I keep in my head a list of my favourite meals. I’m not sure how many are on this list. It probably varies, depending on my mood. But always near the top is a dinner cooked by my sister’s in-laws the day she and her family moved into their current home.
This was thirty years ago, when their then-three children were quite small and didn’t fully understand the concept of packing, that what’s in the box should stay in the box and not be thrown to the floor so that the box can be used as an imaginary conveyance. My sister tried really hard, but in the weeks that their new house was being built, not a lot of packing got done.
The day before the move, I went to London to help and my parents went to get the two older girls to take with them to Windsor for a sleepover. And the sight of those two curly-haired little ones with their tiny suitcases, hopping up and down, so excited they forgot to say goodbye to their parents, is such a lovely memory.
With the little ‘helpers’ out of the way, the real packing could finally begin. And I and a bunch of their friends packed and packed. And packed. Long into that hot summer night.
And then we got up really early in the morning to begin loading the truck and finish the final, panic-fueled packing. Remember when you were in your twenties and as soon as you mentioned that you were moving twenty of your closest friends offered to help and all you had to do was supply them with pizza and beer at the end of the day? I kind of miss those days. We’re going to be moving soon. We’ll be hiring movers because now when we mention it all of our friends tell us about their arthritis and high blood pressure.
It was a very long, very hot day, organized as best could be done by parents of three small children. Which is to say, it was pretty much chaos. In the end, we were stuffing whatever was left on the floors into grocery bags. And I’d like to apologize once again for all the carpet lint that ended up moving to the new house. What can I say? I was in the zone.
Once the old house was empty and the new house had been turned into an obstacle course, all of the friends went home.
“Are you hungry?” my brother-in-law asked. “My parents have cooked us dinner.”
The scent wafting my way as I walked through the door reminded me just how hungry I actually was. Tomatoes and garlic and onions. Before I could properly start to drool, my sister’s Mum-in-law asked if I would like a cup of tea. My knees went week and I had to grab the back of a chair.
Fortunately, I was sitting down when the steaming mug materialized in front of me, or I would have fallen over completely. What is it about a proper cup of tea at the end of a trying day? It has been known to reduce me to tears of joy.
After we had enjoyed our tea and given them a recap of the day, we were invited to the table. “It’s just simple….” they said.
It was a hamburger casserole. Hot from the oven. With the tomatoes and garlic and onions. And noodles. Shredded cheese. Peppers. The exact right amount of salt. The first bite carried me far, far away from aching muscles and cardboard boxes and dust. Seeing how quickly it disappeared, my sister’s mum-in-law offered me seconds. And then thirds. I managed to put the brakes on and turn down fourths, a decision I’ve always kind of regretted. But I didn’t know them very well and I didn’t want to embarrass my sister.
Of course, if I’d had that last helping, I would have missed Dorothy’s patented 2-4-6 pudding which was an apple crisp simplified and elevated and possibly the sweetest thing I have ever eaten in my life. So packed with sugar was it that I was able to head back to the new house and move furniture and unpack boxes for a few more hours.
What made that meal stand out over so many others? Partly it was the perfection of the dish itself. I think it had been made many times over the years and family favourites do end up being pretty close to perfect.
Hunger and exhaustion will help to make any meal taste better, for sure.
And topping it all off was the gentle hospitality of my sister’s in-laws. You couldn’t not enjoy a meal when being smiled at by those two and asked how you are and can I get you some more?
There are more sophisticated meals on my list. And a few more stories that I’ll share with you soon. But that one stands out from the crowd. And after thirty years, I think it always will.
How about you? Any special meals you’d like to share? Please leave a comment and let us know!