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Today under a tree in the park in the middle of the afternoon, I ate perfect lime shortbread and chocolate macaroons with the lovely JP and her sweet big baby. She came bearing not only her sweet big baby and that wicked brown bag of cookies (from Espresso Mi Vida. Dynamite flour-and-sugar skills) but enough supper ideas to keep me blogging till June.

It was tough to pick from all the novel, fantastically-outside-of-my-current-repertoire, light-on-the-meat, heavy-on-the-legumes, just-right-for-sunny-weather suggestions she fired off.

In the end, I came straight home and tried my hand at her easy instructions for Sushi in a Bowl. It’s the definition of a pantry supper, and eminently adaptable. All I needed to pick up was shrimp.

I boiled brown rice with a couple of teaspoons of bouillon and a little nub of butter. While it cooked, I shredded a carrot. It tasted like dirt, so I tossed it with oil and rice vinegar – much better. Then I cut a pickling cucumber into a small dice; thinly sliced five or six green onions; cubed an avocado; and shredded a zucchini (it’s so palatable raw that way) and gave it a light sprinkle of soy. Six minutes of chopping, max.

I set out the soy, sesame seeds and sesame oil

and cut nori into matchsticks with my handy kitchen scissors

while Wayne went outside and barbecued some big, fat shrimp (which he’d doused in a wacky yet delicious marinade of olive oil, black pepper, hot sauce, soy sauce, maple syrup and crazy old champagne from the ’70s that had tragically turned to vinegar.)

They cooked in five minutes and we built our gorgeous bowls. We started with a big scoop of rice and drizzled it with soy and sesame oil.

Then in went the veg, the sesame seeds

and then the shrimp, a little more soy sauce, and a flutter of nori for garnish.

Nice!

It tasted like the world’s biggest, most satisfying, most super-deluxe California Roll ever.

The normally understated Wayne (who clearly reserves his excesses for marinades) pronounced these not only good but “very good.”

We’ll be eating these by the dozens till sweater weather, guaranteed.

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My mother-in-law, Gene, is a Raisin Avenger, just like me. This afternoon, while the baby slept, she and I made a fridge-filling number of Norm’s Big-Batch Bran Muffins, and we benevolently offered to omit the raisins for our beloved anomaly, the resident Raisin Hater, Wayne. He demurred by squinting his eyes, then clarified: “I don’t really like bran muffins.”

What?

Had he always not liked them? Even all those times over all these years when I messily split the giant vat of batter into separate bowls to make his half without raisins? When I cut up old envelopes to make darling little Raisin-Free labels for his divvy, so that his delicate palate would not accidentally stumble upon an offending raisin?

Doesn’t like the texture, he said. Never has.

I harrumphed while Gene grabbed the big measuring cup. Then, gleefully, we poured almost three cups of raisins into the mixing bowl.

The muffins were stunners:

Gene and I ate one each after supper. We raved about them to one another. When I offered one to Wayne and said things like, “You don’t know what you’re missing,” and “Sometimes I think you dislike raisins just to be strong on me,” he shot me down with inspecific Wayne noises.

The baby was put to bed. The sky darkened. I noticed a grumpy look on Wayne’s face as he brought his snack into the den – a gargantuan orange. I offered a muffin for the final time and he just ignored me.

And yet. Not 10 minutes ago, after we’d packed ourselves up to go to bed, I made an unplanned detour through the kitchen to find my notebook and I stumbled upon this (warning to Raisin Haters: what you are about to see will destabilize you). I grabbed my camera and screamed to Gene.

Caught, bastardo! Eating my texturally inferior raisin bran-muffin and loving it so freaking badly that there was raisin shrapnel everywhere. Picked out and spat out, but still – plowing through that muffin like a starved POW. How’s that for a compliment.

“I need to see the baby,” my sister opined.

“You have to book me, Janstein,” I told her. “I’m busy every day this week. The people book me.”

