Cake, wine, peaches, turkey: a homecoming

The weather may prove to be unreasonable, but that wasn't enough to keep two girls from getting together for a pic-nic lunch at Trinity Bellwoods, sitting in the giant pool of shade beneath an enormous tree, spreading out an orange blanket.

Of course, before we arrived, the day called for, at Julia's insistence, in-house grapefruit slush and peach ice cream from Wanda's Pie in the Sky and a trip to Nad├Ęge, a spectacularly clean, white French bakery on Queen West with a display case of homemade guimauves enrobed in chocolate, pains au chocolat and perfectly shaped macarons -- biting into one is like biting down on a perfectly sweetened cloud, at once dense and light. The employees all speak with a lovely French accent, and it reminds me, albeit briefly, of being in Paris.

For our pic-nic lunch, I threw together a quick salad of lettuces, black beans, baked tortilla strips and green peppers, tossed with a citrusy vinaigrette flecked with chili powder, garlic and cumin, and brought along some watermelon chunks. We drank white wine from Henry of Pelham and talked about food and publishing and weddings, and I left around 5pm feeling a little buzzed and light-headed. It was my first time sitting in Trinity Bellwoods, an exceptional place for people-watching. It felt ridiculously luxurious to be able to get together on a weekday while the rest of the city was stuck in heavily air-conditioned cubicles.

I think I need to head out there more often.

On the walk home, I smiled as I glanced over at the giant white signs hung across The Leslieville Cheese Market's window: FINALLY! GLUTEN-FREE GRILLED CHEESE ON NAVY BEAN BREAD. AMAZING GLUTEN-FREE BREAD! they declared. Oh, how the times have changed. When I first went gluten-free five years ago, nobody had heard of celiac. Tonight, I'll be eating my first real birthday cake in five years. I suppose it isn't a big deal; it's just cake. But I'm a sucker for ritual.

I'm in Windsor this week, the little city that could -- and, oh Windsor!, you sure know how to throw a girl a party. You welcomed me home with maple salmon, cooked on a cedar plank, and local wine made from Essex County's own grape. You had a loaf of multigrain bread at the ready, still warm from the oven. Tonight there will be a turkey, plump and juicy, and mashed potatoes. Green beans, chopped raw vegetables, and a peach crisp made from the last of the season's stone fruit. Peanut butter ice cream and fresh-picked, crunchy apples that smell like fall and taste like the orchard. Coffee from Guatemala with chocolate notes.

Alisa Smith and J. B. MacKinnon, authors of The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating, were often asked during their 100-mile diet experiment whether they were bored of the food they were eating. It sounds sort of ironic when so many people eat predominantly out of boxes and cans, and anyway, despite our best efforts, we all often fall into food ruts. Increasingly, I dream about U-Pick farms, in-season peaches and earthy potatoes. Food that tastes like history, like home. James responds this way: "I might answer the question by telling people how I now liked to start the day. It wasn't with parsnip fritters anymore. Instead, I'd stumble out to the kitchen where a flat of blueberries awaited, warmed by the morning rays and burstingly ripe, thoroughly alive. Do the little fruits really, as some people claim, flush out toxins, fight cancer, plump my prostate like a pillow? I don't know, and I don't particularly care. I shovelled them into my mouth with both hands and I felt like I was adding years to my life."

As someone who craves stability and security, it might come as a surprise that I've moved seven times in the last two years, that for a long while I've been unable to plan anything beyond the short scope of two weeks. I've loved the experiences and, as a lucky side effect, I've become infinitely more adaptable than I ever fathomed myself capable of being, but it doesn't mean I haven't been stricken with anxiety so overwhelming it has rendered food unappetizing and sleep, impossible -- which is saying something coming from the girl who ends one meal by plotting the next. It doesn't mean I haven't been scared out of my mind. But! life goes on, as it turns out. However, it does leave one lingering question: what is home to me now?

Home is where the heart is, so they say, but my heart has been stretched across the continent like a rubber band. Really, home is a great meal, I might answer -- bits of my family, my friends, my landscape. Home is sitting around the dinner table with my family, eating perfectly seasoned turkey and chomping on carrots. Home is sitting with a friend in Trinity Bellwoods, eating the full share of the olives, or laughing with friends, old and new, in my apartment. It's reading a book about going back to the basics, and connecting with the people who ensure our very livelihood. Some of the happiest people I know are the ones who have endured the most severe of hardships, and it feels incomparably good to relax with them, sip on a glass of wine, take it all in. "Where thou art, that is home," Emily Dickinson wrote. I would agree with her.

All around us, it seems curses are blooming into blessings, a sort of reverse spring. Turns out, this September, I get to have my cake and eat it, too.


Joanne said...

No such thing as "just cake". Cake, really good cake, can be the spice of life. I'm really glad you get to enjoy it this year!

Samantha Angela said...

Welcome home!

Isn't that Viewpointe Cuvee awesome? I LOVE it, so good!

S. said...

@Joanne -- that's definitely true. And thank you!

@Samantha -- it is. I'm looking forward to how it'll taste when the grape matures (I suspect it will be ahhh-may-zing.)

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