(Continued from yesterday)
Being one of the first guests to arrive, I decided, quite on my own, that the tart should be in the savory, first-course round of dishes. But after cutting the tart in small sections (and licking the crumbs that came off the knife), I thought better of it. I moved it over to the desserts. The flavor was sweet, maybe too sweet, and surprisingly I cannot taste the sage. But I have only tasted a small section. I will eat it as a full slice later on.
Soon the place is full with people and food. Our hosts have barbecued a turkey and baked a bread pudding to be topped with dulce leche. The dishes keep coming. Each guest is asked to write down what they brought. There are two kinds of flat breads, one topped with onions, peppers, sage, and walnuts and the other with roasted tomatoes and rosemary. Both make a great starter to the meal. We eat them with glasses, too many glasses, of wine. There are Sweet Potatoes with Honey and Lime; Uncle Lewis's Turkey Enchiladas, Drunken Onion Jam with onions, bourbon, bacon and brown sugar; Maple-Ginger Roasted Vegetables with Pecans; Brussell Sprouts with Bacon; Sauteed Greens with Browned Butter; Cornbread, Rice, and Pork Sausage Stuffing; and a bunch of tarts and pies for desserts.
Once all the guests and dishes have arrived, we make the rounds. The turkey is freak'n fabulous as are the Drunken Onions. Truth is, caramelized onions are a power food. I have taken to growing Copra onions (storage onions) and keep them in my makeshift root cellar to last until the spring. But (and it does happen) when they begin to soften prematurely or when the red onions I grow do what they are genetically coded to do (rot early if not eaten by November), I think of making a batch of caramelized onions. Cooked down slowly and, in the case of the Drunken Onions (made by Kristan Kaye, writer, guest and author of Iron Maidens), when combined with bourbon, bacon, and brown sugar, caramelized onions are not only worthy for side-dish eating but only-dish eating. Talk about muscle! They, along with the turkey, were deemed by my husband and I to be the party winners. But then we are given to rating anything and everything. We have turned it into a way of life.
In the beginning of our courtship, the husband (at that time boyfriend) introduced me to a game he likes to play. Sometimes it is a guessing game and sometimes a rating game. Sometimes a little bit of both, as it was the first time we played it. We were at a wedding.
"I'll pick out the guy you would most like to take home and you pick out the girl for me and then we will see who was right." Rating and guessing all in one.
Hmmmmm. Now I should have been somewhat alarmed by this game because, in truth, there is a brazenness, if not a socially corrupt ethic, behind it. First off, you're with me ASSHOLE and secondly, well, most humans would not openly reveal the more craven aspects of their mind. But this, as I have come to understand it, is what makes my husband so special. He is not so much craven as charmingly eccentric. There is an honest-to-goodness social innocence to his comments that is near endearing. At least that is how I, and most of my friends, have come to think about his occasional conversational faux pas.
But to be painfully honest, I was not alarmed because I had played a similar game with my first husband on our honeymoon with the stakes of the game being somewhat higher. Let me first clarify that that was in the early '70s and, well, the social mores were a little different then. So when the game came down to who could not only pick out the cute guy or girl first but take them home and spend the night with them I thought, odd, but... Game On! Honestly though, what was that husband thinking? Even with all the strides made by feminist movement I doubt there is any place on earth that will give women quite the same court advantage as a bar. Which reminds me, did anyone see the Victoria's Secret Fashion show the other day? Cool, huh? I'm working on my prancey walk as we speak. Of course, I'm wearing waist-high bloomers with blown out elastic and a bra held together with a safety pin, but at least I haven't given up on hopeful affirmations. (I am an angel, I am an angel, I am an angel.) Of course, back then I still had that dewy fresh snap-back skin I referred to earlier, but I could have won had I had turkey skin. Let's be real.
Oh, don't raise your eyebrows. Either you were a better woman than me (which is not hard to imagine) or you did not go to Florida on your honeymoon. Not that I chose Florida. I wanted to go to some darling bed and breakfast in Litchfield, Connecticut, to make believe I was landed gentry from the Bronx. I doubt that these days you can throw a stone and not hit a non-gentile gentry in those parts but back then we would have had to wear a star armband to get in. I guess that's why the then-husband thought it was better to go where our people were. Big mistake. To this day cheap cocktails, hairy chests (and ears), and huge honk'n Stars of David on a gold chain will make me want to drop trow. We all have our weaknesses.
I will not go into the nitty gritty of that contest and only mention it at all to explain why I was not really shocked by my boyfriend's (now husband's) innocent game that day at the wedding. In fact it felt a little parochial. I was used to bigger stakes. Which also explains why I slipped up by expanding the rules. I not only found the gal I thought he might like but the guy I would. I think I was sweating when I told him who it was. Calm down freak, is what he must have been thinking. This is my game not yours. Fair enough.
I have since come to understand, and adhere to, the more tempered intentions of the game (and marriage). We rate our meals (who ordered better), we rate outfits at parties (sorry, but if you invite us we will be judging you), and we rate the quality of the dishes our friends have brought. And as I mentioned, the Barbecued Turkey and Drunken Onions won. The tart? Well, sadly, it was a bit of a snoozer.
Set back in the dessert section of the buffet my tart started to deconstruct. The custard filling was separating from the crust, moving in a shifting wave towards the center of the tart with the crust side falling flat on its back. It would have been better to leave the thing whole but in an effort to ease its serving I had cut the baby into sliver-like servings and put them on a separate plate. That was a mistake. It looked like a barf pizza and I'm being nice.
The rounds of goat cheese that I layered on the crust stayed firm and firmer yet given the baking. Had we eaten it warm out of the oven, it would have given me the texture I was looking for but, now cold, the mouth feel was exactly like disc of hard goat cheese suspended in cold custard in middle of a Linzer torte. Inspired? I don't think so. As for the nuances of sage, let's just say it was so nuanced as to be undetectable. My guess is that the cranberry sauce was just too legit to quit.
We stayed at the party till the very end. We always joke that we are so rarely invited to parties (might have something to do with our being social misfits) that we must milk each one for all that it's worth. I am not joking. Not to