Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Son of Yet Another Post Without a Recipe

You and I, reader, have built up a small amount of goodwill, have we not? If you were to see me by the side of the road looking destitute (but still, somehow, fabulous) and carrying a sign that said "Will blog for unbleached flour, but don't even think about offering me that self-rising crap," you would at least chuckle before telling me to get a job, wouldn't you? I say this because I am about to abuse the fundamental exchange that underlies our relationship (a word that I use with the broadest possible meaning; gay men learn very quickly that there is a list of words that you use at your extreme peril -- particularly when you are having a conversation with another man whom you have seen in a context that did not include his clothing -- and I promise that if none of my readers takes "relationship" the wrong way, then I will never, ever tell anyone that we're "dating") by not rewarding the significant effort that you will expend in attempting to parse my prose with a recipe. If having to read this post with no hope of reward is too horrific for you to contemplate (and, really, who could blame you?), then either wait for my next post (Friday, I reckon), or drop me an email, and I will tell you -- in detail, yet -- how I make ice cubes.

I certainly have the inclination to cook something interesting and tasty far more frequently than I have the inclination to write a blog post. Within a given period of time, however, I might have the inclination to write more frequently than I have the opportunity to cook something interesting. This disparity is most likely to occur in the middle of the work week. By the time the weekend hits, I am so starved for cooking that I can easily get through several preparations that merit (to my deluded mind, at least) a post apiece, and that can get me about halfway through the week. But then my generally long (and sometimes insane) work hours will combine with the other demands of my life and V.'s simultaneously endearing and annoying habit of having dinner ready before I get home, and before you know it, I'll have gone four or even five days without making anything more taxing than L.'s lunch. It is a deplorable state of affairs, but it cannot be helped.

I got a call Sunday night from someone at church who wondered whether I'd be willing to prepare some food for the church bazaar, which will be held this coming Saturday morning and early afternoon. I said I would, of course, but even while I started to amuse myself by wondering what I'd make (the caller had asked what I'd like to contribute, and I asked what they most needed, and she said that cake would be the best choice because cakes fetch a good price and they didn't have many cakes promised so far, and I thought to myself that saying "cake" doesn't really create a narrow universe of options), I started to think about how much cooking I used to do for the church and how little I do now.

I've been associated with the same church for about ten years now, and for a number of years, I was the go to guy for all matters culinary. About eight years ago, someone asked me to volunteer to coordinate the food for the annual retreat, and I agreed. There was a big notebook that was handed down from food coordinator to food coordinator that told you what to serve and what to purchase, along with suggestions for who might prepare a given meal. I threw all that out (not literally) and started from scratch. I reasoned that if I had a captive crowd of 120 or so people to cook for, I certainly wasn't going to waste the opportunity by going to Costco and picking up five giant packages of frozen meatballs and 20 big jars of Ragu.

At the time, I was a stay-at-home dad, and L. was still young enough to be taking a lot of naps, so I had plenty of time to plan and plenty of time to cook, so I spent much of the week leading up to the retreat doing advanced prep. By the time Friday afternoon rolled around, and it was time to go to the retreat, I had dozens of dozens of homemade cookies. I had giant pans of gingerbread. I had buckets of chili. I had quarts of chopped onions. I had groceries like nobody's business. And people had no idea what hit them. When people showed up at dinner on Friday and had a choice between homemade chicken (so, so good) and leek potato (maybe even better) soups, they were surprised but grateful. When they saw the homemade gingerbread (with lemon curd) for dessert, they were thrilled. A few of them thought, when I started following them around the dining room with the Kitchenaid bowlful of heavy cream that I'd just whipped, that I might have gone around the bend, but no one was complaining.

I did have lots of help, of course. Even I can't cook for 120 people all weekend without a lot of assistance. But I ran a very tight ship, and everyone was well fed. And I had one of the best times I'd ever had.

I did the food for the retreat for three years, and over the same period of time, I did the same thing for a number of other events, mostly fundraisers. My favorite event was my annual chocolate worship service, where I prepared a seven-course dinner (appetizer, main course, dessert, dessert, dessert, dessert, and dessert) that was coupled with the reading of a story I wrote about the great Amazonian goddess Ko-Ko. At appropriate moments in the story, Ko-Ko would deliver her people through the judicious application of chocolate, and another dessert course would appear at my table. Seats for the dinner were sold at the annual church auction, and the bidding was fierce.

