My first real date with Shaune over 15 years ago was when he cooked dinner for me in his parents’ kitchen while they were vacationing.
He made fresh caught trout with a beurre blanc sauce, grilled tender vegetables and saffron rice. I remember distinctly wondering why the hell he was so excited about taking shrimp shells and boiling them for several hours in a broth of water, vegetables and seasonings just to create a gleaming white mixture he’d eventually pour on top of the delicately grilled whole trout.
I’d never been around sophisticated cooking except to be on the receiving end in the fancy (to me) restaurants I’d eaten in so far; the likes of which included places like The Keg and a few of the nicer Mediterranean eateries I’d waitressed in up until then.
Which is to say – I’d really not been in many fancy places at all.
So when he said he was going to make me a lovely dinner, I’d expected my idea of lovely, a simple pasta with some red wine, maybe a steak cooked close to right, sautéed mushrooms and mashed potatoes. I had no idea what I was in for. We certainly had different ideas of what a good meal was – him with his intense culinary training at Humber College and some of the best restaurants in Toronto. Little did I know, that first evening would change my notion of good eating, push me to more refined hankerings so that I never took a good meal for granted ever again.
Over the years we’ve spent a small fortune on food.
During our childless years, we found restaurants we liked, and dined in them again and again. We were like the French, slow and deliberate in our eating. We often started with dry vodka martinis, tiny swords full of Spanish Manzilla olives or buttery apple chardonnays, plates of light crispy fried calamari before moving onto our main courses. Rarely did we end a meal without sipping Frangelico and shots of hot strong espresso.
In the late nineties, when we lived there together, Sarnia had some wonderful little places.
We thought of them as our places back then. Two in particular were owned by the same woman, a vivacious red-head who knew outstanding food and combined it with wonderful wine pairings, just enough kitsch and twinkling lights to allure us back time and again. She came to a no good end back then. We often think of her fondly and hope she found her feet to start over.
Sometimes I miss those times with the kind of ache only someone who knows better can. Those days when we were just us two and a dog.
It’s rare for us to eat anywhere fancy these days. Our criteria has changed slightly.
Is it loud enough to drown out our kids?
Do they have chicken nuggets on the menu or, better yet, a buffet to address the picky eaters in our party?
Colouring books and crayons?
Servers who have the patience to deal with rascally little boys?
Something decent on tap?
Well then, we’re in!
Shaune’s been waiting for supply teaching work. Lately he’s revealed a new set of skills equally impressive. He’s been busy re-doing our floors, cleaning the house regularly and having dinner on the table when I get home every night. And his first love - wonderful food - well it's still a part of who he is and lately I’m coming home to some of the best meals.
It's not the same; as you can imagine.
In between bites we're either bribing the kids with the promise of dessert or threatening them with discipline if they get up from the table one more time. There's no candle light or thought to atmosphere - except to ensure it's safe. I'm usually in kid-proof shorts and a T-shirt and we're done eating within minutes.