It was Valentine’s Day and my dear husband had planned a surprise outing to add to his romantic gifts of a glorious bouquet and my favourite chocolates.
I assumed we’d be driving downtown to a restaurant for lunch, but instead we headed out of the city and north past snow-covered farm fields. After several dry and ugly Toronto winters, this year’s repeated snowfalls had kept every landscape sparkling white, exquisite in both sunshine and moonlight.
We arrived at an old stone mill beside an ice-laced river. Yippee! We had lunch reservations at the Inn’s elegant dining room.
After a brisk walk through snowy pine trees we took our seats and warmed up with wine, anticipating a very special meal.
When we scanned the menu I was a little disappointed that their only meatless entrée was gnocchi, those gluey dumplings that I had tasted once but would never prefer over other options. However, since I don’t lack for food and was touched by my husband’s thoughtful plans for Love Day, I just ordered the gnocchi. We both enjoyed parsnip and apple “veloute” (fancy word for soup), as our appetizers, and my tummy was happy to just taste the gnocchi and make the best of it without complaint.
As my Husband enjoyed his pork entree, I ate a few gnocchi in a tasty cream sauce but stopped well before half was gone, laying my cutlery in the usual “I’m done” position. He asked if my dish wasn’t good. I explained that it was just fine but I wasn’t a fan of dumplings and really I’d thoroughly enjoyed the soup and felt full enough, thankyou, Darling. Please don’t worry about it.
Unfortunately, this was not your local diner. When our server next returned, she noticed my plate. No matter what I said, she was worried that I would be a dissatisfied customer. She offered to bring me something else on the menu. I was forced to confess that I didn’t eat meat but that the soup had been excellent and I had eaten enough and she didn’t need to do anything further. She remained unconvinced, but after multiple apologies took my plate away.
Minutes later she returned. The chef was not happy that I hadn’t enjoyed his gnocchi (Boy, do I know how to pronounce that Italian word now). He was making me my own special vegetarian dish if I wouldn’t mind waiting a bit.
I was already full and we were almost ready to leave, but clearly I couldn’t refuse the gesture and break culinary hearts on Valentine’s Day. As we waited I worried, not only because I felt full, but because I’m more of a no-meat person than a true vegetarian who would relish tofu and seaweed. What would appear that I would be obliged to eat politely? Many cooks reach for eggplant as a meat substitute - ugh. We grinned across the linen table cloth at each other, chuckling at the silly dilemma this luxury meal had wrought.
Next thing I knew, a handsome young man appeared from the kitchen, dressed in an apron and tall white hat, scanning the room for the woman who had rejected his expert cooking. He zeroed in on me and approached with a dinner plate in his hands.
I smiled with embarrassment and apologised for not eating his undoubtedly perfectly prepared GNOCCHI, as he placed a brown and green thing in front of me with a flourish. He proceeded to describe in detail such a long list of ingredients that all I can remember is the word “edamame”. At least I’d heard the word before. I silently wondered whether it meant seaweed or beans. The chef had been so kind (and was so cute) that I beamed grateful smiles at him and fawned excessively. “Thankyou so much! You did not need to do this. How good of you!” Babble, babble.
I stared at my plate. There was some kind of thick white “veloute” beneath a large pile of tiny brown beans, many stringy mushrooms and a heap of watercress. My gut groaned at the prospect, but I dug in.
It’s too bad I don’t have a clue what I ate because it tasted delicious. The chef out-did himself with his esoteric concoction. But I was not hungry. I begged my husband for help. He, a committed meat-lover, selflessly ate a few mouthfuls and then pushed back my plate and fork with only half the food gone.
Well…I refused to leave these hard working restaurant employees feeling badly. Gulp. One forkful at a time I slowly finished every last bean and sprout on that plate. When she returned, I told our delighted server that it had been scrumptious and sent my sincere compliments to the chef. I managed not to scream, "NO!" when she asked if we would like to order dessert.
After staggering out to our car I heard from my husband that my meal (both of them) had been “comped”. How kind. Moan. At least vegetarian food is inexpensive for the restaurant.
It took an uncomfortably long time to drive home. I spent the next 12 hours tossing and turning in bed, sleeplessly cancelled my next morning’s responsibility and vowed never to look at another gnocchi.
My husband and I will laugh together every time we remember the Valentine’s Day that held so much extra love that I could barely stomach it all.