a family restaurant

In the evening, I joined family members at Jim’s Hideaway in a mini-mall in Surrey. I’m a restaurant snob and so, because of the location, I didn’t expect great food. My foreboding deepened when I checked the little individually wrapped butter pats: they were from Wholesome Farms (good name); had a picture of a sun rising over tilled fields (good imagery); but they owned up to being only 5% butter. There was no hint of what the other 95% might be.

I asked our server which of the chicken dishes she would recommend. Well, she opined, it depended on what I felt like. She recited what was on the menu. “If you feel like chicken with tomato and parmesan,” she offered, “you could order that.” The Chicken Teriyaki and Chicken Madagascar were described similarly.

I ordered the chicken with tomato and parmesan and picked a baked potato out of the various starches on offer (baked potato, rice, or fries). I had forgotten that, in certain restaurants, when you order a baked potato someone will come around with the toppings, usually after you’ve started eating. I agreed to all of them and got about two-thirds of a cup of sour cream deposited on my potato, with heaps of green onions and (probably faux) bacon bits on top of that. Oh well, I thought, I don’t have to eat it.

The family is going through a difficult time. Getting together isn’t easy and sometimes the background problems overshadow our interactions. But this was a good time. We chatted. We had fun. The restaurant was moderately full, so there was a pleasant buzz of people coming and going, servers bustling, and people talking. My mother-in-law and I had a glass of wine each. We drank them down like lemonade. We refrained from ordering seconds, though it was tempting. She isn’t sure exactly who I am at times, but I think she likes me.

The chicken was surprisingly delicious. The potato was, too. I didn’t finish everything, but I didn’t have enough left to take anything home.

If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. – J.R.R. Tolkien

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