Sunday, July 24, 2016

Food, football, friends — on an evening in summer

We had Cousin Dale (Estey) and his friend Lorna over last week. We were very anxious to meet Lorna and, of course, we wanted to make a good impression. We knew she had been a Shakespearean scholar at Cambridge and she’s a huge fan of football (footy! soccer!) and opera. We were pretty sure there would be no shortage of conversation.

With that in mind, I thought I should concentrate on the food. We had been having very hot days and I was pretty sure no one would want to sit down to a hot dinner. I knew for sure that I didn't want to cook a hot dinner.

I'm mildly obsessed with getting things done in advance. In fact, I've been known to go too far. Once, when we were serving a delicious pâté with crackers as an appetizer, I took matters into my own hands and before the guests arrived, I prepared a lovely plate of crackers with the pâté already spread. Don't try this. By the time the guests tried to pick up a cracker, they had all wilted like dead flowers and were just about as appetizing.

I've learned a lot since then and I'm pretty good now to know what can be done in advance. I started by making some beautiful lemony aïoli.

The recipe is from one of my favourite cookbooks which I wrote about here.

The aïoli can be made by hand, with a mortar and pestle and a whisk but, as you can see, I took the easy route and used the food processor.

At this point (above), the only thing left to do is add the lemon juice, to taste.

And there it is, in all its finished glory. I have to say, the garlic was very strong and when I took my first taste, I was quite impressed with the statement the aïoli made. It was hot but very tasty.

Because I stay up late anyway, I decided to cook into the night. I roasted some potatoes and barbecued some chicken to be ready for salad-making the next day.

Happily, everything was ready by the time our guests arrived and after a very short time, I think we all felt we'd known Lorna forever. As predicted, the conversation was wide-ranging and interesting.

Dan and I are not huge fans of football — he knows much more about it than I do — but we often like to share a broad global experience with others around the world so we did watch, on our giant TV, the final game of Euro 2016 between France and Portugal. The game was played at the Stade de France, the same stadium where terrorists had attacked just a few months before. France was a sentimental favourite. It was widely felt that a win would begin the healing process for the country which was still hurting.

I felt that way too and I was leaning toward France until Dan told me that this was Portugal's 30th appearance in a final and they'd yet to win. Oh dear. Imagine how those fans must have been feeling. I began to waver back and forth in my team favouritism and I realized at a certain point that I would happily accept either team as the champion. When Portugal won 1-0 in extra time, I was thinking of their fans and of their country and what it must have felt like for them.

I told Lorna this but she couldn't agree. Lorna and her sister had been watching the international friendly match between France and Germany on November 13, 2015, when the attacks happened. Like those who were in the stadium, people watching on television didn't know about the attacks until much later and by then, the extent of the death and destruction had become known. For Lorna, that game for France was very much tied up with that awful night.

This doesn't sound terribly cheerful but in general, our evening was fun and we discovered a lot about each other.

Our appetizer for this evening — which was assembled in advance and which didn't involve crackers — was smoked salmon and cream cheese on cucumber slices:

The aïoli and the roasted potatoes teamed up to make a pretty salad. . .

. . .and the barbecued chicken, in the company of prosciutto, olives, red onion, broccoli and tomatoes held its own.

I've spent a lot of time and space discussing the food and although food matters, the people we share it with are the most important element of a good evening. Making a new friend always feels good.

Flowers from Lorna. That's Her Majesty behind the flowers — solar-powered — waving in the window.

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