About half an hour later, the traffic slowed as we approached the outskirts of Leominster. I texted Lisa to let her know we’d be arriving in about 10 minutes, and when we pulled up in the narrow Leominster street, outside Nitty Gritty, she was there waiting for me. I helped Malcolm to take the Nitty Gritty order in, where Lorna, the shop owner, was also in a bit of frenzy over our delay.
A few customers hovered about us, one or two picking their loaves from the trays before they even hit the shelves. Lorna hurriedly arranged the loaves on her shelves, creating a tasty and healthy looking display for her customers. We exited the small shop space, and after brief introductions between Malcolm and Lisa, Malcolm was off to complete his rounds; and Lisa and I headed up the street for her house.
Lisa and I caught up on the past few weeks’ happenings, prepared some lunch, and before we knew it, it was time to get ready for her friend, Denise’s, birthday party. We set off at about 6:30 and it wasn’t long before we arrived, since she did not live too far away.
Denise was a bubbly little lady, with a shaggy mass of grey hair and glowing skin. She was a vegetarian, and I suspected that was why she looked such a picture of health. Lisa had warned me that there would be no meat but, of course, I did not mind. I was eager to see just how interesting and filling a real vegetarian could make a meal.
Inside, we found a number of her other friends already seated around the dining table in the kitchen. They made room for Lisa and I, and we all engaged in general introductory chatter, while Denise ferreted around, putting the final touches to the food that smelt delicious.
“Joy works with Alex Gooch, the baker,” Denise told her friends when she heard me telling everyone my name.
“That sounds great!”
The exclamations rang around the table. The company was obviously impressed. Gooch bread certainly had a following among this crowd.
“I got some of Alex’s focaccia from Lorna today,” Denise then said.
What! I could not believe my ears.
“I’m just warming it up a bit and then we can tuck in,” Denise said.
She past a shiny, olive-oiled salad onto the table; a bowl of gorgeous smelling, herby potatoes; a bowl of pasta, tomatoes and olives; several other side dishes; and then the plate of focaccia, looking every bit as fresh and delicious as when it first came out of the bakery’s oven earlier that morning.
Ask and it shall be given . . . maybe not at the time you ask, but it will be given! Just wait till I told them back at the bakery! I picked up a neat little square of the focaccia when it came round, helped myself to potatoes and salad, and a creamy condiment that was on the table. Everyone tucked in, and there was no evidence that anyone missed the meat. The food was delicious!
Seconds were offered, which no one refused; and I wanted to take up the offer of a third serving of the focaccia but because no one else did, and since I did not know the present company very well, I decided not to risk the possibility of their unspoken wonderment at what a greedy girl I was. So, when her coaxing to eat up was declined, Denise began clearing the table to make way for dessert. And as she whisked away the plate with the last few chunks of focaccia, I suspect she was perhaps secretly happy that she’d get to enjoy them by herself later on or the following day, every last square of it!
Dessert was equally delicious. There was a huge dome shaped summer pudding, with lots of berries and jelly. We had it with ice cream and chocolate. We ate our fill, and had wine and coffees afterwards. And after that, Denise agreed to open her presents before we left, so we could all see the things she got. Each gift had a story behind it, like the pretty blue vase that one of the friend’s bought while on holiday to match an ornament that Denise already had on her kitchen windowsill. She loved all the gifts and cards, and when the gift wrapping paper was piled, dishevelled and crumpled, in one heap, and all the gifts neatly grouped in another, Lisa and I bid everyone goodbye and had Denise escort us outside.
I was tired but happy; stuffed to the seams like a pillow, and most definitely ready to lay my head on one for a long weekend nap.