Brunch at Buca, between the cottage and Thanksgiving

The Beast and I blinked and there went summer, without a vacation together to speak of.

So, last week, I took three days off work. Friday and Saturday I spent with my mom. We did the usual: Costco, Walmart and the Superstore. I got her all stocked up with supplies. At Costco, a woman did a double-take when she saw me, my mom practically willing her to do so, and said: “You look like that girl from The View.”

“She doesn’t just look like her,” my mom replied, in an excited whisper–and not bothering to correct the name of the TV show, “she is her. And she’s the best daughter in the world.”

That is certainly a stretch, although I did change the lightbulbs in her washroom and gifted her my favourite J. Peterman caftan.

We also took my Aunt Sandy to Pinecroft, a lovely spot out in the country close to Aylmer, Ont. that serves the best mushroom soup I’ve ever had.

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Mom and I curled up both nights with dinner and watched movies: Spy, with Melissa McCarthy one night, followed by an unlikely double bill of Imitation Game and Under the Tuscan Sun the next.

The latter was my idea, although once it started I regretted my choice. I’d forgotten that it’s about a woman whose marriage falls apart. My parents’ marriage fell apart, with cinematic-like drama.

“Divorce is the worst thing that can happen to a person,” my mom said. I felt terrible. Years of guilt bubbled up in my throat. Guilt that I, being a product of the marriage but not intrinsically part of it, felt for getting over the dissolution of their relationship rather swiftly. People have fallen in and out of love forever, I’ve reasoned. Good, virtuous people, behave poorly. We move on, some more easily–at least on the surface–than others.

What really killed me though, was this: my mom confessed that she felt as though she’d never taken any risks in her life, like moving to Tuscany and buying a villa.  I didn’t know how to respond, except by assuring her that that wasn’t true. But did I stop eating chips, get up from the couch, and hold her? Tell her that the movie was a silly gage on how to live a fulfilling life? I wish I had.

The next two days off were spent at the cottage, with the Beast. We had precisely 48 hours and we planned on stretching them out to make it feel like the summer vacation we didn’t take. It was cold, rainy. No matter: he built fires in the Franklin stove and I kept us warm with macaroni and cheese, my grandma’s recipe. We feasted over our two days on it, and on exquisite little cheeses and salumi; on pork chops, baked potatoes and Brussel sprouts roasted with bacon; on over-easy eggs cooked in bacon fat, canned maple beans and a hash made from leftovers. We watched two Cher movies, Silkwood, which wasn’t nearly as good as I remembered it to be, and Mermaids, which was. We began a film that had our names written all over it: For starters, it was a Merchant-Ivory production. Second, it was about Thomas Jefferson. But playing the founding father was Nick Nolte, a spectacularly poor casting choice.

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When he Beast wasn’t imitating Nolte as Jefferson reciting bits from the Declaration of Independence, we read: I finished the second novel in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series. He finished something or other by Saul Bellow. The sun came out the day we left.

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We drove back and worked the rest of the week in a bit of a daze, counting time until the long weekend. On Saturday, we bought a hand-knotted rug made in Iran after we had brunch at Buca in Yorkville, where we ordered exactly what the older couple beside us did because it all looked so good.

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Okay, they didn’t get the pizza. They had risotto instead, which is finished table side, very ceremoniously, in a hollowed-out wheel of parmigiano. The couple insisted we try it. I insisted only if they’d take some of our pizza, which they did. The woman, who turned out to be journalist Libby Znaimer, was preparing for an interview with Stephen Harper. Meanwhile, we giggled over the range of Italian accents; the risotto master was clearly Italian. Another table of four men, who looked like band members of the Strokes in 20 years, were clearly Italian. Our server, however, was not. The Beast said that my Italian accent sounded like our server’s; like a mangiacake who maybe had a lesson or two in Italian. I assured him it didn’t. When I say Parmigiano Reggiano or prosciutto crudo, I sound like the risotto master–like a real Italian.

On Sunday, we had a Thanksgiving feast at the Beast’s parents’ place, which they have down to a science.

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I wouldn’t want it any other way. Afterwards, we talked about his parents’ upcoming trip to Kiev, where his mom will donate time as a nurse operating on Ukrainian victims of war. I watched the Beast’s dad pull his wife close to him. She touched his knee. It was such a brief moment, like the one where the Beast sat beside his mom, almost in the same pose as her.

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Before we left, I looked at the pictures in the hallway of the four boys taken during a photo shoot. The Beast, maybe 12 years old, chose to wear his Blue Jays shirt and cap.

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He doesn’t remember the details of his childhood the way I do. I hold on to mine maybe too fiercely. Maybe because there’s regret. Maybe because moving on isn’t as simple as I like to make out. I don’t know.

Christ, it’s all a crap shoot, isn’t it?

11 responses to “Brunch at Buca, between the cottage and Thanksgiving

  1. I love how real you are. Keep putting it all out there.

  2. Beautiful post, Jess! And excellent choice on the rug; I have a very similar one. I went to Buca for the first time this past weekend; their pizza is phenomenal, though I didn’t get to share mine with Libby Znaimer! Btw, I’ve a quarter into book 4 of the Neapolitan series. I think two was my favorite but they are all so great.

  3. I just finished the second Elena Ferrente book too, I told myself I’d take a break from starting the 3rd and read a magazine instead…started on the 3rd one last night no magazines lol

  4. So much to adore about this post. Wow. And it’s so cool that you know about Ferrante! I am trying to make my way through the first in the series in Italian – not something I ever do, so it’s a bit rough going and hasn’t grabbed me. But now I am more than ever convinced about persevering – I just keep hearing such great things. Very interesting how much better known she seems to be outside Italy!

    • She’s on fire here! I struggled with the first 75 pages or so of the first one (and that was in English!) I’m so impressed that you’re tackling it in Italian. Curious to know what you’d think of the translation, too!

  5. Loved this post Jess! I so related to your story of wanting to comfort your mom, but not being able to. I’ve experienced that so many times.

  6. Once more, a feel-good post. Ups and downs, you always make me smile. Thanks Jess!

  7. I love reading your stories…!!..your Mom moments make me teary, reminds me of me and my Mom…Moms are happy just spending time with us eh…doing such simple things, then we rush back to our crazy busy lives…it’s like they revive us and off we go, ready to battle the world again..! Love all your great “real” food ideas, yum! Simon and his fam crack me up..!

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