“Books are the quietest and most constant friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors and the most patient of teachers.” ~ Charles W. Eliot
Eating together has always been a rich part of my relationship with my husband, even while we were dating. He has always expressed his artistic side through his cooking, and loves to experiment with recipes, adding his own twist. He gets recipes from everywhere: old magazines, Youtube, cooking shows. As we celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary this week, I want to tell you about the one cookbook that has most influenced the meals we’ve shared with family and friends on special occasions, as well as quiet meals at the end of a long day.
When my husband and I were on our honeymoon in Gimli, we went for a walk one afternoon, and found ourselves in a charming shop near the hotel. The small store had been there for a long time, and I believe that it is still there. It is located in the corner of an old building, and has an eclectic collection of goods: everything from clothing to unique toys to books. And that is where my husband first spotted this book, and I encouraged him to splurge, to go ahead and buy it.
There was something special about this book, A Taste of The Mediterranean, by Jaqueline Clark and Joanna Farrow. As we looked through the pages, it felt like such a labour of love. It was a well-researched feast for the eyes. The colours, the imagery of far away places, and mismatched ceramics that were so clearly part of a real, time-worn collection, and of course, the recipes. It simply connected our imaginations to a world of possibility. And it still does.
I will always remember the first, official “Greek Feast” that this book inspired. (Though we are not greek, we could have been!) Early in the spring of our first year of marriage, my husband decided to make a special dinner for my small Winnipeg family (much of my family lives elsewhere). Several days in advance, he started to prepare: shopping, cutting, dicing, marinating. He planned to serve lamb, with all the fixings: from Greek salad, lemon potatoes and homemade tzatziki sauce to a decadent dessert. We decorated the kitchen in sparkling lights, and prepared to illuminate the living room and dining area with candles.
Then, on the morning of the big dinner, Winnipeg was hit by what was being called ‘The blizzard of the century’.
It was unlike anything I had seen before or since. I mean, I’ve seen blizzards, but this was something else. The city was paralyzed. For the first time in more than 50 years, school divisions would have to cancel classes on the upcoming Monday. And that night, we had to cancel our dinner. It was disappointing, but there was no choice. Now, we wondered, what to do with all of this food?
At the time, we lived on the 10th floor of an apartment building, and my husband’s best friend happened to live on the 9th floor (he had been the best man at our wedding). So, our friend lucked into an impromptu invitation to our Greek Feast. Much to our delight, our friend would later declare jovially that it was this kind of evening that makes life worth living.
It was such a surreal experience. Picture this: through the glass doors of our balcony were the awe-inspiring sights and sounds of freezing blizzard winds whipping record amounts of snow into white-out conditions. Meanwhile, inside our apartment, the atmosphere was glowing with warmth. We were celebrating life with an exuberant home-cooked feast. Rich culinary fragrances. Lively greek music (and all other kinds of music, too). Red wine. Dessert. Laughter. This contrast deepened the exhilaration of witnessing a winter spectacle.
I remember, shortly before I got pregnant, I kept telling my husband that the next recipe he should attempt was the ‘Polpettes’, which are fried little morsels of potato with feta cheese.
Well, early in my pregnancy, I developed terrible nausea and was having trouble eating. In an effort to help, my husband surprised me one day with a big batch of these freshly fried Polpettes.
It was at that moment, as my husband was smiling at me with eyebrows raised in anticipation of my reaction, that I realized I had developed an undeniable aversion to fried food. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, so I tried picking at the morsels with my fork, admiring them, and pushing them around in an effort to stall actually putting a bite in my mouth. Breathing through the sensations that were welling up in my stomach, I had to put my fork down and break the news to him. Understanding the situation, he quickly took the plate from my view, and I honestly can’t remember what, if anything, I ate instead. Probably plain toast. We still chuckle.
This cookbook has accompanied us through so many experiences. We have turned to its recipes for ideas when celebrating, and to raise our spirits during difficult times. There have been moments of exuberance, and quiet evenings – sitting by the fire place, dipping fresh baked olive bread into a velvety mix of oil and vinegar. Unlike most cookbooks that may yield 1,2, maybe 3 favourite recipes, this one has contributed more than 30 recipes to our culinary repertoire.
You could say that this book has become a kind of reminder to live life fully. To savour each bite. And to some small degree, like that Greek Feast, maybe things haven’t always gone exactly as expected, but we’ve always made the best of times. I guess that’s been our recipe.
And really, that is how this book has become – more than a cookbook – a book about stories of our life together.
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