Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Phyllo Dough Friends

Sometimes the oddest things collide in my mind.

DS#1 is in his room packing for his Journey (see my previous post) and I am awaiting his company to do a little errand-running, so I've been reading blogs and, from Kathy and Seashell's wonderful blog I moseyed my way over to a few cooking and recipe blogs.  (Yum!

With all that delicious, beautiful food flashing by me on the screen, I found myself suddenly thinking about my BFF with whom I'd had a nice catch-up chat (she'd been away on vacation) earlier.  And it occurred to me that food permeates our friendship in so many ways.

There's the literal and obvious, of course:  We eat together, a lot.  We TJ Maxx together and then ritually have lunch at La Madeleine.  (Sampler trio plate please -- chicken salad, spinach salad with strawberries (hold the mushrooms, extra bacon), strawberries Romanoff -- because who can have too many strawberries?)  She is an Olympic-gold-medal-caliber TJ Maxx shopper and my skill is, well, at T-ball level, so she leads me expertly around the store and I follow like a happy, clueless sheep.  If we're not "Teejing", we often meet at her house or my house for a bite, or we wake each other up with an early morning phonefest while we eat our yogurt with walnuts and fruit and plan our days.  We get our nails done together and sometimes afterwards we duck-walk, our toes separated awkwardly by rolled-up toilet tissue, to Starbucks for coffee and "a little something."

Our husbands are also great friends with each other, and hers (we call him "Chef") is a very accomplished cook (mine:  God love him, "rambled eggs" is his big dish), so our evenings together as couples often involve cooking and recipe-swapping.  In June, our families spent a wonderful week renting a beach house together -- the kind of trip that can make or break a couples' friendship -- and several times Chef made amazing dinners for the whole house, including our kids' college pals who'd materialized "for a coupla days".  (Observational analogy:  Free beach house accommodations are to college kids as movie theater popcorn is to me. :-))

A little less obvious are the food metaphors that capture so much that's essential about our BFF bond.  First, there's the onion.  This is, I think, a nearly universally-applicable and simple but accurate image of the way that women make friends with each other: we peel back the onion skin layers.  When we meet we start out exchanging superficial information.  If and only if we're interested in getting to know each other better (and we all know, don't we, that feeling you get when you're interested but the other gal isn't, or vice versa), we execute a delicate and precise dance with each other so that we're swapping increasingly personal stuff of roughly equivalent weight and value.  You show me yours, I'll show you mine.  There's always a little pause, isn't there, after a satisfyingly quid-pro-quo exchange.  Each of us digests the fact that we've shared more of ourselves and processes what we've learned about our friend.  We shift in our friendship chairs a little bit as each of us adjusts to a slightly deeper level of intimacy in the relationship.  There's risk involved at every step in this dance, this revealing.  But what better feeling is there in a friendship than those moments when you've shown your underbelly, your closet skeletons, your deepest darkest, and you know that your friend understands and loves you anyhow -- or loves you more?

I don't think most men do this.  I can tell you mine doesn't -- and doesn't remotely understand why I feel sorry that he doesn't share this type of friendship with any of his guy pals.  And he does have real pals, guys he's been trusting friends with for years.  These friendships are nourishing to him, I know.  But ask him anything about his pals' inner lives and he has no answers.

I can also tell you for a fact that my sweet DH would be dumbfounded to know even the general subject matters that I freely discuss with my BFF.  She and I have spent several years peeling back the onion, until now we are fully exposed to each other as human beings.  She knows enough about me to get me in deep doo-doo, but I could pull her into the poop pit with me in a New York minute, knowing what I know.  The process of getting to this innermost place with a friend is a little scary, for sure.  How gloriously freeing it is, though, to know that this dear woman is well aware of even the most vulnerable pieces of me that I don't allow many others to see, but never judges me, delights in being with me, celebrates me and loves and supports me unconditionally.  I could call her and said "Hey, it's me, I gotta have a body bag, do you know where we could get one??"  I know her.  She'd say "F**k." (Her favorite expletive.) She'd pause for a moment and I know I'd feel her thinking furiously.  Then she'd say "Okay.  Here's what we're gonna do......"  Now THAT'S a pal.  (Or, as we often say to each other, a sister from another mother!)

Which brings me (trust me, you'll see) to the other food metaphor, one that will require a little explaining:  Phyllo dough.

