I returned to Washington, DC recently after two weeks at home in California with dozens of memories of carefree fun spent with family and friends. Several lingering favorites took place in San Diego with Nicole Meyers, my former college roommate and chum of 12 years. Nicole is one of those whimsical souls who is just brimming with creative energy and is always game to join a random adventure or collaborate on a new project. She is nearly six-feet tall and wears her beach blonde hair long down her back like a mermaid. Nicole loves to sing karaoke, wears flip-flops exclusively, and always drives with the windows down. Her laughter is of the variety that claps loudly and suddenly like thunder, and she tends to be very sassy with strangers. In an endearing way.
At this point in our friendship, annual hang-outs with Nicole always involve a high-fashion, dress-up session followed by an amateur photo shoot in the forest/beach/jungle/backyard during which we practice the latest tilt-your-head tips we’ve acquired from America’s Next Top Model marathons. We have taken thousands – THOUSANDS! – of snapshots together and even captured a few funeral-quality portraits. (Please excuse my morbidity.) Trading haikus over cocktails has become a favorite activity for when we’ve lost our light. After a few Old Fashioneds, the evening often finds us cooking up fantasy novels, indie screenplays, and philosophical allegories. Nicole is the kind of friend you go skinny dipping with on the Fourth of July and write a business plan with on the fifth.
When I asked Nicole if she would compete against me in an Iron Chef cook-off for my parents and their friends last week, I wasn’t surprised that she instantly pulled her iPad from her purse and began scanning her favorite food blogs for inspiration. Dennis and Debbie (high school friends of my dad’s) were to be the hosts, and my clever boyfriend Zack was to be our shared sous-chef. “Berry” would be the featured ingredient and each team would offer an appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert that would be judged by a hungry panel of six. After Nicole, Zack, and I went to the market for the finest ingredients $100 could buy, Zack applied his calligraphy skills to scorecard design:
- A. Best Overall
- B. Best Taste
- C. Best Use of the Featured Ingredient (BERRY)
- D. Best Plated Presentation
The three hours that followed were a hot chaos of chopping, searing, boiling, and baking, as the judges appeared to be wowed by each successive course:
Jalapeno Cranberry Cream Cheese Dip with Pita Chips
Bruschetta with Goat Cheese and Basil-Strawberry Coulis
Pork Cutlet with Blackberry Mustard Sauce and a side of Sweet Potato Fries
Seared Chicken Breast with Reduced Blackberry Wine Glaze on a Bed of Arugula
Chocolate Raspberry Soufflés with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and a Mint Leaf Garnish
My favorite moments of the night were when something would go terribly wrong – too much salt! We forgot to buy limes! There is no blender! Zack usually had a tasty solution up his sleeve for these blunders, and Nicole and I were generally willing to offer the opposition an ingredient or two from our private stashes. The three of us filled the kitchen with delicious synergy and witty banter, and I couldn’t help but contrast the experience with the less dynamic restaurant dining that had characterized most of my vacation. If you ask me, a six course meal paired with three hours of laughter, sweat, and tears is much tastier than a dinner cooked and delivered by strangers to a corner booth where I am forced to make polite conversation and scan some printed menu. I suppose my chocolate raspberry soufflé also tasted sweeter because it helped me win the evening’s competition… by a single point.
Maybe our hunger for these small-time adventures is due to the fact that Nicole and I both (Zack too, for that matter) are living our twenties behind a desk, the majority of our waking hours spent touching the plastic of a computer keyboard and surrounded by the white noise of air conditioning. Maybe my desire to collaborate and make coconut custard pies and fairy stories and sand castles with someone is the result of being inundated with social media that leaves me feeling more fragmented and lonely than I would like to admit. I have much to be grateful for, so I won’t spiral into a pity party about earning a living and earning a life in Washington, DC. I will just pause for a moment and reminisce over the transcendent moments I’ve been given this summer with my wonderfully child-like friends, and I will shout into the screen of my laptop: “Life is long! May we never stop playing make-believe with our chums!”