More than 25 years ago, my friends Sarah, Deborah, Virginia, and I began a tradition of gathering for cheese fondue, laughter, and close friendship. We call ourselves “The Fondettes” and we’re working on our soon-to-be released solid-gold hit: My waistline’s huge and I’m gonna need some Lactaid…ay la, ay la, my waistline’s huge!”
I have known “Virg” since first-grade, “Sar” since second, and “Deb” since our Lowell High School days in San Francisco (I, of course am “An”). We began our semi-annual fondue gatherings toward the end of our senior year. Most of our mothers had a fondue pot laying around, long-neglected since the 1970’s and we quickly learned how to put them to good use.
With income earned from our first jobs, we would purchase bulk Swiss cheese from Safeway, cheap white wine (forget about adding the traditional kirschwasser – cherry liqueur), and a loaf of sourdough for our fondue feast. Sarah, who had worked at a Swiss-German restaurant in high school, introduced us to a nifty side dish, which we have since incorporated into our meal. The perfect fondue accompaniment consists of sliced kielbasa sautéed in orange marmalade until well-glazed. You can’t understand how good this is until you stab the caramelized kielbasa with a fondue fork and dip it into the cheesy fondue, along with a chunk of crusty bread…pure food alchemy! Sarah also started a tradition of being the first to grab the golden chunk of cheesy crust at the bottom of the fondue pot. We just leave it for her now!
Early on, we discussed our latest crushes, the challenges of living with difficult parents, and what classes we were loving or loathing. Today, bulk Swiss has been replaced with Gruyère, Comté, or Ementhaller; cheap Sebastiani with a lovely bottle of dry white wine; sourdough with an artisan batard; and yes kirschwasser! Emails go out, babysitting is arranged, and we sit around discussing love and marriage, the roller-coaster ride that is parenthood, and the careers we are loving or loathing. We laugh, occasionally cry, and rib each other like only old friends can do. I am convinced that the fondue is greatly enriched by a few tears and the presence of mirthful laughter!
We have each come to depend on these regular gatherings, which sometimes occur just for the sake of consuming fondue, and at other times to celebrate a birthday, an important milestone, or because we needed the comfort of good food and friendship to buoy us through many losses and life challenges. Last night, after making our busy-life arrangements, we gathered at Virg’s house in S.F. for our latest fondue feast. On this occasion, one of us had just lost a mother and we were all reeling from the loss of two high school friends.
Virg, who recently introduced us to the healing power of karaoke, busted out the karaoke machine after dinner. A smile is still plastered across my face as I think about this group of close friends now in our mid-forties, all of us mothers, wailing “Oh, no, not I, I will survive. Oh, as long as I know how to love, I know I’ll stay alive. I’ve got all my life to live, I’ve got all my love to give. And I’ll survive, I will survive, hey, hey!
Fondue recipe (we substitute flour for cornstarch)
Kielbasa with marmalade: using one or two packages of kielbasa, depending on how many mouths you’re feeding, slice up the sausage into thin coins and sauté with several generous spoonfuls of orange marmalade, until well glazed. Place in bowl and set out on the table along with chunks of bread, and the fondue pot.