Early on I knew Sharon’s new boyfriend would get along with our family. Word was he loved good food and wine, and he liked to cook.
It only took a couple of meals with Tony to find out all the advance praise was justified. The boy clearly knew his wine and his way around the kitchen. It wasn’t until Tony and Sharon cooked for David, Maggy, and me that I understood just how proficient he was.
It had been a wonderfully long holiday but the party, which started a few days before Christmas and continued for the next two weeks, was starting to wind down. That’s when Tony and Sharon volunteered to prepare dinner their last night with us.
There was talk of tacos. Nice, I thought. After all the rich holiday food, some light simple tacos would hit the spot. But when Tony started making the grocery list, I realized we weren’t talking Taco Bell.
After a five-hour hunt for all the ingredients, Sharon and Tony started to cook. At first I steered clear—I didn’t want to intrude—but from upstairs I could smell sautéing garlic, toasting chiles, fresh squeezed limes. Then I heard the grinding whir of my electric ice cream freezer as it churned their carefully crafted custard into frozen perfection. Been a long time since anyone pulled that gadget out of the garage. I wandered downstairs to find this spicy chocolate ice cream was soft, yet bold, chilly and warm, a sign of the good meal to come.
David had been drawn into the kitchen, squeezing limes for snapper ceviche. Behind him was a mound of grapefruits that still needed juicing for the Palomas, a margarita-style cocktail Tony had planned. Where was my electric juicer anyway? I found it in the basement, dusted it off, and watched the citrus-juicing advance from tedious to effortless.
On tortilla duty, Sharon and Tony were struggling to roll the corn mush with a pin. Wait. I own a tortilla press! I returned to the basement and emerged, Cheshire cat grinning, perfect gadget in hand.
Fresh grapefruit juice squeezed, Tony makes drinks. That’s when I officially report for duty. My assignment: yucca fries and fried plantains.
I need one burner for my yucca pre-fry blanch, another two burners for my roasting pan-cum-fryer. There were black beans simmering and stewed pork resting. It had been awhile since I had longed for six burners.
Plantain chunks fried, they were ready to smash. These days I prefer my fist for such tasks. Not here. I found my disk-style pounder buried behind the spices. Perfect.
There are so many things that could be said about that memorable meal, but for me it was rediscovering all the forgotten gadgets and equipment, a poignant reminder of just how much I had changed as a cook. The child rearing years, too much entertaining, and writing for the mass market had made me way too practical and efficient.
There was a time in my life when no recipe was too hard, no ingredient too difficult to track down, no kitchen equipment or gadget too expensive. (Should I admit that the first year of marriage I contemplated selling my engagement ring to buy a food processor?)
I’m glad I know how to get a dinner for family and friends on the table quickly and efficiently. But Tony reminded me there’s still a curious, adventurous cook that needs to surface once in awhile. Sometimes it’s worth it to shop for hours and cook all day for one heavenly meal.
In other words, I need to make plantain chips and yucca fries more often.
Man! Tony’s gettin’ some serious airtime on 3MC.
This meal reminds me of a poster that used to hang in our house, which then got moved to our garage, which then disappeared in our last move—or at least I think it did. The poster was a wonderful black and white shot of a portly, beaming Julia Child and beneath the photo there was this quote: “Noncooks think it’s silly to invest two hours’ work in two minutes’ enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet.”
For some people, the idea of shopping for ingredients for five hours, only to come home and cook for another 2-3 is a nightmare. For others, it’s pretty much the best way to spend a Saturday. I think you can guess which camp I am in.
Tony and I had to go to the grocery store, Costco, a Latin American market, a fishmonger, and two different liquor store to get everything we needed for that meal…and it was a blast. Of course, we stopped for a beer and split a burger half way through the mission.
I think my favorite was the Latin market—where I got to watch Tony absolutely light up as he saw cactus, yucca, green plantains, and other less-than-average items in their produce section (aaaaand hearing him speak Spanish to people is just downright hot.)
And by the time we got home, it was time to whip up those grapefruit-tequila drinks and get cooking. Sure, eating the meal was incredible (smoky pulled pork, spicy black beans, tangy salsas and guac, homemade tortillas, and cool-hot-sweet-spicy chocolate ice cream…what’s not to love?). But I think, for me, having my whole family (and Tony) together in the kitchen, all of us working like a well-oiled machine—laughing, frying, chopping, and having fun—was the best part, by far.
So, Mom, can I have that Julia Child poster? Or maybe you should keep it to remind you that sometimes it’s good to work on a special meal for hours just for a few minutes of sublime enjoyment. After all, I’ve got Tony ☺
Mary Beth says
Ah..efficiency…thanks for the reminder of why we purchased those gadgets in the first place. I just received an unrequested but thoughtful and observant gadget gift from my mother this Christmas. And my new garlic press pleases me to no end. No more slicing and dicing and my fingers don’t smell for days!
I’m enjoying this blog and the banter. Sounds like you gals are also cooking up a lot of love in that kitchen!
You know, mom – it was like Mary Poppins, watching you haul all those dusty kitchen gadgets out of the basement as we cooked. I really didn’t know what you’d bring out next.
As a relatively new cook and as someone whose just made an international move, I only have the basics. I think my Le Creusets and a couple slotted spoons were the only kitchen items that made it in the box (translation: now that I know where you store the loot, you can expect to be raided).
That really was a special meal. Of course I wasn’t a part of the shopping and was only minimally involved in the cooking, but the experience was special for a number of reasons, not the least of which was watching Tony, a pro at work. I really enjoyed having another boss in the kitchen (that wasn’t you or mom) because he had to be nice, haha. He was a good teacher, showing us how to chop or telling us if we’d salted things enough.
And then we all practically fell into our seats around the dinner table and dug in. The food was incredible. The most noteworthy dishes were the pulled pork (recipe to follow in Sharon’s post) and the fries. I don’t know what I thought fries were, but I’d be happy if I never had another potato fry again. AND they do sell Yucca at our local supermarket.
Thank you Shaz and Tony for that memorable meal! Andy and I owe you one.
Wish I would have held strong when my husband insisted we sell the extra kitchen gadgets at our garage sale recently. Sounds like a memorable meal, and the yucca and plantains can certainly count for that 4th “weird” food item from Maggy’s recent post! I’m dying to make those!
If your fingers get stinky from garlic or onion prep, rinse them in cold water and then slide them around on your stainless steel faucet. Odor gone!! And it’s free…