Feeding a Friendship: How a Simple Homemade Meal Forged a Bond I’ll Never Forget

For one woman homesick in a new city, a comforting chat over a thoughtful meal helped warm the soul.

roasted vegetables
The Ellaphant in the Room

It was a snowy day, and the Beloved Husband was off somewhere, and I was homesick for my hearth back in Oregon and for the friend who I liked to sit with on winter evenings, drinking wine and talking about things that really happened and thoughts we really have — a rare conversation, generally. How many times do you talk about what’s really going on with someone who will tell you what’s really going on with her?

After moving part-time to Boulder, I had almost given up hope of finding another friend like that. I had invited a woman I’d met only twice before to come share my dinner, but she lived an hour away, and it was, as I’ve said, snowing. I was sure she wouldn’t want to come. And I wanted to let her off the hook. So I called her up.

“Don’t feel you have to come if you don’t want to. And you can wait till evening to decide.”

“Is it snowing? Really? I have a cold, and I’m in bed. I’ll worry about it later, if that’s OK with you.”

“Of course it is. And here are your choices, if you do decide to come. I’ve just been shopping, so I can give you 1) macaroni and cheese with a celery salad dressed with mustard, 2) sautéed trout with brown rice and vegetables and wasabi butter, or 3) roasted vegetables with thyme and a beet salad.”

There was a considering silence for a moment. She was weighing the options; she was taking them seriously in a way I thoroughly appreciated.

“Won’t the trout not keep?”

“Naw, don’t worry. I’ve put it in a teriyaki marinade; it’ll only get better. Alex and I can have it tomorrow.”

More thought.

“I think,” she said — and you could tell she was really thinking about it, and the thought was really giving her pleasure, so it gave me pleasure too — “since I’m sick, not the macaroni and cheese. Too rich for a cold. I vote for the vegetables.”

“Veggies it is. If it’s not snowing too hard.”

An hour before dinner, the phone rang.

“I’m up. I’ve been in bed all day, and I feel fantastic. Looking forward to those veggies.”

I was pleased. “Don’t bring anything, OK?” I said earnestly. “Anyone who has to drive an hour in the snow to dinner is exempt.”

Chopping the vegetables and strewing them with thyme, I remembered I didn’t have anything sweet in the house. I’d meant to buy a couple of chocolate bars but forgot. I always think you should have a little bit of chocolate for dessert.

When she arrived, she was holding a bottle of wine and a bar of chocolate. “You should have a little bit of chocolate for dessert,” she said earnestly. I smiled.

chocolate bar
The Ellaphant in the Room

I offered her a kir framboise. “Oh yes,” she said.

You know a kir framboise? It’s a kir, which is a French aperitif made by dolloping a heart of liqueur into a glass of wine — but with raspberry liqueur, framboise, instead of the cassis usually called for. You put a small capful of the deep-red/purple stuff at the bottom of the glass and fill to the top with white wine. Delicious. And beautiful too.

I brought those out, along with a few celery and carrot sticks and a little bit of blue cheese smooshed into some Greek yogurt for dip. And we curled up in the matching huge chairs Alex and I have by the fireplace, with the smell of the vegetables — fennel, carrot, celery, onion, garlic cloves, and sweet potato, all diced and mixed with olive oil and branches of thyme that I’d dug up out of the snow in the garden — filling the house.

And we talked about things that mattered: the things that mattered to her, and the things that mattered to me, and the things that mattered to us both. Love and art and solitude and companionship, and a few intellectual back roads I was delighted to find she enjoyed.

When the vegetables had cooked so long that they were nice and browned and caramelized, we sat down to them with a little more of that rosy aperitif, and the snow came down outside, and everything was warm and kind and good.

Afterward, we had a little piece of chocolate or two, and then we said good night, and I sent her on her way (“That was a breeze getting here, even in the snow! We’ll have to do it again soon!”). As she turned to walk to her car, she paused and said, “Those vegetables were delicious. They kept me from regretting I didn’t ask for macaroni and cheese.”

The Ellaphant in the Room

“Next time,” I promised with a laugh and waved as she drove down the snowy street. And I went inside, quite pleased, because I knew there would be a next time, and I didn’t feel sad anymore. If you want cheer up a friend but don’t have a kitchen on hand, these gifts are perfect for any kind of person. 

And now, some delicious instructions:
When roasting the vegetables, use whatever you have at hand, but always remember to include onions and whole peeled garlic cloves. That night I had a couple of sweet potatoes bursting out of their papery skins. I had an ivory and emerald bulb of fennel, celery stalks, carrots, beet greens, an onion, garlic, and lots of parsley.

I chopped the onion and the beet greens, and I diced the fennel, the celery, the carrots, and the sweet potatoes — all about the same size. Chopped a handful of parsley. Peeled about a dozen garlic cloves.

I mixed all the above in a big ceramic casserole, anointed them with enough olive oil just to coat, salted with coarse salt, and then threw in about five or six branches of fresh thyme. Swooshed the whole thing together with my hands and put the dish in a 400°F oven for about an hour and a half, which is just the right amount of time to prepare a couple of drinks for a new friend and sit with her by the fire and talk about the things that matter to you both.


Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest