When we got engaged, it was clear that my fiancee loved me, I just had to convince his sisters. For many, having three sisters-in-law would be a source of anxiety, and I was definitely daunted at first by my husband’s extensive roster of female family members. I grew up in a relatively small family, with just one sister of my own, so the concept of large family dinners and multiple siblings was pretty terrifying. Plus, my husband’s sisters span a decade, ranging from 17 years old to 27 years old. The older ones, always put together and elegant, were a little intimidating to me and, being that I’m older than all of them, I worried that I wouldn’t know how to relate to the younger one.
Once he and I got engaged, though, I wanted to get past my worries and figure out how to relate to everyone, how to become part of this tight-knit, genetically-bound group in a way that was authentic and natural. My long-held food-loving instincts took over, and I invited my soon-to-be-sisters over for brunch.
I had in mind sort of a modern version of tea and cake. I was nervous, and they arrived all dressed up. I had prepared a weird mixture of fussy, miniaturized food. I even made a cloud cake — my grandmother’s recipe for a light, airy springtime cake frosted in clouds of whipped cream — but I totally messed it up. It was a disaster. I didn’t even feed it to them. Everything else was delicious, but I was trying too hard. I wanted it be beautiful, but not feel too fussy. I wanted to make a good impression to seem like someone worthy of marrying their older brother.
The second time they came over they all showed up in casual clothes and threw themselves on our couch. One, her hair piled into a messy bun on top of her head,immediately launched into a story about a guy she was dating. That day, they ended up staying for six hours. It was casual. It was comfortable. And once they’d gone I felt, for the first time, more like one of the girls and not just their brother’s girlfriend.
I kept inviting them over and they kept showing up. I attempted the cloud cake again and it came out beautifully. Gradually, a routine developed, and soon we were spending Sundays together regularly.
My own routine, before they arrive, is to wake early and walk to the historic St. Lawrence Market, an enormous indoor farmers market in downtown Toronto. The market’s high arched ceilings make me feel as though I’m shopping in a bazaar. I visit my favorite vendors to pick up something simple, yet elegant; prosciutto and melon, a couple of cheeses, or fresh asparagus, peaches, and fresh bread. Shopping this way from vendors I trust allows me to keep the menu simple, without having to sacrifice any taste. The food is so fresh it shines without much elaborate work in in terms of preparation.
While I’m always the one who cooks, my sisters bring orange juice and champagne. Where once I would have fussed over making plated dishes, now I tend to keep things much more casual when they come over. I find that if I put together a more structured meal, guests feel like they have to adhere to a specific timeline. Having a looser structure — a menu of things we can nibble at over the course of an afternoon — lends itself to informal, intimate get togethers.
These brunches and long lunches became the catalyst for my growing and deepening relationships with these three amazing women – all of whom I now consider myself lucky enough to call friends, as well as siblings. Sometimes we’re occupied with all-consuming laughter, other times with heartfelt confessions about our insecurities and fears. It’s in these moments that food is able to bring us together in a community of familial support and love. A shared meal offers us an excuse to linger in a conversation that, in other settings, would be over all too quickly. This is why I don’t mind getting up early on a Saturday to start shopping or baking. I know that a couple of tartines, an airy cake, or a batch of cocktails can be a ticket to closeness. Just ask my sisters.