So she said, “Dinner. Tomorrow night,” and I was on the bus. A home-cooked meal that you didn’t have to cook yourself is heaven. Sometimes, the quintessence of supper is other people.

I have never been sorrier not to have my camera at a meal with me. Bright yellow Formica tabletop, white wine in short glasses with birds of the forest on them, three delicious children animated by energetic dramaturgy, roasted asparagus, a big bowl of pasta con vongole, breaded fish from the churrasqueira at the bottom of the street, and an old-school salad to follow – romaine, cuke, celery, carrot. No goddamn frippery. Perfection!

Dessert was leftover chelsea buns from Easter brunch, made by my niece and my mother, chocolate ice cream, decaf espresso.

It was a great simple supper, a good reminder for me that entertaining is an adjective as well as a verb – that’s it’s easy and doesn’t take elaborate preparation (says the party who did nothing. But you know what I mean). It came together fast and there was nothing out of the ordinary about it and yet I’ll always remember it: the skinniest, daintiest carrot sticks my sister sliced for my ten-year-old niece, propped up in a pretty cup to be appealing, the salt pinched from a little green glass dish, the silver candlesticks Janstein set out, commenting that one had once been used to knock someone over the head with (it was quite bent). That my audacious brother-in-law could tell me (after an aquafit story) that the last thing I look like is a professional swimmer – and evoke no significant fallout. (None. How is it that even possible?). Taking everyone exactly as they are and eating it up.

Coming up next: I’m delighted to announce that my mum-in-law will be on our doorstep in the morning, all the way from South Branch, Newfoundland. This is a woman who can cook for a crowd. She doesn’t bat an eye at feeding 100-plus people at the South Branch Social Club (tends a pretty mean bar, too). She feeds us like kings every Christmas, so there will be serious action in my kitchen over the next few weeks in order to reciprocate. I’ll be trying to impress her with my Italian chops while she holds/chases the baby, and I hope to talk her into teaching us her secret to the world’s best fishcakes. Stay tuned.

Dear reader: The vegetable bolognese I left you with was the height of my cooking escapades last month. It was mostly takeout and Oetker’s frozen pizza in the distracted weeks following my canning and leading up to a seven-day all-inclusive all-you-can-eat-a-thon in Puerto Aventuras, Mexico, from which we just returned.

Before our departure, we weren’t in a good place, food wise. We had skipped our spring cleanse. We were not in control. As Wayne puts it, looking back, we were on a slippery slope that was leading us dangerously into Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas territory, but the drugs were fat, salt and sugar.

So, what happens when you take a woman on this path –  a woman who never feels full – to the land of All You Can Eat?

I’ll tell you what happens.

Chilaquiles happen. At every opportunity possible.

Here they are (top centre) on my breakfast dish:

You can barely make them out, because I was forced to use Wayne’s nauseatingly idiosyncratic camera while I was away, as mine is still on the fritz from baby-spit damage.

But the chilaquiles – dense little triangles of corn tortilla that are perfectly softened after getting baked in a red (sometimes green) sauce and sprinkled in queso fresco. It’s amazing how smug you can be when you’re piling fried things onto your giant plate at the breakfast buffet: “Take that, Guys in the Hash Brown Line with your bacon and your ketchup. I’m eating Mexican. I’m eating chilaquiles.” Ever so many chilaquiles.

The buffet at our massive but beautiful resort was miles long. The food was very good. We ate three plates full at every meal, three meals a day for the first few days.

Wayne was the first to fall, into a pit of wicked heartburn on day three. Lightweight. Granted, it first came on at 35 feet below the surface of the ocean on a scuba dive. (“It felt like I was going to throw up into my breathing apparatus,” he told me.) We sought out little pink Pepto-Bismol tablets for him in the gift shop back at the hotel. Wayne says they were basically the modern pill form of the Roman Vomitorium. Full? Take one and keep on eating!

