The best meals are unplanned. A restaurant you never heard of, you’re anxious because your friends rely on you for culinary expertise, but the aromas and the warm, relaxed energy draw you in and then you’re sure. A sudden idea for a meal, and the people you invite at the last minute, their wide smiles as they sniff the air and understand their senses will be treated with the utmost care.
The best meals are expressions of relationship. The best tastes are shared, whether it’s during the meal or before, via the conversation you had with the farmer who grew the vegetables you’ve cooked or the fruit that will fill your pie.
Best restaurant meal? I think it was dinner at a small restaurant in Wakefied Quebec, Chez Eric, where I had Lake Erie bass atop sauteed mushrooms, rapini and chanterelle mushrooms. The room was candlelit, and the dark blue summer night was a velvet square framed by a window. I was with my lover and my sister. The food tasted of the land around us. The day had been full of art and old buildings and rain and heat. The evening was finally cooling down as I ate that late meal, savouring every silky bite.
Other meals…lobster and baked potatoes and high humour, on the eve of my fiftieth birthday, on my back deck, with lover, sister and friends.
Side stripe prawns, bought off a boat moored at Gibsons, and cooked at my island retreat with fresh cherry tomatoes, lemon, and heaps of garlic. Eaten alone, joyously.
Blintzes made by the anti-poverty organizer, for brunch, in Vancouver, light, sweet, ephemeral.
The delight of having someone else cook me a meal was a particular pleasure of this past year. I live alone and cook, I’d say, at least 150 meals for myself each year. But at the island retreat the people I invited had to cook one meal, and each one, no matter how simple, was thrill. Gnocchi with chanterelle mushroom cream sauce, whipped up by The Performance Artist. Mac & cheese, stirred up by The Girlfriend, the day I came back from the dentist.
Sometimes the best meals are the ones you make for someone else: the roasted cauliflower soup I made for my Ma at Thanksgiving; the omelettes I whip up for The Girlfriend on Saturday mornings; the chevre noir and Riopelle cheese I’ve introduced to her; the deep, primal pleasure of feeding someone you love.
Sometimes the simplest meals are the most profound.
Akiwense’s white fish from Dufferin Grove Farmers Market, grilled and served with herb butter and olives, on a sultry fall evening.
Wild blueberries on a hot summer day, bought from a roadside stand.
Vats of marinara and pesto sauces, made with local organic ingredients, frozen and savoured through the fall.
Monforte cheese, crackers and pear, on the Hockley Valley on a day shimmering with colour.
Breakfast at an organic farm B&B whose principles are based on the Catholic Worker Movement: scrambled free range eggs, bacon, and warm biscuits, the food made and served with love.
Sometimes the food I make is better than me. It speaks the love my throat cannot. It’s more selfless than me, less self-protective. This Christmas and New Year’s, as I went from strength to weakness to strength, I cooked with my whole heart. Lamb tagine, tsimmes, beans with ginger, roast-garlic-mashed-potatoes, seared duck breast with port-fig-balsamic-cherry sauce, flourless chocolate cake. I cooked my heart out out.
Food was this year’s lexicon of love.
May the coming year be tasty and full of nourishment for your body and soul.
May you have the opportunity to cook a meal for someone you love.
May you have food, and the means to cook it, and if you do, may you share it with others.
Happy new year.