Confidentially Forgotten

4 May 2010

I’ve done it dozens of times – spent 40+ hours planning a menu, writing specifications for said menu, sourcing and shopping, writing the tick-tock of event day, and then finally cooking for twelve hours.  For some strange reason, each time I do it I will forget more than a couple of things.  One recent weekend the “I Forgot/Didn’t Finish List” included the following:

  • I didn’t finish the tick-tock of the days events – a schedule of each activity that needs to be completed in each 15 minute segment for things to happen smoothly.  I blame the Happy Hour I happily attended because the lovely Paige was in town from Philly.
  • I forgot that even the best plans collapse under reality’s weight the first time something goes to hell.
  • I forgot that something always goes to hell inside of the first hour.
  • I forgot a couple of random kitchen tools and left one key ingredient on my kitchen floor because I didn’t get to print my final checklist.
  • And for the first hour after I picked up the woman who would be assisting me in the kitchen, I most certainly forgot to breathe.

Lexa and I have been friends for a while now but this was the first opportunity that we have had to work together.  I wasn’t presenting the calm, everything’s-under-control image that I would have liked.  I drove and shifted gears like a man in a hurry, mumbled about traffic, rainy weather, and general frustration, before Lexa dissolved my tension by saying “Refugee, you know I don’t like having to be the positive one!”

That comment was enough for me to get my swing back.  The rest of the trip to get the rented glassware involved some clown car like moments with all of the supplies and four racks of wine glasses crammed into a Jeep… and I might have been uncharacteristically directionally challenged too.

After finally arriving at the client’s home, there was another key moment that added copious amounts of levity to the afternoon.  After unloading two armfuls of supplies and sundries, I was returning to the Jeep and walked right into the glass screen door just like one of those birds in the Windex commercials.  Lexa may have laughed hysterically for a few moments.

We quickly settled into our rhythm and began cooking.  About an hour before service, The Pistol arrived to help with final prep and to be the primary server.

The menu was a Standing Degustation with 11 courses:

  1. Caprése Salad Skewers with 10 year Aged Balsamic Vinegar and Shallot infused Olive Oil
  2. Guacamole Mousse with Lardons of Black Forest Bacon
  3. King Salmon Tartar
  4. Blue Cheese and Jalapeño Beignets
  5. Mini Asiago Cheese and Mushroom Frittatas with Baby Spinach
  6. Gazpacho Soup Shots
  7. Chicken Confit Tacos with Hot Pepper Butter and Arugula
  8. Truffled French Fry Cones
  9. Petite Grilled Cheese with 4 Year Cave-Aged Cowgirl Creamery Cheddar, Prosciutto and Hot House Heirloom Tomatoes
  10. Pork Tenderloin Sliders with Roquefort Butter, and Fried Shallot Rings
  11. Mint Chocolate Mousse with Frozen Peppermint Patty Crumbles

Except that it was only ten courses because right at that moment in the night when several courses had gone out and with a few more to go, Lexa dropped the whole try of the mini grilled cheese onto the floor and open oven door.  This was my turn to repay the calming favor.  I moved over to Lexa, gave her a big hug, kissed her on the cheek and said “It’s not a big deal, seriously, not a big deal, we gotta move on.”

That was the only food-hiccup in a night that began with more than a couple of client induced hiccups.  None of them mattered, however, because the food was inspired, and great food erases a multitude of sins.

After we had fed all guests into submission and before we started cleaning, I grabbed a couple of beers and Lexa, The Pistol and I went outside for a quick break and that’s when I realized I’d forgotten a couple of other things too:

  • Cooking for twelve hours is physically exhausting… like, no other frame of reference exhausting
  • Cooking for twelve hours is exhausting but when the food is great, and you know the food is great, the client knows the food is great, and the guests are giving you insane compliments that they cannot possibly mean literally, it’s also kind of exhilarating too.
  • No beer I’ve ever had in my life could taste better than the one I have at the end of a night… unless I shared the experience with friends.

And the Winners Are? Valentine’s Day Contest

2 February 2010

When I announced the Valentines Day Chef Contest, my ambition was to donate a bit of time and provide a memorable experience for someone who deserves it.  Hopefully it would be one of the things that my friend Brad calls The 100 Ways.

Thank you to everyone who sent me an email or left a comment to nominate someone – there were more than 40 of them nominating more than 60 recipients.  Reading them touched me in ways that made me want to do even more.  So instead of using Random.org to select one name to receive one dinner for two, I used the site to draw two names to each receive dinner for four.