I'm a good cook and baker, pretty confident in my fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants recipe-altering skills and reasonably accomplished in my technical skills.  But there are certain ingredients that are still intimidating to me after my 30-some-odd years in the kitchen, and phyllo dough's one of them.  Many years ago while I was pregnant with my younger son I was working with a wonderful older (than me) Greek woman named Cleo who decided it was her mission to feed me properly while I was expecting.  Naturally, Cleo's specialties were the classic Greek foods that melt in your mouth, like moussaka (a nutmeg-fragrant sort of lamb lasagna), avgolemeno (lemon-egg soup), spanakopita (spinach-filled phyllo pastries) and baklava (nut and honey-filled phyllo pastries).  With each lovingly-wrapped tray of luscious goodies or Thermos of warm, silky soup, Cleo would bring me a recipe card.  She'd read it to me, interjecting all kinds of "extra" instructions that rounded out the simple how-to's on the card.

For baking with phyllo dough, she said this, and I've never forgotten it:  "Handle it like you will handle this baby."  By that, she explained, she meant that I should handle each tissue-thin, delicate piece gently, with care, keeping it covered, moist and free of drafty air that would make it dry out.  It would only required a short cooking time, she said, so she cautioned me to keep a watchful eye on it because if neglected it could be ruined quickly.

"Really small world" side note:  Fast-forward 15 years.  Cleo's grandson ended up being a high school classmate and very close friend of my younger son.  How crazy is that??  She is in her 80's now, a little frail but still beautiful and delighted beyond words to know my son.  Her grandson and my son call her "YaYa Cleo."  What a blessing!

I've made Cleo's phyllo-dough-intense recipes from time to time, and they're intimidating because she was so right about this fantastic ingredient.  If I do not treat it with the requisite steps and care --- which isn't hard, but requires a bit of planning and focus --- then my kitchen time is ill-spent and my meal's ruined.  When I follow Cleo's admonition and treat that dough like I handled my own precious babies, the reward is food that's like the proverbial nectar of the Greek gods.

And so, to my point about my BFF:  She is my phyllo dough friend.  (PDF? Phyllo dough phriend? )  I love this gal fiercely.  She deserves to be handled with the same gentle, loving, attentive care that I gave my babies, and that Cleo taught me to give to my phyllo dough. And although that's the right thing to do, it's not a selfless commitment.  If I treat her right, I know our friendship will be continue to be one of the most spectacularly delicious and beautiful creations that I've ever had a hand in cooking.  Yum.

If you have a phyllo dough friend, go give her a call, and just tell her, "Hey, I want you to know, if you ever need to find a body bag, just call me no questions asked....."


  1. Your post make me smile and almost cry at the same time. Although you know with my BFF we have rather men-type friendship but the body bag rule still applies.

  2. I heart your blog so much! Spot on about female friendships. My husband's friendships (and even relationship with his brother) are very much like your husband's.

  3. I love reading your posts....what a beautiful reminder to all of us to cherish our friendships.

  4. Hello hello.
    Philo-effin--phriend here!
    Not in a poetic place, i can't respond in kind at the moment.
    But to say i'm touched, moved even, would be a rhetorical understatement.
    While my TJMaxxing is superior to hers,and while i do always listen in an engaged manner, her strengths are pretty damn substantial!
    Case in point: i'm a big baby about the doctor--amongst other things.
    When she learned that i had put off a follow-up visit to the eye doc after he saw some ambiguous problem with my retina, she not only suggested i call and make a follow-up appointment, she stayed on the line while i called from my cell phone.
    Then when i had to see a retina specialist, she not only accompanied me, but she picked me up and delivered me there--despite her coming down with what i suspected (correctly) to be a doozey of a sinus infection/virus.
    I was at that doc's office forever as he had an emergency while i was waiting. I was going crazy by then because he'd just taken photos of my retina, and the results would determine whether or not he was going to need to insert dye in me and trace it around my eye--a procedure that's known to be less than pleasant (another understatement).
    He takes the photos and says he'll be right back.
    An hour and a half I sat there letting my anxiety build.
    Meanwhile, my husband had arrived and was sitting with me, and where, you might be wondering. was my trusty sidekick?
    Still patiently sitting with the same effin magazine, head stuffed and yet refusing to desert her post.
    Except for a few equally bored fish, she sat alone, just in case the results were as feared and i might be in need of her moral support.
    Knowing she was there-for-me there for me, made not only all the difference, but a memory that i'm pretty certain i'll be holding on to for years and years.
    someday i'll have a granddaughter on my knee, and i'll be explaining to her what friendship is by way of this example.
    This episode occurred within the past month.
    I could travel further into historical time and substantiate my point, but as this is a recent occurrence, i'm confident that you must be gleaning my sentiment.

    And as a trusted BFF is there when the going gets tough, she's also there when things rock, when others might be plagued by jealousy in learning of your kid's accomplishment, or your great luck at getting a room upgrade or whatever.
    I can trust in her celebrating alongside me!
    Gotta love that trust, right?
    But the support and the trust wouldn't mean diddley-squat if there weren't that crazy lunar laugh that we can inspire in one another.
    The ability to see the humor in life and in oneself--now there's an attribute i cherish!
    okay, enought, right?


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