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Verses from my Kitchen: My Friend Greg and a Pear & Watercress Soup

June 25, 2011

My Friend Greg and a Pear & Watercress Soup

His name is Greg. His closest friends call him Gerge. I do. He stepped into my life back in 92' when we met at an Italian Gelato shop and he wouldn't shut the fuck up. I love that about him. He has a voice and he was the first person, man or woman, that talked more than I did. I sat there, glued to my seat and mouth taped shut, partially unnerved at his ability to steer and control the conversation but mainly in awe. Mostly in awe. This guy was me. Only better.

I moved to Kingston from Toronto to attend University. I didn't know a soul in that small beautiful city by the lake with memories engraved on every corner. I had an old friend tell me to look for a man who coached the college tennis team. It was on those hard courts painted red and green with stripes of white that I first met Peter. It was through Peter that I first met Greg.

Those were scary days back then and on my own and I was looking for a place to rent and Peter had told me about both David and Greg. I called Greg up and talked on the phone and we met for gelato where we got to know each other. It was like a date, only it wasn't. We found a place that a friend of a friend was renovating and renting and it was perfect. We moved in together and now have life long stories from those times.  Late nights, even later nights, study sessions and spontaneous trips together just to get away.

We shared accommodations for a few years and our friendship grew during those times. He was like the brother I never had. The first Mother's Day as housemates we decided to invite our three moms over and I made the food. Greg always liked my food so it was as much his suggestions as it was mine. I can still see the six of us tightly roped around that small square table we called our dining room table. The first of an album full of times like that.

It was my first place on my own, away from my parents. We still have a million stolen moments from those days, our first days. Like Greg dropping off his laundry at the local wash n' fold. The guy asked for his name and he said Greg. Let's just say after numerous attempts to correct the man's spelling, he walked away a new man. He walked away as Gerge.

When he came to pick it up later in the night a woman was working there. "Hi, I'm here to pick up some laundry," he said. "No problem, what's the name?" "Greg," he responded. "Um. I don't see a Greg here." He jumped in, "Try Gerge." "Yup, got it!" And so it came to be.
I left school a couple of years later and headed back to the city I grew up in, Toronto, to find work. Greg wasn't too far behind. He moved a few minutes and blocks away from where I lived. We'd meet up often during those times, his first in a new city, a bigger city. I showed him around, but often it was him showing me around or showing my something. Teaching me something.

When the work week ended and turned to freedom, Greg would invite me over. He would ask what I wanted for dinner and pick up the ingredients at the market down the street from his house. I would show up and turn those ingredients into Friday night dinner while he poured us drinks. We ate and drank and celebrated adulthood in the big city and shared meals almost every week.

He always loved the food but it was the company that mattered most. It did to me. We would laugh at some of the trouble we got into when we were naive and young and then head out on the town to follow those same steps we took years before.

We both followed a similar path through our lives, long after those university days had passed. A couple of years after that move, Greg called me to tell me he was dating a girl, Amanda, and wanted me to meet them at a pub downtown. I remember walking through the doors and finding them in the back part of the pub, hidden behind the bar. I pulled out a seat and sat across the table from him and his future wife. I knew it then. I saw it on her face. I read it on his.

They got married a couple of summers ago. A beautiful wedding, fitting for such a beautiful couple. Wendy and I fought back tears at the vows and listened to old memories brought back to life during the speeches. We moved downstairs afterwards into the bar area of the country club and watched the two of them move as one during their first dance. I saw that dance play out back on that first meeting. I really did. As the night came to a close there were just a few of us left, the married couple and his closest friends. Fitting.


He was now on his way, in great hands with an incredible woman. He was in the best place of his life. A great wife, job and new home. A big bright future. And then the call came. It shook me initially until his voice sounded reassuring and confident, if not worried. Greg had pancreatic cancer. He had a disease I would strangle with my own hands if I was capable of it.

Don't be sad. I'm not because he's not. He went from one of my best friends to one of the inspirations in my life. His optimism is contagious. His fight is inspirational and his strength is really a beautiful thing. I wish you could see it. He has a zest for life most men not in his circumstance take for granted and whittle away. Piss away. Not him though.

Greg sends out updates every month or so about his progress. He talks about his doctor's thoughts and plans on proceeding and he openly discusses his medication and future. In every email I see words scattered about like hope and life and love. Those words never actually appear there, but I see them. I feel them.

I can feel that joy of life in his words, as if he's speaking to me from across a table. I can sense it. And every time I get a new email I read it by myself and wish I could read the words 'cure' or 'never again' boldy and proudly displayed. They aren't there. Yet.

I know Greg would love this soup, this Pear & Watercress Soup. Next time we see each other and he's between therapies and feeling better, I'm making this for him. And I hope we laugh. I hope it never stops. Ever.

Long ago when I first met Greg and we sat in that gelato shop I knew what I know now. He's an incredible man. He's a devoted man. He's a man with a love for life. And I look at him in awe. From cities and miles away. This guy isn't me. He's better. Way fucking better.

