Saturday, 25 July 2020

Nights of the Grand Soirees

Food doesn't seem to be nearly as much fun as it once was . But I suppose it is inevitable that all great enthusiasms wane ... at least somewhat, over time ... as we age.

I remember helping my Dad plant seeds in our back garden and harvesting what came from that. Long before I read that ambrosia was the food of the Greek gods brought to the heavenly feast on Olympus by doves ... I thought it was a recipe my Grandma made, from canned fruit cocktail and coloured miniature marshmallows. I remember my Mom teaching me, how to make Yorkshire pudding ... though she protested that I was far too young to tackle such a finicky dish. I wasn't ... Even as a kid, I guess I was a bit of 'Foodie'.

But, after I threw in with M … who was every bit as keen on all things culinary, as I was ... that interest became a passion ... ramping into overdrive, with a gastronomic gusto, it is hard for me to rap my head around, at this point in my life ... But, golly ... it was a blast.

What wonderful days those were ... as we gleefully sought out little off-the-beaten track delis and ethnic bakeries and fishing boats laden with fresh-from-the-sea bounty. Saturdays would find us at the seven-to-eleven a.m. farmer's market pondering which of the ten different varieties of potatoes in ten different colours we would ultimately determine to purchase ... or rhapsodizing over the size of a homemade apple and rhubarb pie ... or waxing nostalgically over a rare discovery of swiss chard ... which you could never get in the grocery store ... and which always carried the both of us back to our Mom's 1950's summer tables.

Even for folks, who don't have much more than a passing interest in what they eat, I think, that the sharing of food ... plays such a huge role in many of our most impactful memories. Food is often the centrepiece of an occasion ... formal occasions like holidays and celebrations, of course. But food can, also, create its own occasion. For M and I ... for a time ... we called those occasions: 'The Nights of the Grand Soirees'. 

A lot went into 'The Nights of the Grand Soirees' … hours and hours of planning, provisioning, preparing and envisioning was done. But oh ... what fun we had. It would begin with a theme. That, in itself was an excursion into a fantastical Xanadu-of-the-mind ... where nothing fell outside the realm of possibility ... coq au vin as served at a bistro in Paris replicated, to the last detail, in our dining room ... apres ski fondue and wine tasting a la St. Moritz ... likewise beamed into our extremely modest rental unit.  "We should probably take a course in Thai cooking," I might suggest … or even ... "Perhaps we should learn a little Italian."  From there, we would slowly work our way back down to earth ... as in:  "Can we at least afford a cassette tape of Mexican music for when we serve the avocado and black bean enchiladas?"   

After the planning, came the shopping ... the round of stops at every specialty food market and shop that might possibly offer up a hitherto never-heard-of morsel of wow-factor to add to the menu. And the ingredients for the evening didn't end with the edibles. There must be candles. There must be flowers. Occasionally, we would throw the budget to the winds and splurge on new linens ... Let's face it ... you can't 'fake' a Parisian bistro, without a checkered table cloth.

'The Nights of the Grand Soirees' were some of the happiest nights I have ever known. From time to time, I chide myself for not taking pictures, though it is hard to imagine, they would add much to my vivid recollections ... and, I do suspect ... the light-hearted merriment and laughter, was so spontaneously charmed ... in chance strokes of timing and nuance ... any interference with its serendipitous origins ... might, very well, have stifled its flow.

Thinking back now ... it is the merriment and laughter that gives me the warmest glow ... the companionship ... the clever wit and engrossing conversations ... the good will ... the happy, buoyant hours that sparkled effervescently like champagne bubbles bouncing from flutes ... well into the wee small hours.

And while the planning, provisioning and preparing played a part in the great anticipation of making everything come together to create and catch that 'lightening-in-a-bottle' ... it was the actual evenings ... that live on, in memory.

To have experienced such happiness ... to be in a time and place where you know that life doesn't get much more jubilant than this ... that is happiness .. and that is a great gift to have had conferred on a life. 

"With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come." - William Shakespeare

photos: Shopping on Granville Island - Food Heaven, Vancouver BC Wendy Bourke

© 2020 Wendy Bourke 

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