Talking about Port with a friend today reminded me of my last meal.
I don’t mean the meal I had last night or the one I had the night previous to the crash that altered my life, but the last one I cooked and baked and wholeheartedly threw myself into for friends and family for 1999’s Christmas Eve dinner, the Christmas before the crash.
Pre-brain injury, I loved to cook. I loved to bake even more. And so being able to pull out all the stops for the Christmas season got the adrenaline of excitement pulsing through my veins. This meal was my most ambitious; it was challenging planning and cooking six courses, which made it all the more enjoyable for me. And I hoped pleasurable for my guests without leaving them comatose on the couch from stuffed stomachs.
I planned it weeks in advance. I set the table with all my fine china and crystal, in the proper mother-approved style, complete with stylized folded cloth napkins and centrepieces. Yup, I used to be almost Martha Stewart like before I’d heard of her!
I settled on six courses, each from different cultures, and as I recall, almost a wine for each course. I made it all vegetarian, something I hadn’t done before in a formal setting, something I wasn’t sure would satiate my guests in every sense of the word. But I wanted to show that vegetarian didn’t mean boring or earnest lentils and bean dishes only.
I made all the puff pastry in advance and stored the pastry shells in the freezer. I spent a lot of time on the alcohol, wanting the drinks to complement and enhance each course. I researched and sought out just the right Sake for a delicate Japanese soup that was either the first or second course. I trotted over to the LCBO store in Yorkville, the one I was told stocked organic red wines, where I had a long conversation with the LCBO sommelier about a particular French vintner’s obsession over the purity of his soil and vines and of keeping them as they had been in the pre-chemical era. His red wine was excellent as I recall, a knock-out partner to the wild mushrooms and sauce in puff pastry squares that was the main course (they were big puff pastry squares, and the mushrooms in their sauce were to-die-for, if I do say so myself). I then decided on an Ontario ice wine to go with dessert: little triangles of puff pastry filled with either vanilla or chocolate pastry cream. I doubt I served only those for dessert, being the baking fiend that I was, but whatever they were shall remain hidden in the mists of time.
I wish I could recall the other three courses, but in those days I barely wrote things down as my brain was a memory steeltrap: whatever went in I could instantly recall. No more today. Sigh. (Though I will say that being able to remember everything is not necessarily a good thing when everything includes the crap of life that one would rather forget.)
I don’t think I will ever be able to entertain like that again. No more elegant dinner parties; no more ice cream parties in the summer. I had no idea as I swallowed my last bite of dessert in 1999 that that meal would be the end of that part of my life.