Back in the days when I was single, my group of friends and I were just starting into our chosen careers and professions. A number of us had ventured into independent living, which back then meant we were on our own and not living at home with our parents. Besides earning a living, paying rent and slaving at our new careers, we were also finding ourselves boss of our tiny domain and mastering the art of feeding ourselves.
At first, it was easy stopping at the deli or fast-food or take-out and grabbing something for dinner. I’m sure we all had a collection of favourite take-out menus near our phones. There was also the backup option of stopping in to connect with family and taking home Mom’s version of a “doggie bag.” Eventually we all tried our hand at real cooking. A few of us knew a couple of stand-byes, thanks to our Moms. These were the recipes that never fail. Ohers in our group learned by trial-and-error, eventually testing the “perfected” meal on eager friends, who would eat anything they didn’t have to prepare or cook.
Mike was an University of Victoria student completing his Bachelor of Science degree. He had often boasted that he had two go-to recipes that had never failed him yet and had dazzled each girlfriend-of-the-day. Impulsively, he invited the group to dinner at his place on the following Saturday, where he promised to amaze us with his culinary skills. Since we were all building our own collection of go-to failproof recipes, we enthusiastically accepted.
Mike’s place smelled heavenly. Something tomato-ey was simmering in a cauldron on his stove top. Something chocolate was baking in his oven. Wearing his oversize apron that stated in huge letters, “HUG ME, I’M THE COOK,” he ushered us into his tiny apartment.
“Dinner will be ready in 10 minutes. Help yourselves to a glass of wine and I’ll go put the finishing touches to the meal,” and grinning, he disappeared into his tiny kitchen.
Carrying an enormous bowl of pasta drenched with meat sauce to the table, Mike’s shout of “Dinner’s ready!” had us carrying our glasses of wine and nabbing a chair at his round table. Chunky pieces of hot garlic butter French bread were in the massive wicker basket. A huge container of crispy mixed greens and a platter of oven baked ribs completed the dinner. This was definitely a feast for kings or six very hungry friends. Dessert was generous squares of a still-warm, rich, dark chocolate brownie served with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream. In those days, none of us worried about calories or waist-lines—we just enjoyed eating our way through the entire experience.
As we relaxed after dinner on Mike’s sofa, easy chairs and carpeted floor, I remember Ellie asking him if he ever not had his go-to meals and had to improvise with the ingredients. “What?” Mike exclaimed. “When would I not have tomato ketchup or dark chocolate in my cupboard? These are basics for any serious bachelor.”
I thought of Mike the other day. After obtaining his degree, Mike got serious, took a break and traveled to Paris. There he enrolled at the prestigious cooking institute, “Le Cordon Bleu.” After a number of years honing his culinary skills at various well-known restaurants in Europe and Canada, Mike came back to the West Coast.
We had all kept in touch and whenever all of us were in the same place at the same time, we would get together for one of our “go-to-never-fail” group dinners. When it was Mike’s turn, our international chef never failed to produce a memorable meal: mixed greens, lightly tossed with a lemon juice/olive oil dressing, platters of oven-baked ribs made with home-made tomato ketchup, handmade linguine with the special meat sauce, crusty chunks of hot garlic butter French bread. Despite his cooking for royalty, world leaders and 5-star restaurants, this was our requested meal whenever Mike cooked. It was still his “go-to-never-fail” entre and one that drew our group together with laughter and memories of “remember when?” Others would bring the wine and I was the designated dessert person bringing in my version of rich, still-warm, dark chocolate brownies accompanied by a tub of vanilla ice-cream.
No matter how many years passed, the strong bonds of friendship held, now including spouses and partners. I think that’s probably why, comfort food combined with family and friends, are so much a part of my life.