Still, he made a disciplined move: He downgraded to the dessert-sized plate at the buffet, much smaller than a sandwich plate, and effectively cut his food intake on our holiday down by a sixth.

I carried on heartily, with eggs covered in salsa fresca; french toast with not-quite-maple syrup; little tostadas stuffed with cheese and whatever tasty meat appeared under it; churros stacked with black beans and spicy sausagey something, melted cheese, cilantro and onion; piles of super-sweet cantaloupe and watermelon; bowls of Mayan hot chocolate; little sweets – just one, or two – like small round white  sugar cookies or a tiny pain au chocolat to finish things off with my decaf con leche.

And that was just breakfast.

For lunch, there were mountains of shrimp quesadillas (that everyone seemed to be passing up to get into the hamburger line. Why!). There were always delicious fried bits of grouper (a fish I have long disparaged till this trip, upon which I found it to be more delicate than sole. Where the heck was my leaden grouper coming from all these years?). And cheesy, creamy tortellini, and sweet jicama salad sprinkled with spicy chili powder. And all kinds of great salads made from cactus (nopal), which is apparently “good for man” and very much loved by Wayne.

By supper on day five, I felt a strange sensation – fullness? I downgraded to the Wayne plate. It was time.

No matter the size of your plate, the funny thing about the buffet is always the final plateful of food you eat – ostensibly the dessert course, but 95 percent of the time it is sneakily half-loaded with whatever was best, or whatever you told yourself nobly that you’d pass on. (Ha.) Take one peek at anyone’s final plate and it’s a dainty piece of blueberry cheesecake with half a bacon-wrapped wiener on the side. And six battered potato nuggets. Last kick at the can till the next meal.

To wit – and at the risk of putting you off food forever – here’s a look at one of Wayne’s final plates. And this was at breakfast:

“Pasta paella,” a weird leftover-salmon vol-au-vent that he stuffed with capers from another dish, two kinds of grouper, a big ol’ slab of guacamole, and a pickle. There were deep-fried, sugar-coated Mexican doughnuts for dessert.

With meals like this, there was no snacking, unless you count the liquids. Mango margaritas in particular – olé!

What Wayne lost in plate size he more than made up for in mug size. The special mug below, purchased for him by our beloved hosts, The Lobster Guy and Ms. Eden West, depicts some great foreshadowing – the lizard god holding a head in his fist, which Wayne soon found out, the morning of Hangover Number One, was his own.

It was the supper we shared on the final night of the trip that nearly killed us. Our entourage of 12 had reservations at the open-air seafood restaurant, down by the beach. The salad bar teemed with crab claws, the kind of food that happily connects you to your most savage instincts:

The entrées were too hard to choose between, so Wayne and I did my favourite thing. We split the lobster tail in garlic butter

and the grilled shrimp, which were sweet, fat and fantastically blackened:

For dessert, we also split two choices: “chocolate soufflé,” which was so totally not soufflé (it was actually a chocolate lava cake – but who’s complaining):

and a tiny little nub of chocolate cheesecake:

They were dense but small. They weren’t even too sweet. There were little M’s on the plate and everything! But we could not take them down. Couldn’t finish. First time in my life I’ve ever not finished my dessert. Wayne says it’s because our reserves maxed out. The tanks were freaking full.

I stuffed in one more painful bite and the baby started bawling. Even he knew it was time to lope off to bed, then get the hell out of Dante’s third circle before one of us exploded.

In the morning, we flew home. My travel pants were definitely tighter. When we emerged through the doors at Pearson and hit the city air, it was 20 degrees. Salad weather. Gracias a dios.

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Words of Wayne

Look at what Wayne discovered on his breakfast plate (medium: banana string). It's the Playboy Banana. I ask you, Dr. Freud: How does he find this stuff? If he could have, he would have put it in his cherished Food Oddities mug, along with the treble-clef pretzel and the Bill Clinton potato chip.

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