(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 completely out ourselves (oh, what the hell) but we have gone so far as do drive-bys to see who among our "friends" has thrown a party to which we were not invited. Honestly, Steinfeld has nothing on us. Neurotic? I'll show you neurotic. We generally celebrate the holidays by noting how few invites or cards we get. It is an odd tradition but one that has endured. Evidently our collective eccentricities have a limited appeal.
The husband takes it hard (even as I write this, he has mentioned that a certain someone has not sent us the invite for their annual xmas party so you, and you know who you are, better get with it) though I generally couldn't care less. In the case of the drive-by, well, I just thought it was a night out. Hell, it was New Year's Eve. So what if the house was dark when we got there? We just drove to Peacock Lane (a street of homes with xmas lights for those who do not know) and turned the story into one that makes losers all over the world feel better about themselves. But more importantly, I'm a Chanukah girl and take all this holiday cheer with a grain of salt in the wound — my favorite.
As I have written before (in my journal of resentments), I find unbridled cheer a little off-putting. What holiday season is not made better with a little suffering? Oye. But secondly, I am totally self-obsessed. If you do not have the good sense to invite me to a party I will consider it the result of your shortcoming not mine. Which also, oddly enough, may have something to do with the dearth of invites we get. Who likes to talk to someone who loves themselves so damn much? I am reminded of a line in a Bette Midler movie, "But enough about me, what do you think about me?"
Taking our leave and saying goodbye to our lovely hosts (Kathleen Holt and Alex Dupey) we layered the remains of our tart between the only other misconstructed dessert of the evening. Though my new best friend Kristy Athens had once attempted the life of a farmer (she is working on a memoir about that experience, though I first met her at Wordstock where she was selling some of her fabulous collages), she admitted she was not a cook. Which explains how it was she mistook sweetened condensed milk for evaporated milk in the recipe. It is a common error with the upshot being a pumpkin pie that was a tad flat. Which did not mean I did not take it home or that it did not get eaten by the "kids" who live in my basement. Quiet the contrary. They scooped that pie up as soon as I got home knowing that with just the slightest dollop of sweetened whipped cream it would be fine, and it was. The leftover tart, on the other hand, is still in the fridge begging to be eaten. Today I will have mercy on its soul and eat it. I am loyal like that. You'd have to go a far distance before you'd see me throw something in the trash. Remember, hunger makes the best cook and if I don't eat anything by noon (which in my world constitutes a fast) I know that questionable work of art will taste just fine.
And so it goes. Sometimes we can go off-course and half-cocked into the land of dreamy dreams and sometimes we are better off staying with the basics. But what would we know if we did not go off the straight path from time to time? Hell, I have made a life out of the crooked path and it has generally worked out fine. Moreover, it has brought me to a life, a householding life, which is as delicious as it is insane. Walking backwards in time in a world committed to leisure and convenience is more than difficult. In effort and reality I'm sure it can appear nuts. That I have shown up in this life with a little nuttiness of my own (both locally grown and imported) only makes things interesting. But, as I am known to say, there is hard and then there is HARD. Living in a world were there is no food, or healthy soil, or clean water is HARD. Living in a world that respects the connection between my first world decisions and the rest of the god darn planet can be hard but just oh so relatively so. But I have written a book about it and now that we are old friends (and your invite to a party will seal the deal), I hope you will not only buy it but like it as well. In fact, you can come hear and see me read at
Live Wire this Saturday. I would like that. But enough about me...