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.