Friends are like a comfortable pair of jeans

April 27, 2009 at midnight
Updated April 26, 2009 at 11:27 p.m.

"Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival."

C. S. Lewis

Most of the time, friends are as comfortable as your favorite pair of jeans. When buying jeans one looks for something that feels right when first tried on and that seem of the quality that will last. And perhaps I should add that good jeans don't accentuate your bad features.

When forming friendships I look for the same things.

Off the rack the jeans may be slightly stiff at first but after wearing them and washing them they develop a softness and comfort known only to the wearer. A hole may develop which needs mending, and that can add character, but if you take care of the pants they could last a lifetime.

Many years ago we started a supper club. I have written about some of our relationships before. We are a group of 12 who share a love of food and of each other.

One or two couples have moved or dropped out over time and so we have replaced them with others. So now it is made up of some old friends and some really old friends.

When we started we either had babies or no kids at all. Now our talk is of emptying nests and older children off at college.

We meet once per month, all taking a turn at hosting our evening. The hostess usually sends the invitations with an included recipe for each couple to prepare and bring to the gathering.

The food is not always wonderful but is usually well above average. We have had beef tenderloin that has cooked too long or pork that is too dry, but as is the case with old friends, we don't make a big deal about it.

The food is not the main tie that binds us together. What connects us is the time we spend at the table together sharing the stories of our lives.

Even after we finish the last bite of dessert, we don't usually rush to clean the table and depart but rather we often sit and visit. All of us are good friends and share an intimacy that only time creates.

Our tables are the places where we share our lives one conversation at a time. We may voice our opinions about the economy or politics and government, or of recent family trips, or of fishing adventures and the one that got away.

But occasionally we share concerns in our lives about our health, our children or our aging parents. We've all faced different struggles. And the good of having traversed a rocky path is that we are able to offer suggestions or sympathy for those who are facing a similar road.

One thing I have noticed in the 15 years of supper club is that we are more relaxed with each other every year. We still decorate the table and use silverware and real plates although talk of moving to paper or plastic has occurred. At the very heart of each meal is the hostess's desire to please the guests and each time that is accomplished in preparation.

As we age it seems that less preparation is required. I know that if we gathered and had pizza or hamburgers it would be enough.

Laura and Doug hosted supper club this month. They had gone to a fund raiser earlier this year and been the high bidders for a special dinner for 12 at Ric Tinney's Panache Restaurant in Goliad. Ric had been kind enough to donate the dinner as an auction item. They decided to redeem the dinner for our group.

This evening was a treat since none of us would be preparing any of the food but just showing up for the feast. Panache is located on the beautiful downtown square right across from the old courthouse.

The restaurant is in a well decorated historic building. The dining room and kitchen are all part of one big room. It has a neat open feeling and gives the diner a unique ability to enjoy the sight, smells, and sounds of the food preparation. The aromas of garlic and herbs was making my mouth water before I had my first bite.

Ric has decorated the place well with his personal art collection on the walls and stainless steel chairs and tables mixed with antiques.

Ric and his assistant, Shirley, were preparing a "Spanish feast" for our evening. What made that evening even more special was that Ric came out to our table and explained the story behind each recipe.

We had all arrived about 7 p.m. in Goliad and after some brief visiting took our seats at the table and the feast began.

Ric surprised our palates with an appetizer of dark chocolate on toasted bread drizzled with olive oil and delicately sprinkled with sea salt. It was unusual but the sweet and salty flavor tickled my tongue.

Next he served a Frisee salad with Pears and Honey lardoons (Pancetta). This salad paired the pears perfectly with the salty pancetta, which is a dry cured Italian bacon. The salad was made with curly endive and dressed with a red wine vinegar and olive oil dressing. Our next course was a Castillian Garlic soup made with at least 10 cloves of garlic and served with poached eggs and croutons topping the soup. I handed off my poached egg to Taylor since I am not an egg fan.

The soup was made from a chicken stock and had a hint of smoky paprika.

I was already starting to feel full but the food kept coming.

Next Ric brought a platter of grilled chicken dressed with a piquillo gazpacho sauce.

The orange of the sauce contrasted with the light golden color of the chicken breast and fresh basil oil was drizzled on top.

There was a lot of drizzling going on in this meal which added another dimension to the flavors of the dishes.

But wait, there's more. The main entrée, pork tenderloin with lightly seared strawberries was a beautiful, colorful dish. The pork was topped with the strawberries and then dried rosemary was crumbled on top. The pork had been sautéed in olive oil until lightly browned, then was finished off with the strawberries.

The strawberries kept their color because they had been seared in a very hot skillet for only about 45 seconds and so they remained red and juicy.

As a side he provided smoky mashed potatoes. They were the color of sweet potatoes because of smoked Spanish paprika (two to four teaspoons). An ancho chile was boiled with the potatoes to add a spicy, smoky dimension to the dish.

Perhaps the most interesting of all the dishes arrived at dessert. Ric had prepared a "Grandmothers of Sils" Apple and Yogurt cake. The cake texture was similar to a cheesecake but Sambuca (anise liqueur) gave the cake a slightly licorice flavor.

Between each course Ric had explained the preparation of the dishes making the dish more special because when we knew the ingredients we could anticipate the flavors.

This particular cake recipe had been written down by a group of Spanish grandmothers in the Spanish town of Sils. They had decided that the traditional dishes that had been passed down through the generations were being lost so they published the recipes in the popular cookbook, "The New Spanish Table" by Anya von Bremzen.

Ric Tinney's meal was a delicious dining experience for our group of friends. When we left the restaurant there was a lightness in our spirit. We had been filled with the sweet essence of friends gathered around a table laden with good food.

For those two hours we enjoyed a wonderful meal, shared what was happening in our lives and looked forward to our next time together. Thanks to Ric, Doug and Laura.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or e-mail



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