In the past, had I sat down to write about a lovely dinner, I more likely than not would have been writing about what I ate. I would have described the meal, maybe posted some pictures, and been very focused on THE FOOD.
Well, we had a lovely dinner with two friends this week, and the food was both the story and not the story at all.
I picked the restaurant, a Vietnamese one with many vegetarian options, as one of our friends is, if not vegan, at least vegetarian. I have many memories of late-nite cheese-meat-and tequila fueled Tex-Mex feasts or 3 a.m. diner noshes with him.
He had some heart problems several years ago that prompted a radical shift in his diet and exercise habits. Not surprisingly, with this change, he is in the best shape of his life. Thin, vibrant, and strong. At the end of the meal, he thanked me for choosing a great restaurant with so many options, one that was new to him.
Our other friend had a heart attack a little over a year ago. He and I used to have long conversations about the fabulous meals we liked to cook—slow braising of rich meats with decadent sauces and delicate vegetables. We’d also, along with my husband, hit the Tex-Mex pretty hard, not only for dinner, but for breakfast tacos. He favored menudo on weekends.
I’ll never forget one night, over ten years ago, when we went into the kitchen to get a bottle of wine I was excited about trying. We planned to bring it back to the table to share with everyone, but opened it, tasted it, and stood there at the counter until we finished the bottle (in about 30 minutes) because we were enjoying our conversation and the wine so much. No one else noticed because everyone else was as sauced as we were … and much more wine was consumed that evening.
He actually spent a few weeks at a health spa in Miami to re-learn how to eat for his long-term health. He said that he’d drawn the short straw as far as genetic disposition to heart disease, so, on his doctor’s advice (and the advice of the professionals in Miami), he uses almost no fats in his cooking these days. Yikes.
He, too, looks fantastic. He’d started to look old in the past couple of years, and to seem fairly depressed, but he looks ten years younger and acts, once again, like an enthusiastic teenager. (Few men can get away with acting like a teenager once they’ve entered the middle passage without being perceived as raging asses. He pulls it off. It’s part of his charm.)
Neither of these guys is old enough to have had heart problems, and yet, they aren’t our only close friends who’ve confronted very serious, life-threatening heart disease challenges.
I would like to issue an edict that I’m done with my dear friends having heart problems, so the heart problem assignment squad can please move on to someone else’s circle of friends.
Friend one had a tofu stir fry. Friend two and I had steamed vegetables; he with steamed tofu, me with steamed chicken. My husband had pho with extra garlic and ginger. We each had one spring roll with tofu to start. Not a single one of us had any booze. Friend one was the rebel on the drink front, with a coke, but the other guys had green tea, and I stuck with water.
The food? Meh. But the dinner? Fabulous! It was so wonderful to focus on the conversation, as one friend shared the inspiring and awesome story of his new business venture that is so exciting I can’t even stand it.
About midway through dinner, I realized that I was completely focused on everyone else, and not even thinking about my food, not wondering what else I could eat, or how quickly I could get it into my gullet. I felt full and happy and didn’t want dinner to end, but only because I didn’t want the conversation to end.
I didn’t feel stuffed, have heartburn, or need to go for a walk to help my digestion. That’s a lovely dinner!