While the increase in the dinners and diners necessitates some changes in scheduling, I will work that out with the winners. Who are:

Winner #1 nominated by I’m Gonna Break Your Heart: I’d like to nominate my friends S&B. S is a special ed teacher at a DC Charter school. B works for a non-profit that connects homeless people to city services. In short, B spends his days walking the streets of DC, rain or cold or heat, seeking out homeless and making connections with them. They are the most compassionate couple I know.

Winner #2 nominated by Mese: Let me tell you a little bit about Nicole
She is a fighter- after years in foster care she decided to work in the child welfare field to make sure other children don’t have to struggle with no support from a loving, permanent family.

She is tried and true- when given the opportunity, Nicole has ditched vacation and forgone sleep to write, speak, teach, lead- anything to help spread the word on the reasons no child should go to bed in fear or without a home.

She is committed- friends and family have been welcomed into Nicole’s home as a refuge from hardship without anything expected in return, despite her no-profit salary.

I’ll be contacting the winners via the people who nominated them and I look forward to updating all of you with stories of the dinners and hopefully a recipe or two.

Thanks again to everyone who reads, comments, and generally make this place worth populating with my scribbles.


A Couple of Endorsements and a Few Not So Much

27 January 2010

Not Exactly an Endorsement – It was barely four years ago that Mel Gibson revealed himself to be an Anti-Semitic jackhole.  His lunatic rants were all over the entertainment news wires.  TMZ published his arrest report, Gibson went on the typical apology tour, about which I am calling bullshit (Booze will lower inhibitions and allow one to say things that are already in his/her heart, but it won’t plant the most vile of thoughts there.)

Now about 40 months later (less than half the amount of time it took for the Holocaust… you know just to add some perspective) this filth spewing, ignorant racist (I know: redundant,) Holocaust Denier has a big budget movie from a major studio.  The trailers are all over the television and the net and I can’t look at his repugnant mug without wanting to change the channel.

An Endorsement – The Wet Martini, also known by its proper name, Martini, is a beautiful drink when well made.  Sadly, we got sold on the notion that a dry martini has virtue as opposed to being what it is: a big glass of cold gin.  Go to a good bar and ask the bartender for a real martini (you’ll know it’s a good bar if the bartender smiles with delight at the prospect) with Hendricks, or Bluecoat American Dry and a dash of Fee Brothers’ Bitters.

Not Exactly an Endorsement – Television Commercials for Anti-Depressants are clearly designed by some people who’ve never dealt with clinical depression.  Attempting to make someone who suffers from this disease feel even worse in an effort to sell more of your drugs may not be equivalent to emotional blackmail but it’s not far behind it.

An Endorsement – Buying the Suit/Dress/Whatever and then find the event later.  Maybe you host a cocktail party yourself and invite your friends to drink in all of their semi-formal finery.  Maybe you gather your friends for a night of fancy drinking just cause, or maybe you just attend one of the hundreds of charity galas held in every metropolitan area every year.  Get the threads, the event will come or you can make your own.

Not Exactly an Endorsement – Professional Football Quarterbacks who consistently blame their teammates when things go wrong.  I’m not naming any names, cough, cough, Peyton Manning, but I am pretty sure that every time it happens butterflies lose their wings, puppies get stomach aches, and maybe a large woman gets ready to sing.


Having a Long Kiss Goodnight to/in NYC

21 January 2010

Dinner at Le Bernadin was as exquisite as you would expect (and yes, I just name dropped a four star restaurant, because what the hell, it was sublime.)  It was the first time I dined by myself at a restaurant of this caliber since I was making a strategic effort to drink some of the best bottles in my wine cellar.  This put me in a mildly reflective mood, so the cab driver had to alert me when we arrived at my hotel.

I walked into the hotel bar where I was meeting Yet Another Lawyer I Used to Date for a quick drink and maybe a trip uptown to her favorite latin-jazz joint.  It was just before 10pm, and true to her exceedingly busy form, YALIUD had already sent one message about being almost unstuck from the office.

My hotel was of the classical variety thus the bar was blissfully absent the tragically hip elements that are too popular these days.  Barely half a minute after choosing a seat at the not quite crowded bar, the bartender slides a cloth napkin in front of me and asks for my drink order.

“Good evening, perhaps you would indulge me; I’d like equal parts cognac, frangelico, and bailey’s shaken heavily and served straight up, please.”

A few moments later, as the bartender sat the drink before me, she said “OK, I’ll bite, does this thing have a name?”

