It was Saturday night a few days before Christmas and with nowhere to go and no friends to meet, we decided to live like the not so distant past (the time before lockdowns). “Let’s pretend we’re going out to a restaurant!” I exclaimed. “Sure, why not!” my husband replied. Gourmet nachos for dinner with craft beers and bar tunes transformed our dining room into a make shift restaurant for the evening. We dressed lime flavoured nachos with peppers, onion, tomatoes, ground beef, refried beans and topped them off with an excessive amount of cheddar cheese. We made fresh guacamole, spooned full fat sour cream and our favourite salsa into festive bowls. We poured local brews into our favourite beer glasses. We drummed up dinner conversation and laughed as we imagined asking our waiter for another round. It wasn’t the same as getting dressed up and meeting friends at a restaurant but, it sure felt nice (a friendly reminder of a luxury we once took for granted).
Between dipping and crunching I was commenting how we’ve never had fully loaded nachos as good as our own, made right here a home. As much as we enjoy the experience of eating out, I must say that the food we’ve made over the last few months has tasted (dare I say) better than a lot of restaurant food.
Impressed by our evening’s menu we reminisced about our good friend’s barbecue skills. We are fortunate enough to be friends with a passionate Pit Master. Before the globe turned upside down, we spent many evenings enjoying some of the best smoked barbecue ever. It was quite common for us to go on about how our friend James should have his own food truck or restaurant and we often thought, “How can James and his family ever eat out when his cooking is so impressive?” My mouth started to water as I recalled his white chilli: a spicy, smokey, creamy chilli with barbecue chicken, jalapeños, onion, beans and cilantro. I needed to let him know how much I was craving his chilli and how I would like to attempt to make it at home. He was kind enough to send us the recipe and I planned to pick up the ingredients later that week. Similar to my attempts to make Indian or Thai dishes, I thought to myself, “I know that my version of James’ chilli won’t even compare to his (especially since we don’t own a smoker).”
Before I had the chance to even purchase the ingredients, my phone buzzes and up pops a photo of a steaming pot of James’ chilli with the message, “Ready for you!” Overwhelmed with thankfulness we made arrangements for a porch pick up. A short conversation with Christmas wishes, a card exchange and a little handmade gift for the girls and we headed back home to unlock this mouth-watering dish. The aroma of spices and barbecue smoke warm up our taste buds. I spoon the first bite into my mouth and savour the many layers of goodness. I am flooded with gratitude, satisfaction and grief. An unlikely mix of emotions. Although I am sitting at my dining room table with my husband and dog Winston, I am taken back in memory to the first time we enjoyed this delicious dish together with our friends. I am both happy and sad, satisfied and wanting more. I want them here around our table sitting next to me and across from me – all together.
It took me sometime to tell James how his chilli was far more than just an appetizing meal – it was a reminder of how we treasure he and his family’s friendship to us.
I know that many of us have celebrated special events like birthdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas at home, apart from loved ones. Celebrations enjoyed with special dishes but without special people at our tables. We grieve and we hope. We will feast again ’round full tables, for we know food is always more enjoyable when experienced in the company of loved ones.