Brendan and Dingo and I just spent three days in Western Massachusetts with my best friend Cathi and her husband, Dan. The occasion of our visit was Cathi’s and my first joint reading together, ever, in almost a quarter century of friendship.
She and I first met at a party in 1989 and talked all night. We were both 27 and single and living in New York, and we hadn’t even started writing what would be our first novels. Cathi was an editor at Seventeen. I was an editorial assistant at William Morrow. We wore tiny black miniskirts and high heels. We often met for lunch in midtown: hamburgers and fries, a beer for me, cake for her. I was always late getting back to the office. When she met Dan later that year, I went out with the two of them to inspect him and check him out. They came to my wedding and comforted me when my marriage broke up 12 years later.
Now Cathi and I are middle-aged women who wear comfortable shoes and live in old houses in New England. We’ve published 10 books between us. She and Dan have been married for 20 years. Their kids, Phoebe and Nathaniel, are teenagers now; I’ve known them since they were babies. We live a 4-hour drive apart, so we email each other every day, back and forth, often for the duration of one of our old lunch-hour conversations.
Brendan instantly loved the whole family when they met 3 years ago, and it was mutual; it was as if they’d always known one another. This time around, it felt like a reunion of old friends. And Dingo got along just fine with their two younger, sleeker, stronger dogs after some initial old-man teeth-bared grousing at the adolescent Rico, who tried to hump and French kiss him until Dingo put him in his place. They all ran barking to the door in a flap together whenever anyone arrived as if they were a pack of three: Cathi dubbed them “the Avengers.”
The weather was stultifyingly, paralyzingly hot while we were there. The dogs lay semi-comatose on the cool kitchen floor. Brendan and I parked ourselves at the table and didn’t budge while all around us their life revolved like a family sitcom in which we got to play the childless visiting couple, sipping cold wine and eating all their food.
Cathi, who is the tiniest adult I’ve ever met, and who eats more than almost anyone I know, is a human hummingbird. She buzzed and darted around us, offering plates of ripe cut-up nectarines and watermelon, bowls of boiled red potatoes, while Dan came and went laconically, with wry asides that cracked us up. “Bye, honey,” we called after him as he left to go to work. “Have a good day at the office.”
We ate like kings: Cathi had stocked the refrigerator so full, you had to be careful when you opened the door that something didn’t fall out and hit your foot. The first night, she marinated a huge bowl of fresh chicken pieces in olive oil, lemon, tamari, ketchup, and garlic. Dan grilled them outside while she boiled ears of corn and made an epic salad from lettuce from their garden. Her salads are my favorite, anywhere, anytime: they always have just the right amount of extras — mushrooms, sprouts, cherry tomatoes, goat cheese, sunflower seeds, dried fruit — and her dressing is a rich vinegary-creamy emulsion.
We all sat around the long table and stuffed ourselves. Cathi jumped up after the table had been cleared to fetch an armload of sweets, among them an enormous gluten-free chocolate cookie she’d bought just for us. We usually never eat dessert, but it would have been rude to ignore it when she’d gone out of her way to get it for us, so we fell on it and ate the whole thing with the rest of our bottle of rosé. Meanwhile, everyone else devoured ice cream, chocolate, cake, cookies, and whipped cream: They are a family of avid, gluttonous, connoisseur-like, perplexingly thin and healthy sweets-eaters, as serious about their treats as Brendan and I are about our wine.
The next night, after the reading Cathi and I gave at a local bookstore, we came back to their house. While Brendan made dinner and Dan kept him company, Cathi and I dashed out to the supermarket for a few things: they were out of orange juice, but, more importantly, Phoebe had just had an impacted wisdom tooth pulled and therefore desperately needed a tube of slice ‘n bake cookies. Cathi had meanwhile developed a sudden yen for two kinds of pie and apple turnovers. Nathaniel wanted two kinds of ice cream.
When we got back, the kitchen was even hotter: Brendan was frying flank steaks in butter and roasting a pan of asparagus in the oven. When the flank steaks had arrived at various stages of doneness from rare to medium, something for everyone, he forked them onto a plate and sautéed a minced red onion and a heap of sliced button mushrooms with some fresh thyme in the butter and meat juices, then poured red wine into the pan and reduced it. He poured this velvety, savory sauce over the steaks. While the dogs lay at our feet, panting, we ate this rich, meaty, fantastic meal.
Afterwards, we found it in our hearts to eat the gluten-free carrot cake Cathi had laid in for us, only for politeness’ sake, of course.
Spread mayonnaise on a piece of hot toast. Slap a slice of deli Jarlsberg and two thick slices of perfectly ripe tomato on top with salt and pepper. Devour with a sweet, creamy iced coffee.