“There’s enough left in that shaker for you to pour yourself a dram; why don’t you taste it first” I implored.  The bartender gave me a look that instantly indicated that drinking was against company policy, so I continued “I understand if it’s against the rules, but how can you learn a new drink without tasting it?  It would seem a waste to do otherwise.”

I have never claimed to be a good influence on anyone.

She gave furtive glances to each corner of the room before pouring the remnants into a small rocks glass and taking a sip.  Her smile of delight was balanced by a slightly furrowed brow that I interpreted as consternation.

“I’m Wendy, and you need to tell me about this drink” she said while extending her hand.

“Hi Wendy, I’m Refugee.  That drink is a Long Kiss Goodnight…”

“Oh my god, that name makes perfect sense” Wendy interrupted.  “Where did you have it or learn it?”

“Actually, I invented it for a woman who used to come to my restaurant on the one night of the week I was bartending.  Just before she’d leave she always said ‘Refugee, make me my last drink of the night.’  It took about four weeks but this is what we settled on as her last drink of the night.”

“Hang on a second, I’ll be right back” Wendy said before tending to a group of suits in the middle of the bar.  Three Amstel Lights later Wendy was back and as many bartenders are wont to do, she continued the conversation right where she left it without segue.  “So, you used to be in the business, and invented this drink made with three standard ingredients that had never been put together before?”

I laughed a bit at the question because I understood the incredulity that inspired it before answering “Yeah, it sounds a little strange, but it was more than a few years ago, and I did some research before declaring it a creation.  There are more than a few other recipes with the really different ingredients with the same name, but this is the only one with this combination.”

“Well, it’s really good, and the flavors are really clean… and this one’s on me.  Thank you for teaching me something new” Wendy said at the same time that YALIUD finally arrived.

After the hug, the kisses on the cheek, YALIUD just looked at the bar and then to Wendy and said with a huge smile “Did he teach you MY drink?”


Visiting an Old Love – See You in a Few Days

18 January 2010


It starts with the Acela train that lets me arrive moments before departure, allows me to use the phone and internet for the whole ride, has adult sized chairs and actual legroom, and then deposits me in midtown without so much as a wrinkle in my shirt.

There are so many things I love about visiting New York City, though I don’t think there is much I would enjoy about living here.  For the next few days, however, I am going to walk her streets, dine in her restaurants, drink in her bars, and, yes, take a meeting or three.

I’m going to hit the BlueNote, the Vanguard and the Algonquin for a little hot & cool swing.

I’ll roll through Circa Tabac, a place that was speakeasy cool years before that trend got annoying, for a cigar and a proper cocktail.

The aforementioned cigar will be purchased from the Davidoff store which, as the best cigar shop in the country, is like Mecca for cigar smokers.

There will be dinners at four stars, pizza at corner joints, very serious sushi, some uptown soulfood, and probably the most amazing dumplings I’ve ever tasted.

In truth, I am not sure I will get to all of the things I want to do as this is still a work trip, but I am looking forward to trying.  I’ve rarely been grateful for my insomnia, but this is one of those times.

************

By the by, I know that I owe you another installment of the Second Chances with New Vintages Series, I am working on it.

On another note, there is still time to nominate someone for the Valentine’s Contest


Second Chances with New Vintages – Part III

11 January 2010

This is Part III of a series of short fiction that may become a regular feature here.  Subsequent installments will post on Wednesday or the following Monday.  This will not make much sense without reading Part I and Part II first.

Cynthia never understood the appeal of roller coasters, couldn’t understand the enjoyment of building anxiety in the pit of your stomach, refused to find pleasure in the subsequent crashing fear.  At this moment, having been on this strange ride – talking in unfamiliar ways, saying uncharacteristic things, drinking champagne in a hotel bar on a school night, and speaking to a stranger in a language she never learned – for several hours, suddenly Cynthia made the connection to roller coasters.

She was shaken by the surrealism of it all, and now she found herself in the Ladies Room of the Fairway Hotel, having rushed from the bar without excusing herself.  She splashed some cold water on her face, and tried to steady her legs.  Uncertainty reigned in a disquieted mind as Cynthia alternated between staring at this mirror image which she only loosely recognized, and looking for proof that this was some sort of dream.  She was more than a bit afraid by it all… and kinda liked it.  Her enjoyment scared her even more.  It took almost ten minutes of water splashing and starring before she convinced herself that she should go back to the bar, that she needed to go back to the bar.

Cynthia dried her face, touched up her make up (another first for her,) swallowed as much air as her lungs could hold, and made her way back to her champagne and the stranger who was next to it.  She ignored the little extra sway in her hips.   The tall Frenchman at the bar did not as he eyed her from the moment  she stepped out of the bathroom door.

