This is, ostensibly, the season to be merry. And there certainly is a sense of that: just in the last week I have been to two pre-Christmas dinners and have hosted one myself for friends who will not be in Johannesburg this year.  So, good food, lots of wine and general merrymaking….and looking towards the Christmas weekend: I am cooking a Christmas eve dinner, then will go to my dad and his girlfriend’s for the actual day for more eating and celebrating, and the day after, I am hosting yet another dinner party here for people whom for a couple of years, I shared an important development process with: being trained in a body-centered psychotherapeutic approach…all of them have now become friends.

It is the season for connecting, and I guess reconnecting too with important people in our lives. Last night we had dinner with friends of my boyfriend: the host a long standing friend whom he, just in the last year, has had some personal issues with, which seem to be mostly resolved. The dinner at a long table on a wide porch, eight people around it, eating and drinking wine and reminiscing, somehow consolidated that. I was the newcomer in that particular social circle: three bothers, all long standing friends, from varsity years, of my boyfriend, our hostess a wonderfully accomplished interior decorator and cook and the wife of one brother, and friends of theirs all sharing aspects of their lives, telling stories, and me mostly listening and getting a sense of the particular people and their varied lives.

This past Saturday we had dinner with an ex-husband of mine: in a house which I used to share with him, and more than that, the house where my mom died of cancer nine years ago. I had not been back there in all that time, the relationship finally breaking apart in less than a month after my mom’s death: I left the house then to never return. And now I have. I sat around a familiar table eating food cooked by my ex on familiar crockery, familiar faces around the table: well, at least the male faces: all of them erstwhile musician colleagues, the oboe their particular instrument, and all of them known by me from way back in my past, one whom I was married to, the other who I am in a relationship with now, and the third whom both of them have known for years… how is that for a bit complicated? But also wonderfully connected in a way…. And when I came back from walking through the house and a glance into the room where my mom died, feeling very sad and touched in a way by the wonder of being able to be back there after years, I felt a sense of being really connected to life and my history… and happy to be there with the man I am with now: his solid caring presence allowing and understanding my inevitable tears…

But maybe you are more interested in what we ate!!

I made the ubiquitous chicken in white wine stew on Wednesday for my friends, with mashed potatoes and lightly cooked green beans, and sweet carrots, smoked salmon and crème fraiche tossed through with chives on toasted ciabbata to start, and an apricot tarte tatin to finish, with more crème fraiche (sans the chives of course!!).

My ex husband presented, with a veritable flourish, a dish of slowly braised impala and springbok shoulder, finished off in the oven, with couscous and roasted veggies and a wonderful gravy which he shared the recipe of with me. He  hunted the game himself… I stood in the kitchen which has not even changed colour, feeling strangely at home and like a total stranger at the same time watching him get everything ready with his girlfriend… a wonderful meal.

Then last night we sat down, al fresco, to a fragrant tomato soup with basil pesto dolloped into it, and then steamed salmon in an equally fragrant dressing of ginger and soy sauce, topped with fresh coriander and served with basmati (or was it jasmine?) rice and green beans tossed in a little butter and toasted sesame seeds, and nectarine clafoutis afterwards….another feast…

So that leaves me with the task of cooking some nice celebratory meals over the weekend: my shopping list is drawn up, the flickering fairy lights are reflecting off the gifts wrapped in gold paper, to my left as I sit here(yes, I turn the lights on in the day too) and I am ready for Christmas…..looking forward to the sitting around tables and connecting with loved ones through the ancient ritual of a meal shared… and hopefully being able to be merry in moments, even though such moments sometimes evoke for me deep sadness, at the memory of those who are not there and the imagined future when some others may not be there… but mostly deep gratitude: being able to have confirmed the preciousness of what is here now….and who is here now!!

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