Of bonfires, food and friends in a Covid world

Of bonfires, food and friends in a Covid world

Today, is about memories of bonfires, food and friends.  Lately, I’ve been feeling what I call the Covid crunch. It’s that urge to bunker into the apartment and pull the curtains. The gloomy weather shared my momentary affair with misanthropy. The quiet in the apartment can be overwhelming sometimes. I miss mom at the oddest moments. Lately, it’s been acute. I miss the sounds of her rustling about, singing to herself. It has become difficult to shake off the sadness.

They are very good people

They are very good people, and people I love, and am obliged to, and shall have great pleasure in their friendship
Samuel Pepys, Tues, 9 March 1668/69

My friends fit the description above. Two of my closest friends won’t allow me to sink out of sight. Val & Chris made a promise to my mom, that they’d look after me and make sure I didn’t implode with grief. They’ve kept their promise Mom, and I’d like to tell them you’ve released them from it, but Thursday’s meal reminded me of how comforting their persistent presence is and how needed they will always be, as are all the friends who gathered.

A bonfire, food and friends

… a bonfire for joy of the day – Samuel Pepys. Tues, 29 May 1660

Of food & friends - photo of the open garden with friends settling in

All settled in near the fire

Chris went above and beyond recently for those of us in their circle. He arranged a bonfire meal at Actinolite restaurant. If you’ve never been, call and book a bonfire meal -> http://www.actinoliterestaurant.com/. The Actinolite is not just about eating. It’s about creating an atmosphere that fosters laughter and conversation. Nothing makes a meal taste better. They had little bonfires stoked around the garden, warding off the October chill. Tables were set apart, but all within eye view so we could safely chat back and forth. I can’t think of a better way to spend the night.

While Val and Chris arranged our evening, it struck me how something that used to be so easy to do in the past felt like they were mobilizing an army. Coordinating calendars, talk to the restaurant, juggling distancing requirements, watching the weather. That was the nail biter – would Mother Nature cooperate and let us have our night out. As it turns out, yes, she did.

Chris managed to grab photos of each course before we fell on the plates. It wasn’t easy in the growing dark, but he soldiered on. Many thanks to him for the photos I used in this article. I was too absorbed in the cider and wine.

The folks at Actinolite created cottage country in the middle of Toronto. So worth crawling out of my cave to enjoy! When I opened the fence to their backyard, I felt like I was entering the Secret Garden. We were so relaxed; you could feel the stress wash away with the first sips of cider.

… and syder 

and drink wine and syder – Samuel Pepys Wed, 31 Dec 1662

Friends were already there. I laughed when I realised, we were all so eager for a night together, many arrived early. Social distancing didn’t stop the smiles. Cider was offered first, with a healthy dose of bourbon to ward off the cool. I can’t remember the last time I sat in a garden with friends. The cider was a perfect start.

… an exceedingly good dinner

 … an exceedingly good dinner and good discourse. – Samuel Pepys. Fri, 8 Feb 1666

Photo of the chef from Actinolite restaurant cooking over an open fire

Chef doing chef things

The chef cooked a large part of our meal over an open fire. It was fun watching him fuss over the grill.

… bread wiped upon each dish

of putting a bit of bread wiped upon each dish into the mouth of every man … – Samuel Pepys. Sun, 8 Sept 1667

Photo of the author enjoying fresh baked berad

Bread and company

Oh the bread. I stopped listening to everyone when I bit into my slice. The bread. Oh the bread. That’s as far as my brain will process the information. If possible, I’d put an order in for dinner tonight. And tomorrow night. I should title this “Of bonfires, bread and friends” instead of “food and friends”.

… with a good soup

and dined very handsome, with a good soup – Samuel Pepys. Mon, 15 March 1668/69

Photo of hot soup and bread

Soup and fresh bread

There is an art to making soup. Getting the balance of flavours right but keeping it simple and hearty is an under-appreciated skill. I don’t eat a lot of soup because it often goes so wrong. One ingredient masked, something messing with the flavour dynamics. Not this soup, it was rich and full of clean flavours. Another bowl and more bread wouldn’t have gone amiss.

… nature of vegetables

… all the way having fine discourse of trees and the nature of vegetables. – Samuel Pepys. Thurs 5 Oct 1665

Photo of fresh salad served at the Actinolite

Actinolite does a smashing salad

Actinolite does salad justice. I wanted to arm wrestle for the mushrooms lurking beneath the greens. I felt so selfish in wanting to grab the plate and scamper off with it. I shared, don’t worry. Between mouthfuls, we drank more wine and avoided all thoughts of Covid and politics. Chit chat wound around art, books, food, and catching up with old friends.

… a very great meal

… a very great meal, and sent for a glass of wine, – Samuel Pepys. Fri, 24 Oct 1662

Photo of the pot of beef and potatoes

Slow roasted all afternoon to preserve the tenderness

How did they roast the food for hours but still have it come out so tender? The beef melted on my tastebuds. The root vegetables had that hardy, fall flavour that can only come with the freshest vegetables. I knew there would be no doggy bags after this meal. We’d even be licking our plates. Fun thing about Actinolite, they applaud that level of food appreciation and actively encourage it.

Photo of main meal plated

Ready to eat

… a good dinner …

and there to dinner, a good dinner, and were merry – Samuel Pepys. Sun. 14 July 1667

Photo of fresh house made donuts

There were more, but Chris didn’t have much time to grab a photo before we scarfled them down

Then dessert. Poor Chris. We ate most of the fresh, donuts before he had a chance to take a photo. After the meal, we lingered and talked, sipping wine, and enjoying the moment for as long as we could. The world slowed down for a while and everything was perfect.

Thank you to everyone at Actinolite, and friends who were there. But mostly Val and Chris. Mom would be so happy with the thought of that evening.

And so to bed

But we were friends again as we are always

Samuel Pepys. Wed, 24 Oct 1660

World Tripe Day is coming up – I blame Pepys

World Tripe Day is coming up – I blame Pepys

Ah yes, World Tripe Day is a thing. You might be one of those shaking your head in disbelief along with me. I mean… tripe? It’s one of those foods that you either love or loath. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground.

But what about Pepys? Where does he fit in with World Tripe Day? Samuel Pepys is one of my literary heroes. My first introduction to the amazing Mr. Pepys was in a university English class. A professor talked about Pepys’ diaries and I toddled off to the library to find out more. Been hooked on him ever since.  The chance to talk about Pepys was too great a temptation to pass up.

I didn’t script anything beforehand this time, just rambled, stream of conscious style. I think that works better in some cases because I can make eye contact with the camera. I don’t do a lot of editing as a rule, so you get me in all my meandering glory. Not because I’m lazy … ok, I am a bit lazy. But I’d rather you hear me as my friends do – lots of hand waving, lots of eyeglass fidgeting and periodic bouts of “hang on I’m thinking” moments.

Cover image from "And So to Bed" book by Samuel Pepys

My slightly battered, but much loved copy of And So To Bed.

The book I quote from is And So To Bed published by Bestseller Library. It covers the years 1660 to 1662. My edition was printed in 1959, and the print is really, really small. Not the best edition I’ve ever seen, but I have a soft spot for it because I paid a princely sum of $3.50 as an undergrad. Battered but still readable. You can find copies at ABEbooks.

 

So. Tripe? For or against. Leave a comment and let the tripe wars begin!

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