Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Food for the Soul

Most of us recognize that a special meal shared with family and friends tastes better than the same meal eaten alone. Some of us have friends with whom we can happily explore a new restaurant, share recipes together, ask for cooking advice or friends on whom we test-run our new recipes. If we're really lucky we also have a friend with whom we can cook (as opposed to other friends who, although they are good cooks, we simply don't mesh well in the same kitchen).

I am incredibly fortunate to have several wonderful friends who share my love of food and cooking. But one in particular is quite simply, the platonic love of my life - my dear friend, Gaby.
Whilst searching through my cookbooks this afternoon I came across a slim volume Gaby gave me for my 19th birthday. This wonderful "cookbook" recounts the first four years of our friendship as "ingredients" for a special recipe. Although we met in our high school's sophomore year history class, and started getting together outside of school in order to study for exams, it is food that lubricated the wheels of friendship and provided the catalyst for discovering ourselves and each other as friends, confidantes and finally sisters.

During our early study sessions my mother would make us homemade hot chocolate on the stove; carefully stirring together Dutch process cocoa, sugar, milk and a little vanilla. She would pour it into a blue ceramic pitcher my parents had bought on a family vacation to Spain and serve it to us in the living room. As our friendship grew Gaby and I started going to our high school football games together - more to drink hot cocoa and chat huddled together on the benches than to watch the boys. As autumn became winter term Mom would serve us her homemade chicken soup to keep our study strength up as we prepared for term finals. Soon, Gaby and I were cooking together.

One memorable evening Gaby came over to make a Winter Three Bean Soup recipe she had read about. As we continued with the recipe the cooking seemed to be taking an unusually long time. There were so many ingredients and instructions! Upon closer inspection we realized the pages of the cookbook had stuck together and we were adding ingredients for the Country Soup on the next page! Lesson learned - always read through the recipe first before you start cooking! As Gaby double checked the correct recipe she gasped and said, "oh no! We didn't get sevre! Do you have any?" I just stared at her.
"What the hell is 'sevre'?"
"I don't know. But it says right here: 'garnish with cilantro and sevre.'"
"Oh, well, it's just a garnish. But what is it? Can I see the cookbook?" After looking at the page for a minute I started laughing. "Oh Gab. I'm not worried about this."
"Why not? What's so funny?"
"It says 'garnish with cilantro and serve.'"

Yes, we still tease each other to "make sure you get enough 'sevre' for your recipe!"

This fantastic book brings back wonderful memories of picnics in Larz Anderson park where I would pack tomato tarts for our high school friends, alongside quiches and chocolate-hazelnut flourless cake. (Yes, I really should have gone directly to culinary school following high school. Live and learn).

A short time after Gaby gave me that hand-written "cookbook for friendship" we were off in different states for college. I visited her in Paris, where she studied her spring term of junior year. We spent that week hoping from one tourist site to another, with plenty of luscious food in between. I had my first crepe (chicken & gruyere) with Gaby by my side. We went out for aperitifs in Pigalle and had an absolutely fantastic evening at Les Refuges des Fondue which is famous more for the experience than the food. When she returned from an extended stay in Spain she brought Spanish chocolate to my mother's house and made us an authentic thick, rich chocolate caliente in homage to our humble beginning as hot cocoa drinking study buddies.

Over the years we have shared everything - hopes, dreams, recipes, relationship advice, career advice. We have been each others' cheerleaders, shoulders to cry on, and sounding boards. But the happiest moments have been together with food.

After graduation Gaby continued on in NYC. When I came to visit she took me to her favorite Astoria diner and we met my friend Dave and his girlfriend in Little Italy for lunch. When I moved to Italy our emails to each other were as much about food as anything else. Later, I moved back to the US and Gaby moved back to France. Her visits home always featured a day cooking together or enjoying a backyard barbecue at her mother's house. When planning for her wedding in February 2008 Gab and I emailed back and forth about her menu plans and how to best translate the food descriptions into English for her American guests. Her wedding dinner is still one of my favorite dinner parties I've ever had the privilege to attend.
Gaby's wedding cakes
Gaby was one of my biggest supporters when I finally decided to chuck it all and go to culinary school. When I was doubting myself one day she emailed me and wrote, "If you don't follow your heart and take certain risks, while you may never be a "failure" at this or that, you'll be stuck in the world of "what if / if only I had tried..." Regret at not trying (and wondering what would have, could have been ) is probably worse I think than not succeeding at something you went after with all of your heart (this counts for love too, I believe)."

Sound advice, I think.

Now that she lives permanently in France our visits are few and far between. Even so, she is one of my best recipe testers and does her best to source out ingredients in order to follow the recipe to the letter (so that I may better edit myself). She is my Avis deVoto and I am so grateful that we found each other at fifteen.

I had to laugh one day when she told me her husband, a Frenchman and the son of a pastry chef no less!, just doesn't "get" her excitement over food. "Don't worry," I told her, "that's why we have each other."


  1. Here's to friendship, love and cooking! I love your post, Jess - thank you for writing it. :-) It was wonderful reliving such special memories. I'm looking forward to our next cooking session! With much love and lots of sevre, Gaby

  2. I love this story. You've painted a wonderful picture of an important friendship in which food is a significant, common interest. Thank you for writing this.


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