Kitchen Chronicles is a weekly series by Barbara Sibbald, a novelist and award-winning journalist and long-time contributor to Ottawa Magazine. Visit Kitchen Chronicles every Sunday for a new instalment — and a tested recipe.
Fiona watches Don’s sloping shoulders go down the deck stairs and out the back gate. Weight of the world, she thinks. Poor man. It makes her remember how her mother acted after her dad left. After a month or so, she’d turned all bitter and nasty, but at first she was genuinely confused, and so vulnerable. I wish I’d been able to help her more, thinks Fiona. Then again, I was only seventeen. She shouldn’t have depended on me so much.
— That was harsh, saying his wife may have been cheating, says Fiona.
— Better he should face up to it and get on with his life. It’s weird, him coming over here and then crying. Pathetic, really. I mean we’re practically strangers. Doesn’t he have anyone he can talk to?
— Maybe not. I think it just sort of happened. I’m sure he was embarrassed too. That’s why he left so quickly. Poor man. He seems devastated.
— Tough time for him, concedes Luc.
— I’m glad he came over. Even if he didn’t mean to tell us. He took a risk and opened up to us. That always brings people closer.
— If you have something to build on, says Luc.
— Well, I do have something to build on with him, says Fiona. So, do you really think she was having an affair?
— I’ve never met the woman, and I’ve never seen them together, but, yeah, I do think she was fooling around.
— Yeah, that’s the first thought I had when he told us the story.
Luc kisses her on the nose.
— I knew it. You just couldn’t say it!
— Good thing I have you to keep me honest, she says, smiling at him.
— I’m going to start the Anna*, he says.
He takes a couple of sweet potatoes out of the fridge and begins peeling.
— It seems so obvious, continues Fiona. I mean why did she leave so suddenly? After a dozen years she just ups and leaves one day? That’s strange. You’d think she’d want to talk it over, maybe go to counselling. She’s obviously good at keeping secrets. How else could someone pack up all their clothes and stuff without their partner even noticing.
— Maybe he’s just really unobservant, says Luc.
Luc pauses in his peeling and turns to face her.
— Fee, he says, there’s something I have to tell you.
— Oh, Luc!
A pain spreads across her chest.
— Oh, it’s nothing to do with me, with us. Sorry, he says, patting her hand. No, it’s about Georges. And Anne.
— Thank goodness, she says, slumping down into a chair. Well, maybe not so good for them. What’s going on?
— I wasn’t going to tell you. Georges asked me not to tell anyone and I know you’re fond of Anne, so I didn’t want to make it hard for you, but …
— I guess it’s only fair that you know, since I know. But if I tell you, you have to promise absolutely not to tell Anne.
— He’s having an affair, isn’t he? she says.
— You can’t tell Anne, he warns.
— How can I not tell her? She’s my friend!
— Fiona! Georges is my oldest friend. We may be hyper competitive and argue a lot, but we’re close. I only told you because you and I have always been honest with each other.
— But you didn’t tell me, I guessed.
— You only guessed because of the context, he says.
— Well, you shouldn’t have brought it up at all, or you should have brought it up at a different time so I wouldn’t have guessed.
— So you’re going to tell her? he asks. You’ll destroy my friendship with Georges. My oldest friend, since kindergarten.
— Oh sure, it’s all my fault. What am I supposed to do? I mean put yourself in my shoes. Let’s say I knew that Anne was having an affair and I inadvertently told you. Wouldn’t you tell Georges?
He shakes his head from side to side.
— No way. I have a different take on these things, he says. My first responsibility is to you. If it would make you unhappy in some way, I wouldn’t tell.
Every so often he says something that melts her like a Popsicle in a heat wave.
— That’s sweet, she says, despite herself.
— It’s just the way I see it. And besides, who knows what will happen with Georges. Maybe he’ll break it off tomorrow. Maybe he’ll tell Anne. It’s not our place to meddle.
Fiona puts her hands over her ears.
— I don’t want any details, please! she says. It’s tough enough just knowing. I mean, how can I face her when she confides in me, whining that Georges seems inattentive or that he’s working too many hours? Or even that she suspects he’s having an affair? What do I say then?
— You lie, says Luc. You lie because you love me.
— That’s emotional blackmail! I love you so I deceive one of my closest friends!
— It’s not emotional blackmail, he says calmly. It’s being true to me. To us. There are things inside a marriage that no one else knows. Like you liking to be spanked sometimes. I would never tell anyone that.
— Luc! You’re a bad boy! she says with a big smile.
— And I’d call you a bad girl, he says, but you might want the follow through.
— Well, anyway, that’s different, she says. That doesn’t hurt anyone, it’s play acting. But this, this affair, it could do huge damage to Anne.
— Yeah, and if you tell, it could end their marriage. And my friendship. I can’t tell you what to do, Fee. I can only tell you what the result might be.
— Why did you tell me in the first place, Luc?
— I didn’t.
— But you were going to.
— I don’t like keeping secrets from you.
— And I don’t like keeping secrets from my friends. What a mess! Why did Georges tell you? she asks.
— Let me finish making these potatoes and I’ll tell you.
*Sweet Potatoes Anna
Serves 6-8 as a side dish
5 medium-sized sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/8-inch rounds
2 slender leeks, white part only, washed and sliced lengthwise, then into thin slices
5 tablespoons butter, melted, plus butter for greasing the pan
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
- Preheat oven to 375 °F.
- Butter a shallow round 10-inch baking dish (your quiche pan works well).
- Arrange a layer of potato slices in the pan in overlapping circles. Brush with a third of the melted butter. Top with half the leeks and half the thyme. Season with salt and pepper.
- Repeat with another layer of potatoes, butter and the rest of the leeks and thyme. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Top with final layer of potatoes and butter.
- Cover with foil and place a heavy skillet on top to compress potatoes.
- Bake for 30 minutes.
- Remove skillet and foil, and continue baking for 30 minutes until the potatoes are very soft.
- Cool for 15 minutes before serving.