He stood as she took her seat and said “I hope I did not offend you to have you run off so suddenly?”

“No, no, it wasn’t you, I felt a little light-headed and needed to get some air” Cynthia replied.

“If you are lightheaded, perhaps I should not have ordered you a fresh glass of champagne.”

“That is very kind of you and I don’t think I’ll ever have my fill of champagne.”

“I am Nicolas Cousteau, and no I am not related to Jacques” the tall Frenchman said with a devilish grin.

“Cynthia, Cynthia Trueblood” she said while extending her hand to meet his.  She continued “Oh, this must go over big when you’re in the States.”

“Excuse me?”

“The French, the tall, the good looking, the smile, the accent – it must be very easy for you to meet women here.”

“Mademoiselle Trueblood, that may be the case for some, but I am gay” Nicolas replied to Cynthia’s surprise.

“Oh, I’m… forgive me, I just assumed… I didn’t mean… I just…” an obviously flustered Cynthia stammered.

“You just thought I was flirting with you?” Nicolas asked with a wink.

“Yes.”

“I was flirting with you, I am flirting with you.  I just thought it would be funny.  Not… how do you Americans say… ‘not that there is anything wrong with it’”

The two strangers shared a smile if not an outright laugh as Cynthia wasn’t sure she actually found Nicolas’ joke funny, though she was charmed by it.  They continued their conversation for more than an hour, and another glass of champagne when they were interrupted by one of the hotel’s managers.

“Excuse me, Mr. Cousteau, you’re suite is ready.  We apologize again for the delay.”

The manager placed a key envelope on the table and said “I’ve spoken with the bartender and told him that your champagne is compliments of the Fairway this evening.”

Nicolas thanked the manager before he redirected his attention to Cynthia and asked “Would you like to finish this champagne in my suite?”

“Aimer à n’est pas pertinent comme je ne serai pas. Le fait de vous voir n’a pas appris beaucoup de patience depuis que vous êtes d’abord arrivés au bar (Would I like to is not relevant as I will not be.  I see you have not learned much patience since you first got to the bar)” Cynthia replied firmly through her smile.

“I suppose not” Nicolas sheepishly said with the tone of a man who knew that he had moved too aggressively.  “Peut-être vous pourriez m’enseigner certains sur le dîner demain (Perhaps you could teach me some over dinner tomorrow?”)

Cynthia looked the tall Frenchman in the eye, took a final sip of champagne and said “Au revoir, Monsieur Cousteau.”  She gave him a kiss on the cheek – just long enough for him to feel the heat of her skin – and left the bar.

She felt his gaze as she walked away but did not turn around for confirmation.

Nicolas stopped watching when the doorman opened the oversized door for Cynthia.  When he finally turned his gaze back to the bar, Cynthia’s business card sat next to his glass.


Second Chance with New Vintages – Part II

6 January 2010

This is Part II of a short fiction project on which I have been working.  I had planned to post continuing pieces on Mondays but… well I changed my mind.  For this to make complete sense, you should read Part I first.

Cynthia had all of her legs firmly underneath her but still couldn’t understand that voice she just heard from her own mouth, or process the mélange of unfamiliar emotions in her head.  She took the glass of champagne that Mini offered her, and took a seat on what appeared to her to be an antique chaise lounge – fitting since she was dress shopping in Second Chance Vintage shop.

“Freddie was born around the turn of the century – the prior turn of the century, I mean” Mini began by way of explaining the story of the former owner of the blue halter cocktail dress that Cynthia was wearing more comfortably with each passing second.

“She was one part socialite, heiress type, but two parts scholar, rabble rouser, philanthropist, and ingénue.  She graduated from Smith at 19, owned a Speakeasy during prohibition, was a patron saint to half the artists of a generation, and was also one hell of a dancer.”

Cynthia just sat slightly wide eyed while Mini continued with the story.

“There’s a rumor that Picasso painted a nude of her from memory… and then gave it to her as thanks for the memory.  She would dance all night at some Harlem juke joint, and then lead board meetings of the family trust in the morning.  Gentleman chased her and women wanted to keep their husbands away from her even as they wanted to be closer.”

“Did she ever marry” Cynthia asked despite suspecting not.

“The rumor was that she and a sax player in Duke Ellington’s orchestra fell in love; but that was a bridge to far for her father who was generally tolerant of Freddie’s habit of painting outside the lines.  Their courtship was a partially open secret in Harlem, and a closely held one in lower Manhattan.  When he died in a car accident, Freddie was devastated – devastated because she couldn’t attend the funeral, devastated because theirs was an unordinary kind of love – and though she was with other men… and a couple of women too, she never was with anyone else long term.”

