Monday, February 18, 2008

With love, we have to get creative.

Sushil is a co-worker who gets younger each passing day. I tell stories about him to friends and people imagine I'm hanging out with a 20-year-old. Little do they know, he's twice my age, married with a 9-year-old son. Life surprises you with the people who show up in it.

"When I was in university, I was so broke," Sushil starts to tell me. He is a big spender these days but back in the day, he was notorious at scams and for being broke. He tells me a story about Sangita, his now-wife, when they first met in university.

"For some reason, Sangita really wanted milk but I had NO MONEY. Not even a penny!" he exclaims. "I kept asking her, 'Are you sure you don't want water?' But she kept insisting, 'No. I need milk. I want milk.' We were in the caf. So I took a bunch of the milkettes and started pouring them into a cup."

I immediately started dying at this image of 5'6 Sushil with dorky glasses and a very drab, faded wardrobe, carefully opening a million little milkettes and pouring out 5 mL at a time into a Styrofoam cup. These days, Sushil wears $4,000 watches, Lacoste shoes and sports a trendy set of Dolce&Gabbana rectangular frames.

"The worst part is," he says while giggling (yes, he giggles!), "Sangita SAW me doing this."

"So it was love at first sight, eh?" I laugh.

A couple of weeks later, I meet Sangita. This is probably my favourite Sushil story of all time and I can't get it out of my head. I ask her what her memory of the story was.

"I was horrified. I thought, 'I pray none of my friends see him doing this,' otherwise it would have been double embarrassment," she says.

But to me, this is one of my favourite love stories. How some people can get so creative in desperate times in the name of love. Today, Sushil and Sangita are as happy and in love as they were in university. Only now, Sushil can actually afford to buy her some milk.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

How much and how little we've grown.

Museums and galleries have always fascinated me. I love how they can be a place of history, beauty, delicate intricacies, fantastic spaces and an adventure of my choosing. I don't think I've realized it until this moment but the Royal Ontario Museum holds many special memories for me. And a light, bubbly, happy one was created Saturday night.

"You look so hot! You are my hot girl!" squeals my friend Annette as she rushes over to us in the lounge of C5, the new restaurant atop the Crystal addition of the ROM that opened in July 2007. Annette is referring to our friend Jamie who I'm with. We went ahead early to make sure we kept our reservation, while Annette picked up Wina and Camille. It's a bit of a high school reunion. I'm closer with Jamie and Annette than I am with Wina and Camille. But we all used to hang out in the same, much larger group of friends so every once in awhile there's always an overlap. Lives diverge and come together again, and I find myself in situations that are familiar and comfortable yet awkward and distant.

For the record, Jamie does look hot. So do the rest of them, I might add. I don't think I've ever felt "hot" myself when I'm around them. But it's no insult to me. It's just a feeling I have. But I am quite happy to be friends with such beautiful girls. More so, I am lucky to be friends with such beautifully-minded people.

We are seated and we are definitely like silly schoolgirls around one another. I'm a touch too loud for public. Annette is in her infectiously giggly mood. Jamie is calm and serene while making faces. Wina is angelic. Camille has a matured but beaten air to her. Of all the girls, it's Camille who I'm most unfamiliar with.

"I am so tired from working all day. I'm supposed to go to a club after and I didn't bring a change of clothes for dinner or partying. These are my work clothes," she remarks. Nonetheless she is stylish and stunning in vintage jewellery and a Posh Spice-esque messy haircut. Throughout the night, I have these wonderful moments where I see women who have learned to be so aware of the world that surrounds them. At the same time, I see girls who love to indulge in laughter, food and talk, and fall into a self-created bubble.

It's around 9:30 p.m. when our orders are taken and bread arrives. We were half an hour late for our 8:45 reservation and it takes some time for giggly girls to calm down. The bread is soft and wonderful. I try so hard to pinpoint the exact flavours. While they stir the senses of my tongue, my memory can't seem to be jiggled enough. Plus I'm starved. I haven't eaten since noon so I can't be bothered to pay too much attention. It's enough that the bread is delicious. The butter is perfectly spreadable and adds a sweetness.

"Why are you such a bread Nazi?" Annette calls over.

The CN Tower is to the left of me, framed by the jagged open shapes of the building. Toronto's cityscape always gives me great pleasure. I marvel at the ingenuity of man-made structures.

I love thick, creamy, hearty soups. It's Winterlicious. This is why we can (sort of) afford C5 tonight. I debate between a salad and a soup. When I hear the butternut squash bisque is made with lobster stalk, I am sold. It arrives as a lovely orange square pool of steaming aromas. The first sip is intoxicating. A perky, Indian-like spice tantalizes my tongue while the undertones of hearty lobster and squash fill the rest of my mouth. "Jamie, you have to be my date tonight. Try this," I say to her as I offer her a spoonful. I demand that more than one person recognizes the amazement of this bisque. Her eyes stare straight ahead and as she pristinely slurps, her wide eyes go wider in delight. "Oh my god. That is sooooo good," she sincerely comments. I take a bite of her deconstructed salad. The textures are interesting and play together nicely. Creamy avocado with grainy black olive-infused couscous and tiny pieces of slippery, tender calamari.

Because I love when my food has a theme, for main, fish is the obvious choice. A butter-poached grouper in a spicy tomato shitake sauce blows me away. The grouper is meaty and flaky and tender and smoky all at once. The sauce is punchy and tangy and fruity and warm all at once. It's garnished with pea shoots. Delicate yet filled with an amazing amount of fresh, zippy flavour to contrast the heartiness of the dish. I couldn't be more pleased. I try a bit of Wina's 72-hour sous vide beef short ribs. The chef of C5 is supposed to be notorious for his sous vide preparations. The beef is outstanding. It's a fall-apart-in-your-mouth experience and the richness of the beef is so well-rounded.

For dessert, I veer off course. The chocolate bread pudding isn't exactly a pudding. It's more like a slightly less dense brownie. The more exquisite part is probably the orange and vanilla foams that are airy and light yet surprisingly intense. I find the pecorina cheesecake much more innovative and yummy. The sweet cream cheese and the salty percorina are brilliant together. Sugar crystals crackle happily in the mouth against the smoothness of the cake, and a raspberry sauce melds all the flavours.

"Food makes me happy," I exclaim.

The night starts to wind down after we've engaged one another in definitive stories about the men of our lives and share strong opinions on the debate about black-focused schools. We snap some photos and gather our jackets. Off the elevator, our banter echoes out into the emptiness of the museum. "Jamie lost her shoe in the holes in the vent and didn't even notice!" I burst, and we all burst into giggles.

As we part ways and shiver in the cold, I'm exhausted but sad to see the night end. It's been almost three years since high school has passed. It feels like a long time ago. I've always had a tendency to leave the past in the past but I've learned to savour these moments. These are friends who've known me since early teenagehood. To be able to venture out into the world on your own and return to simpler, sweeter days is an unexpectedly precious gift. Often, I feel like I have to protect and shield myself from reality's harms. It can be a difficult challenge to take on your own.

I realize later on that despite everything, when friends come together and create their own world, no one but ourselves could ever possibly burst the bubble.