Pear & Watercress Soup

The Goods:

1 small baguette1 baguette, sliced on the bias
2 tbsp olive oil
3 large ripe pears, cored, peeled and sliced
1 tbsp butter
3 large shallots, peeled and sliced
2 cups potatoes, roughly 1 large
4 cups chicken broth
2 bunches watercress, about 3 cups
1 cup heavy cream, divided
Sea Salt
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Diagonally cut six 1/2-inch-thick slices of baguette for thin croutons. Brush top side of slices with olive oil and place on a baking tray. Bake for 6 minutes or until toasty and browned.

2 Meanwhile, peel and core and slice pears. You should have 3 1/2 to 4 cups. Heat butter in a large saucepan over medium heat until bubbly and browning. Add the shallots and cook 5 minutes or until soft. Add potatoes and pears and then pour in broth.

3 Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 25 minutes. Set aside 6 to 8 watercress sprigs for the garnish and add remaining watercress to the soup. Heat over medium heat for 5 minutes or until hot. Purée the soup in batches in a blender until smooth.

5 Return soup to the saucepan and stir in 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Heat until hot. Season to taste.
6 Top each crouton with goat cheese. Ladle soup into six bowls and drizzle remaining heavy cream around soup edges. Place a crouton in the middle and garnish with extra crumbles of goat cheese and a watercress sprig. Serves 6.


At June 25, 2011 at 12:33 PM , Anonymous Alan Cooke said...

That's a wonderful tribute Mike. My dad (also best friend) battled cancer over 20 years and never complained once despite radiation, chemo, sugeries, etc. I too, wish I could strangle that disease barehanded. You both sound like great guys are blessed to have each other as friend!

At June 25, 2011 at 6:34 PM , Blogger The Bird Cage said...

Thank you for sharing such an increadible and deeply personal story. I loved it. I also went to Queen's. My best friend is also called Greg. I will make this soup.

At June 25, 2011 at 6:49 PM , Anonymous Ken│hungry rabbit said...

A great story about friendship. I can sense your warmth (or you call in awe) as you described Greg's love for life. Even though we've never met, I am lucky enough to cross path with you. Hope we get the chance to meet in person ... my friend.

At June 25, 2011 at 7:07 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

What a great story. You are so blessed to meet such a wonderful person, sometimes these darn diseases come to those we love most but there is always hope and love really works wonders. Keep sharing those wonderful moments with your friend Greg and his family~

At June 25, 2011 at 7:17 PM , Anonymous SMITH BITES said...

at this very moment, i am so grateful you have this blog and we are friends via twitter . . . you are an amazing friend and i know Greg feels the same way. your story makes him 'real' to me and i will be sending positive thoughts/energy/prayers up on his behalf . . . i have no answers as to 'why'- i only know how to stand in the midst of the awful unanswered questions. standing in the gap for both of you my friend.

At June 25, 2011 at 7:23 PM , Anonymous Lana said...

I don't know your Gerge, but you have me in tears. Good luck to your friend - I wish him to soar above all the obstacles and emerge victorious. You are lucky to have a friend like that, but I gather that you are a wonderful soul who attracts wonderful people. I am so glad to meet you, even though only virtually.
I appreciate a lot the power of the written word, and your writing is beautiful:)

At June 25, 2011 at 8:07 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

what an amazing post! your words are beautiful and so is your friendship with Greg! This is such and inspirational story! I wish only the best for you guys!

Your soup is amazing as well!

At June 25, 2011 at 10:20 PM , Anonymous Isabelle @ Crumb said...

Cancer sucks. I've been lucky enough to see some of my friends kick its ass over the years, but unfortunately, it's also taken its fair share of wonderful people along the way.
I've got my fingers crossed for Gerge. My best friend's father has been battling pancreatic cancer for two years now... each day he's still with us is a small victory, but unfortunately, there's a long way to go before the war is won.
Hugs to the both of you.

At June 25, 2011 at 11:04 PM , Blogger Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

When I first read this I did as many might and leave without a comment. Although this letter to your friend Greg and the heartfelt sentiment touched me to the core I did not comment. Even now what do you say when touched by such emotion. Greg is a person we have now all been lucky to "meet" even for a nanno second.

At June 25, 2011 at 11:53 PM , Blogger chow and chatter said...

wow what an amazing and heart warming post he would be so touched to read it and also enjoy this awesome bowl of soup your a fab writer by the way


At June 26, 2011 at 2:04 AM , Blogger Maria said...

Lovely story and a lovely soup!

At June 26, 2011 at 2:29 AM , Blogger Jessica said...

Thank you for sharing the story. I always feel that a certain dish is at its best when there is inspiration and a story behind it. Your soup looks incredible and I'm sure he would love it!

At June 26, 2011 at 2:52 AM , Anonymous Kulsum@JourneyKitchen said...

Wow. Thanks for sharing this story of your friendship. It truly touching and I can see the strength you are talking about. I think both you friends are incredible and so is this soup.

At June 26, 2011 at 5:09 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

A beautiful story about friendship. I hope Gerge is in a good place.
A very hearty looking soup.