“That’s so sad” Cynthia remarked while finishing the champagne in her glass.

Without asking, Mini began pouring another glass of champagne and one for herself this time too.  “I don’t think Freddie would have thought it sad.  She lived the life she wanted, the life she could live, and helped a generation of artists along the way.”

Cynthia paused for a moment before raising her glass.  “Then to Freddie” she said.

Mini and Cynthia toasted and then chatted for a good while on all manner of subjects.  After some time and a few glasses of champagne had elapsed, Cynthia took her feet and announced “Mini, it has been a delight to meet you and chat all this time, but I am afraid I have monopolized your evening.  I’d love to buy Freddie’s dress, and take my leave of you.”  Once again, Cynthia was struck by the phrasing which was so unusual for her.

Cynthia changed back into her Khakis and sweater.  She noted how silly the heels, worn only to try dresses, look with this outfit.  When she emerged from the changing lounge, Mini had her dress wrapped in plastic at the small desk she used as a counter.  Cynthia placed her credit card on the desk… still not knowing and mostly not caring how much she would be charged.  To her surprise and delight the dress was 20% under her budget.  She hugged Mini and promised to stay in touch as she walked out the door.

Twenty five minutes later, just before eight o’clock, Cynthia was sitting on her couch absently trying to read some work report.  She just couldn’t stop thinking about the dress still wrapped in the light grey plastic with Second Chance Vintage scripted on the front.  She pushed some formerly frozen food around the plate sitting on the coffee table… and thought about the dress.  She read the same paragraph three times… and thought about the dress.  She made a deal with herself: try the dress on one more time and then get back to work.

She undid the knot at the bottom carefully because she fully intended to place the dress back under the plastic.  Once she got the plastic over the shoulders of the hanger, Cynthia saw it.  There was a small satchel dangling from the metal part of the hanger; there was Mini’s card with a handwritten “just in case” on it.  The other side of the card read:

Dearest Cynthia,

I thought you should have these earrings as they look lovely with the dress and they were part of Freddie’s estate too.  Bring them back after your party, or just send me a check sometime.

Love,

Mini

Inside the satchel there were a set of gorgeous sapphire and diamond teardrop earrings.  “Surely they’re costume” Cynthia reasoned.

She kicked off her slippers, removed her sweater like it was woven with poison ivy, and wiggled the pants past her hips.

“This bra will not do” Cynthia said to her image in the mirror.  She rummaged through her panties drawer for one of her two strapless bras.  Neither of which got much use.  As she slid the dress over her head, she knew instantly that she had to see it with stockings too, and the heels… and earrings as well.

Cynthia stood in the mirror for a pregnant moment and thought “Just a little make-up maybe” before wondering “Where is this voice coming from?”  She didn’t spend much time on the notion before applying the very conservative shade of lipstick that is the only one she wore, and running a brush across her cheeks and eyelids.

Back in front of the full length mirror, Cynthia loved everything about this dress and the way she looked in it, and then she was overcome with an irresistible urge to have a glass of champagne.  There was none to be had in her one bedroom midtown condo.

“Let’s go to The Fairway Hotel” she told her slightly unfamiliar mirror image.

Cynthia paused for just a moment to contemplate this voice that sounds like her own but keeps saying these unfamiliar things.  The pause didn’t stop her from grabbing the smallest purse she owned, which still wasn’t quite small enough for Freddie’s dress, and shoving a few essentials in it before walking out the door.

A cab ride, a few turned heads in the lobby, and Cynthia was sitting at the terrifically elegant bar at the Fairway Hotel.  The bartender smiled and offered her a glass of water and a cocktail list.  She couldn’t read it without her glasses and it didn’t matter because she knew she wanted “a glass of Pierre Jouet, rosé if you have it, please.”

A few minutes later, a tall gentleman made his way to the bar mumbling in a mix of French and English.   “I cahhnnot behlieve zhat my room iz noht readie” the tall gentleman murmured loud enough for Cynthia to hear.

“Il y a des choses pires qu’est forcé à avoir une boisson, peut-être vous devriez trouver quelque patience (there are worse things than being forced to have a drink, perhaps you should find some patience)” Cynthia said.

“Your Franch is very good, whar did jou learn?” the tall gentleman asked.

Cynthia turned a particular shade of lobster red… she doesn’t know French.


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