The beginning of summer. The end of Sunday Supper? This change of seasons means the Ranger works nights and weekends, The Chef is busy building his culinary empire during the tourist season and Aussie Girl is living in her Honda working the dog show circuit. While some locals have nudged me with their grocery carts and declared their willingness to be part of a new team, I demure. Call me sentimental, but S.S. will always be the four amigos. You can't possibly simmer a good base broth without chicken bones, onion, garlic and carrots. Additions possible. Substitutions...no.
So Second Edition has been left alone with her food.
Rather than sinking into bags of chips or bottles of gin, I've promised myself that dinners will be equally luscious, although smaller in breadth and depth. Simple eats. Satisfying. A little more girly now that my palate is my own.
French lentils gently boiled till toothsome with whole garlic cloves and bay leaves. A handful of arugula from the farmer's market. Circles of red onion. Sweet Willamette tomatoes. Cubes of feta cheese. Parsley, of course. Chips of basil. All tossed with fresh-squeezed lemon, zest and my treasured olive oil from Ballard Market. Served on a lovely Italian hand-painted plate. Because I'm worth it.
In my First Edition, particularly in the final chapter, I couldn't bear eating alone. It made me feel even more like a dumped wife, a half moon of gristle pushed to the edge of a plate. There I sat at my grand Ethan Allen table for eight, listening to the scrape of fork and knife. It wasn't long before I gave up eating dinner altogether and opted to lie on the sofa in sweats, drinking wine and Googling ex-boyfriends to see if their stories had ended any better. Self-flagellation takes many forms. This was mine.
All that changed when my friend, Stewart-the-Wine-Steward, called and, before I could even say hello, he said, "Get off the sofa, slip on something fabulous and drive your ass over here to the Wine Bar. Come have dinner with me." I said, No, couldn't possibly. Thank you very much. No, absolutely not. It's too late. I'm not hungry. And then fifteen minutes later, after much badgering, I was pulling on something fabulous. With sequins. Because sequins are so cheery.
By the time I arrived, Stewart-the-Wine-Steward had cleared every set of elbows from the long mahogany bar, having convinced them they'd be more comfortable in a cushy leather booth or hunkered in the dark corners. And there, smack in the middle of his pulpit, he'd set a perfect place: white table cloth and napkin, china, Riedel, silver, a basket of warm bread, a tiny boat of olive oil. This picture of welcome brought tears to my eyes.
When I sat down, he poured something red and deep, the softest little Malbec, "I'm thinking you need to get out of town for a bit, so let's say we start with a trip to Argentina." I pushed the menu to the side. Really, I couldn't possibly eat. I was soon to be homeless and nothing makes your stomach flip and flop like imminent ejection.
Stewart-the-Wine-Steward shrugged his "fine, you're the customer" shrug then excused himself. It was a busy night, like every night. When he returned, he was carrying a plate of steaming lamb chops piled on a hillock of garlic mashed potatoes, roasted asparagus on the side. He set the plate in front of me, took my silverware and started eating it himself, moaning with each gravy-dripping bite. The smell was unbearable. So smoky and nostalgic and comforting. When he dived into the wine cellar for a resupply, I devoured the rest of the meal, sucking each and every bone. Then took a chunk of bread and wiped the plate. Delicious. For dessert...caramel ice cream with almonds and shaved chocolate.
After that, I ate with Stewart-the-Wine-Steward several nights a week and I will always be thankful to the man for so graciously giving me a public space for my private grief.
Today, with a hazy sun and an indigo sea, I enjoy my lentil salad on the deck of the treehouse as the wind chops the water and tosses the whale watching boats to and fro. Mia is under the shady table at my feet, paws crossed with the hope that somewhere under all that vegetarian mess on my plate there is a giant steak bone waiting to leap to the ground or, at the very least, an errant bacon bit. This is a dog who's every waking moment is spent with her tongue hanging out...most certainly a metaphor worth pursuing.
When you eat alone, you can choose despair or you can choose gratitude. But choose carefully. The taste buds you save may be your own.