We had an amazing dinner/evening with friends on Saturday night. It took nearly 10 years of living in North Carolina before we met friends we really connect with as a couple--and as a family. I have many good friends I connect with just wonderfully on my own, and I wouldn't trade them for the world, but I think you know how rare and fulfilling it is to find those couple friends--you're good friends with the wife, your husband is good buddies with her husband, and your kids actually get along and play together--if not perfectly every time--perfectly enough.
My friend also gets L.--in the ways that count. Knowing his issues with food, and his love for all things lo mein, she planned a dinner that was truly custom made for him, but that was also a great dinner idea for any get together involving kids: a fix-your-own vegetable lo mein bar. She cooked up pans of cabbage and fresh basil and sprouts and set up two large serving bowls of cooked lo mein noodles. She also had small bowls filled with all those lo mein staples: mini corns, water chesnuts, fresh sprouts, and more just-picked basil from her garden. Bottles of soy sauce and spicy chili sauce lined the counter and she poured cans of lychee fruit into a large pyrex lined with ice cubes for a refreshing accompaniment to the meal (very welcome if you doused your noodles with too much red chili sauce). The kids each started with a bowl of noodles, and then "built" their lo mein just the way they liked it. For the first time in I don't know how long, L. not only sat at the dinner table with everyone else but he ate a large bowl of lo mein, washed it down with root beer and declared it "the best dinner ever." She sent us home with a large ziploc bag filled with cooked noodles, and he polished off two more bowls for lunch yesterday.
We cook lo mein an awful lot around our house, but I love the idea of a lo mein bar--especially for the next time we have friends with kids over for dinner. I think, too, that it might be a good way to serve up our own family lo mein the next time--giving both kids the chance to custom-make their lo mein bowls just the way they like.
Long after we got back home again, and the kids were finally to bed, I savored the glow of that Saturday dinner--not just because the food was so tasty and filled with the vibrant flavors I love (garlic, basil, soy sauce, crisp sprouts) but because we'd shared it with our friends--L., too. WIthout meaning to--or maybe they had meant it--our friends gave us a gift far greater than just a good evening with good friends (although that's a gift to treasure, too)--they gave L. a chance to connect over a meal, they gave him a place at their table.