My large-scale cooking activities came to a fairly abrupt halt when it became clear that I was going to be getting a divorce, and my life got very chaotic and very unpleasant for a period of several years. At about the same time, the church stopped holding the annual retreat, but I was mostly relieved by that decision by the time it was made. People would still ask me to cater the occasional event, but I didn't always have a reliable kitchen, and I rarely had the time, so I usually said no, and people stopped asking. So it was an occasion for a small amount of sadness when someone on the other end of the phone this past weekend prefaced a request for baked goods with "I think I remember that you like to cook."

But of course there is no time for regret when you have cakes to bake. And even less time for regret when you have to decide what sort of cake(s) you're going to bake. I think that I would like to make the My Prune Cake Is Even Better Than Redfox' a Prune Is Like a Cake Cake Cake, but I reckon I need to come up with a better name for it if I want someone to price it correctly. A pound cake is always a good bet; I would likely add extra lemon peel to my standard recipe, bake it in a bundt pan (which would require the acquisition of such a pan, but V. can't really complain about that aspect because IT'S FOR A GOOD CAUSE!), and ice it with a lemon glaze that drips down and hardens attractively. Or (or maybe and), I could go with a chocolate layer cake with raspberry buttercream. I once made such a cake for 150 people at one of the church events, and it was greedily devoured by people who had already been very well fed. Cheesecake, of course, is always popular, but I would have to bring it in a cooler.

I have to have my baked goods to the church before 10 Saturday morning, so I'll only have Friday night to bake (I could make some things on Thursday night, but V. and I have tickets to see Porgy and Bess at the Kennedy Center, and I have been waiting years to see it), so I can't make as much as I want. As it is, I think that V. is a little put out with me for wanting to stay at home Friday night instead of having him get me an extra ticket to go to DC to see some play called Guantanamo. Yes, that's right, a play based on the prison camp. V. keeps asking me whether he should get me a ticket, and I keep staring at him as if he had six heads and saying things like, "I don't know. Are there any good dance numbers? It is a musical comedy, right?" Yesterday, he printed out a copy of an article about the play to try to convince me, and at dinner, he started talking about how the Post reviewer had singled out the actor playing Rumsfeld (or a character based on Rumsfeld, I'm not sure which) for particular praise. And then V. told me that the reviewer said that anyone with even a bit of skepticism about our policy on detainees would be given a lot to think about by this play and did I want a ticket. I finally had to say to him, "Did I not make perfectly clear my position on plays based on prison camps? Do I need more reasons to dislike the current administration? Do I seem like I need to be convinced that our behavior in Guantanamo is not a beacon of hope to be held up to the world at large? They don't give these people due process, they abuse the Koran in front of them, and sometimes they even urinate on the prisoners. I know all this without parking my butt in an uncomfortable chair for over two hours without even hearing any show tunes! And Donald Rumsfeld? NOT HOT!" I expect he'll ask me again tonight, though.

Anyway. I'll be spending some time in the next couple of days procuring bundt pans and cake boxes and the ingredients that I don't already have, and come Saturday morning, I'll drop off my cakes on the way to the used book room. Last year, I scored a copy of the Larousse Gastronomique in hard cover for two bucks.

And, of course, I'll post recipes.


Anonymous lindy said...

What an energetic soul you are. I am exhausted just thinking about your church/cooking antics. I think I have to go lie down now.
I just wanted to say, at risk of being a pest, that I hope you are not letting all this recent cake baking responsibility deflect your attention entirely from The Black Cake.

4:40 PM  
Anonymous anapestic said...

Not to worry, lindy. I've got ten pounds of dried fruit macerating in liquor. There's no chance that I won't turn them into black cakes before the end of the month.

6:22 PM  
Anonymous leslie said...

unrelated but if you haven't seen it:

The Pseudo-Anapest
Moves awkwardly at best;
His feet are long, uneven and retractile.
Who hunts the beast in rhythm
Should take his meter withm
And still may only bag a Ptero-Dactyl.

from The Space Child's Mother Goose by Frederick Winsor

6:12 PM  

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