At June 26, 2011 at 7:12 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yet another beautifully written story, Mike. "Gerge" is a blessed man for having you as a friend...and I'm quite sure that you feel the same.
Your words and artistry (with pen AND food) inspire me to be the best "me" I can be. From the bottom of my heart, thank you!

At June 26, 2011 at 10:49 AM , Anonymous MikeVFMK said...

Thank you for all the wonderful comments! I talked to Greg yesterday. He appreciates all of them!

At June 26, 2011 at 10:51 AM , Blogger Peggy said...

This post really brought tears to my eyes. But it's extremely inspirational - and I know Greg/Gerge would love this soup =)

At June 26, 2011 at 11:07 AM , Blogger Cookin' Canuck said...

You brought tears to my eyes, Mike. I have a couple of "Greg"s in my life - friendships that are so deep that you never have to explain anything to each other, people you consider family even though you don't share the same blood. This is a wonderful tribute to a friend who obviously has a zest for life. And how could he not love this beautiful soup?

At June 26, 2011 at 11:16 AM , Blogger Baker Street said...

I really hope Gerge gets better. Will surely pray for him.

Love the way you've described your days together. The way you grew up together.

You're a good friend MIke and gerge will surely love this soup.

At June 26, 2011 at 12:56 PM , Anonymous Amy Lucille said...

Such a lovely story about friendship and food. Thanks so much for sharing this.

At June 26, 2011 at 5:57 PM , Blogger Sippity Sup said...

If words can heal (and I believe they can) I have high hopes for your friend. GREG

At June 26, 2011 at 9:18 PM , Blogger All That's Left Are The Crumbs said...

This really is such a touching tribute to a wonderful friend. I wish him all the best as he fights this battle.

At June 26, 2011 at 10:25 PM , Blogger Kristen - Dine & Dish said...

I lost a dear friend of mine to cancer this past July and watching her fight for 10 years was so hard, but it was during that time that I realized how much strength and courage and just overall awesomeness she had.
This tribute to Greg brought me to tears. As you know, we're dealing with something similar right now and it just causes me so much angst that our friends and family have to be going through this.
Blessings to your friend and your friendship.

At June 26, 2011 at 10:52 PM , Anonymous Marla said...

Mike, I needed to read this tonight. Sometimes my haste gets the best of me & it happened today. Thank you for the reminder to appreciate each and every minute of a truly uncomplicated life. You are an excellent friend to Greg & I am sure a great pillar of support.
This soup could put a smile on anyones face. Beautiful!

At June 27, 2011 at 7:59 AM , Blogger Meeta K. Wolff said...

A lovely story Mike and wonderfully written. I was hooked from the first sentence. The soup is as enticing as your words!

At June 27, 2011 at 10:33 AM , Blogger Maria said...

What a touching post, thank you for sharing. Love the soup and photos as well.

At June 27, 2011 at 10:38 AM , Blogger La Cuisine d'Helene said...

A story like this one would brighten anyone's day. It's inspirational and deep down you can feel what is so strong between the two of you. Cherish this friendship. What a beautiful soup!

At June 27, 2011 at 2:30 PM , Anonymous Cristina said...

I believe this is my first visit to your blog...I'm hooked! What a beautiful post about your friendship with Greg - my thoughts are with your friend.

Food is so integral in memories, when planning, preparing and sharing - it takes us back to those we have shared it with and those that we want to.

Your soup sounds delicious, love all the ingredients in it but must admit wouldn't have ever thought of trying the combination - I must now. Really like your presentation style.

At June 27, 2011 at 4:58 PM , Anonymous Alicia Sokol (Weekly Greens) said...

Wow, Mike. Beautiful story and beautiful soup. So touching. My heart goes out to Gerge and his family. Thanks for sharing such a personal story. Cancer stinks.

At June 27, 2011 at 5:12 PM , Anonymous Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table said...

You are a beautiful writer. This story took my breath. My dad passed away 3 years ago after a 4.5 year struggle with cancer.

One of the things we learned during his treatment was that watercress is cancer-fighter and preventer due to it's high levels of phytochemicals (isothiocyanates - also found in broccoli and cabbage). My dad's Dr. is trying to develop a pill form!

All of that to say, your soup is an especially fitting meal for your friend. He will be in my thoughts.

At June 28, 2011 at 6:43 AM , Anonymous Shirleen {Sugar & Spice) said...

I came across your blog via foodgawker, and came to this very touching post. What a friend you have in Greg and vice versa. I hope that Greg wins his fight with this horrid disease.

On another note - it's winter on this side of the hemisphere, so your pear and watercress soup would go down particularly well in these colder days! If I can get my hands on some watercress, this soup will be on the dinner menu this weekend. :)

At June 29, 2011 at 10:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love this soup idea! I am a big soup fan, and summer time can be a hard season for soup lovers. Pictures look amazing!

At June 29, 2011 at 12:41 PM , Blogger Taste Melanger said...

First time to your blog and loved your way of writing, of storytelling and lovely pictures too. Want to read each one of them!!

At June 30, 2011 at 1:00 PM , Anonymous Heather @ Sweet Sins said...

Wonderful story. I touched my heart and made me happy to hear the hope he has and the love you have for him! This soup looks incredible!


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