Have you ever wondered how the Beast became a beast? I’m afraid that I don’t have the answers, but I do know that after every dinner with his family, I feel as though I’ve come a little closer to understanding his particular brand of evolution.
Saturday night we were invited over for a family dinner cooked by the Swedish girlfriend of one of the Beast’s brothers. He has three brothers. That makes four boys for one mother and father. This explains why the Beast’s mother, Marg, showers the girlfriends of her boys with plenty of attention. We get more birthday gifts, which often include frilly things in various shades of pastel, than her own flesh and blood. It’s lovely, and so is she.
Before dinner, the Beast and I joined the formidable Marg, and Claudia, the girlfriend of one of the brothers, for a leisurely stroll in Mount Pleasant Cemetery. The Beast was determined to find Glenn Gould’s grave.
Foodie: Marg, I notice you’re wearing the earrings that Claudia bought you.
Marg: Aren’t they great? I’m always getting complemented on them!
Foodie: Interesting. Remember that time I got you that bracelet set? You know, the one with the little red stones in it? And that scarf I picked out for you at Christmas time, that was gorgeous. I think I know you so well, don’t you?
(I like to keep a friendly little bit of competition alive amongst the four girlfriends of the four brothers. I think it’s healthy, and it keeps things interesting. In case you’re interested, I’m the oldest out of the four ladies. And I’m probably the smartest, the fastest and the strongest too.)
Marg: And wait until you see the centerpiece that Claudia brought for dinner!
Foodie: Centerpiece? Interesting. What is it?
Claudia: You’ll have to wait and see.
Foodie (whispering into Claudia’s ear): This isn’t over.
Luckily for Claudia, I spotted what appeared to be the Gould family plot.
Foodie: There it is!
Marg: Shh! Let the Beast think that he found it first!
Beast: Over here guys! I found it!
I stand to learn so much from this woman.
Back at the Beast’s family’s homestead, the Swedish girlfriend, Therese, was in the kitchen preparing dinner for ten. I don’t think I’ve ever cooked for ten people. And if I did, I think I’d be a nervous wreck, drunk and smoking indoors. Therese, who is 19 years old, looked cool as a cucumber. I guess when you’re 19, the whole world is your oyster and you can do anything. Did I ever tell you that when I was 15, that’s four years younger by my calculations than 19, I was in the school play and I played basket-ball and volley-ball and soccer too. Also, I worked part-time at the local Canadian Tire.
Before dinner, we gathered for some snacks which included an assortment of cheese, and bowls of Easter-themed candy, care of Marg (who may be labouring under the misapprehension that her boys are still eight years old.)
Marg loves setting her table, which often includes matching napkins, fancy table clothes, little candles in little candle holders, sparkles, confetti and a variety of holiday-themed objects. Dave, the Beast’s father, for whom less is always more, has learned to accept Marg’s flair for inspired design. Surprisingly, tonight’s table was more subdued than usual, except for the centerpiece, care of Claudia. It was a chocolate rooster from Rahier, arguably the best French bakery in the city. Claudia works there and often brings glorious treats to family dinners. Whoopitty-do. I often bring wine, a classic, more mature hostess gift, I think.
Therese, who is studying to be a chef, served the first course herself, employing classic etiquette techniques whereby women are served first and dishes are delivered via the diner’s left side. I know about this stuff because I’ve worked in restaurants. I’m also just naturally curious about the history of gastronomy and etiquette. I’m interested in so many different things. Anyway, Therese had prepared pickled herring, that she’d brought with her from home, with fresh dill, sour cream, red onion and boiled egg. I wasn’t sure how the herring would go over with this lot, including myself, but we all cleaned our plates.
The Beast was determined to find some common ground with our Therese so he kept listing off the names of people and things that he assumed were Swedish. But Therese kept responding, “No, that’s Danish.”
Beast: So Therese, basically you’re telling me that nothing really good has come out of Sweden in a really long time.
Therese: Oh Beast, I hate to break it to you but for the first time in your life, you may be wrong.
Therese’s English is near-perfect, and she didn’t skip a beat in responding to the Beast. Her sassy Swedish reply elicited whoops and snaps from the crowd, and a discussion about exactly what has come out of Sweden besides Ikea and ABBA, followed. (H&M, that Swedish vampire movie, Igmar Bergman, Tiger Woods’ wife, Bjorn Borg, etc.)
Second course was thinly sliced beef rolled with pickles, apple and red onion in the centre along with mashed potatoes on the side. Some sort of jus topped it all off, which was near divine.
Therese said the dish, which is traditionally served in the autumn, is called oxrullader m. kallroky flask in Swedish. Did you know that I speak Italian and German? Okay, I can understand a lot of Italian and I my vocabulary is pushing about 100 words. And I studied German for, like, two years…about ten years ago. I also thought about taking Latin, which only really smart people think about taking.
Moving on, dessert was cloud berry panna cotta topped with milk chocolate and spiced, lightly stewed apples.
Beast: I do hate to burst your swedish little bubble Therese, but we’ve had cloudberries before you know–in Newfoundland.
Therese: Perhaps, but they weren’t from Sweden.
She’s sharp as a whip I tell you. Although I wonder how well Therese was able to keep up with the conversation that followed about Claudia’s centerpiece, you know, the chocolate rooster. Well, roosters are also called cocks. I don’t know who first made the connection that there was a giant chocolate cock on the middle of the table but I can tell you that the jokes that followed where ruthless–certainly not fit for print. It was a like a storm of cock jokes and there was no safe port in sight. Even Marg innocently chimed in with a “is that like once you go black you never go back?”
The chocolate cock joke-fest ended with the Beast grabbing the chocolate cock from the table and physically illustrating for us what sort of cock the chocolate cock was, just in case there was any confusion.
Therese, a delightful ambassador, was able to pull us all back to civility by sharing with us Google street views of her home, YouTube videos of Swedish comedians, and samples of Swedish food products.
(Tastes like tartar sauce.)
(Don’t know how it tastes because it smelled like shit in a tube.)
And then Therese requested that we all get together for a family photo. The poor thing really should have been warned about the fact that these four brothers aren’t capable of sitting still for a photo. Again, I don’t know who the instigator was, but the photo op went from family portrait to jack-ass city FAST, and with only a few quick bursts of huffs and grunts to warn us of the decorous decline: three of the four jack-asses tore off their shirts and started to flex.
Shortly after, the fourth brother had his shirt off too.
The meal was a real hit. That Swedish girlfriend sure can cook. Although I think I would have used dark chocolate in the panna cotta. I think generally that people with refined palates prefer dark chocolate to milk. But who can blame a 19-year-old for not knowing that! And I certainly would never bring a chocolate cock to dinner. I’m a lady after all.