Sunday, February 22, 2009

Peloponnesian Food Fight

Dave has a good friend who I also really like--except for when he throws dinner parties and then I call him the Food Nazi and I await in panic for my food assignment. Let's be clear, I have the palate of a 3rd grader and think of all lettuce that isn't iceberg or Romaine as "lawn clippings." If I have to I can eat anything--I slurped down sea slug in China and no one but Dave knew I was having an internal freak out. The truth is I am embarrassed by my unsophisticated palate but what's a girl to do when raw tomatoes make her gag?

The first time we went to the Chef's house, Dave told me we were assigned "Fruit--no, wait, I think he wants pears." I brought a lovely fruit salad with pears and raspberries. WRONG! The Chef had intended them to be served with fancy cheese and did NOT hide his displeasure at my food faux pas.

A couple years later we were again invited. This time the Chef sent an email and our assignment simply said "Starch." I wanted to die. It's deceptively simple. I knew I'd get laughed at if I brought any kind of potato or pasta. In desperation I called Becca and said, "Becca One Kenobi, you are my only hope." Even though she had company in town, she volunteered to be my "ghost chef" and made an amazing rice that everyone oohed and ahhhed over. In fact, it was a little too good and several people asked for detailed instructions on how to make it. The Chef must have known I'd faked it because he really grilled me: What KIND of rice had a I used? Were the peas fresh? And was it cinnamon or cardamom that was in there....I fumbled my way thru it, like when people ask Grandma Jean how she makes her jam and she starts rambling on about sugar and berries and meanwhile Dave is whispering, "Take a jar of Smuckers. Remove label with steam from tea kettle..."

So this year when Dave said we'd be going to the Chef's I insta-freaked and wondered what on earth I'd have to bring this time. But I was NOT prepared for the food assignments. I guess the Chef has learned that he has to be more specific in doling out assignments lest the pear fiasco of 2003 repeat itself. Here they are (I have changed the names):

"After much consideration, the menu committee has decided we will have beef stew for dinner on Saturday. Herewith the assignments:

· Anderson--hors d’oeuvres

· Sundahl--vegetable side dish: (“stew” will be Provencal in character so something quite green and full of flavor could be ideal)

· Barker--starch: (papperdelle [wide noodles] would be ideal; couscous would be fine…even rice, to appease “rice aficionados” who’ve lived in China)

· Metropolis--salad: (consistent with the new regime, we’re looking for diversity; it can be Mediterranean heritage but not from the Peloponnesus)

· bread and cheese: just part of the deal

· the Chef--dessert: (something small but very chocolate, I suspect) Let’s gather about 6:30 pm. Please bring some of your beverage of choice. "

In case you skimmed, please go back and reread the salad one. WHAT on earth is a Peloponnesian salad?! I sent the email off to Becca and called her to discuss my "green and full of flavor options" (and what does that have to do with Provencal stew?!). Poor thing was stumped when I ruled out asparagus (yucky and bitter), brussel sprouts (asparagus balls), and artichokes (big pokey asparagus). If I bring it, I have to be able to eat it. Her first suggestion was broccoli which I actually like, but unless we cooked it at the Chef's how to you keep it from being flaccid by the time you serve it? Sensing my growing angst, Dave asked the Chef which green and flavorful veggie HE recommended. He, like Becca, said broccoli but added that of course we'd have to steam it at his place.

Good. Broccoli. But I suspected regular old Star Market broccoli would not do. On Saturday I went to Wilson Farm where foodies get orgasms just looking at the produce. I walked up to someone in a green apron and said, "I need you to help me find the snootiest, most stuck up, fancy pants, hoity toity broccoli that you sell." Without batting an eye he shows me two contenders, broccoli raab and broccolini. He was pushing the raab which he said had a wonderfully bitter taste (the only bitter I like is in my chocolate chips), but also praised the broccolini which seems like what you'd get if a broccoli floret and an asparagus spear hooked up and had children. He assured me it had a mild taste so I bought $12 worth and hoped for the best.

The party was lovely. The Provencal stew was yummy (beef cooked in tangy sauce). The Chef was fun and gracious. Except when the poor Barkers brought boxed noodles. The Chef was not pleased and made a few comments. I contemplated coming to their defense, making some Peloponessus crack but in the end I just shut my trap and thanked Wilson Farm that this time I was not the target of his culinary wrath. I lie to myself and say that if we are ever assigned hors d'oeuvre, I'll bring a can of Hormel and brick of Velveeta and make my famous white trash chip dip. I won't. But I'd love to see the Chef's face if I did.


mom of fab five said...

Awesome---boxed noodles and they thought they could get away with it? So what is peloponnesian? I think a pear and raspberry salad sounds pretty yummy--how were you supposed to know it was for a cheese platter? You should have just said that it was NOT a salad that the lettuce was garnish and you didn't have a platter available and went with the bowl instead....

Kirsten said...

This post is brilliant! You should send this off to "This American Life" and you'd have Ira Glass eating out of your hand! (Eating expensive, snooty broccoli, that is...)

professor rob said...


Oh. MY. Hell. Cardemom Schmardemom--When you assign food, you cede power. End of story.

It's like having a ward member showing up to clean some French guy's pee-addled toilet in your house and then criticizing that ward memebr...oh, wait. That ward member was you, too. I see a self-abusive pattern here. You do nice things, they freak out about pears.

My suggestion: Gently remind Mr. Chef that part of a refined education is "noblesse oblige" which forbids pointing out box-noodle peccadillos. Take the boy aside and tell him that it is parvenue to criticize brought food, and that he's letting his social-climbing trailer trash hang out. Real class will put the brought-along Pop-tarts on a silver platter and rave about them.

And, my love, never, ever apologize for the Spam. Embrace the squirtable cheese. You would not put up with this behavior from a book-group poser (loved your reaction to miss "I'm too Barthsian for 'Breaking Dawn'"). A dinner party is like a book group, only you can't spit a book into your napkin and stick it in your purse.

Congrats on the broccoli coup. Next time, bring "Jell Slaw" and tell him he is doing penance for high-level posery.

I've got the Jell-Slaw recipe. Don't make me send it to you.

Love and Mesclun--


SLP said...

I love how you inserted 'orgasm' easily into your post - my kind a girl!

Heather said...

Rob--Can't stop laughing at image of spitting book into napkin. Genius. Which of course runs in the family, n'est ce pas?

Dava said...

I LOVED reading this entry, Heather!!! I agree that it’s one for a CONTEST!

And I loved Rob’s comment!

I’m embarrassed by my unsophisticated intellect as I read all this, but I AM comforted by the fact that you wouldn’t criticize my Spammy, pop tart, Jell-Brain if I ever came over to clean either of your toilets. You both are not only geniuses; you’re kind ones!

Rebecca said...

Heather--you freakin' writing genius. Now we have two "This American Life" stories to add to the mix. Broccoli is always a sure bet. Especially if you toss it with shallots, almonds, and mushrooms. And Rob, your comment was one for the books. It makes me miss you almost as much as I miss MA. Wait, is it weird that I'm writing a note to Rob on Heather's blog? Oh well. It wouldn't be my first faux pas of the day.

Anne said...

fantastic story. i'm going to link the marketing/promotions guy at wilson's to the story, ok with you? he's a good friend of ours and i think he'd be tickled.

Stefawn Von Gordon said...

You missed your golden opportunity to plunk down a "thousand year egg", still caked in mud on a plate, and declare triumphantly that you were "Lucky enough to have come across it on ebay, under the category of: Peloponnesian vegetables, and for a reasonable price too".

Maybe next time, for the Ancient Norse Valkyries menu...