An Episode of Dining Disasters

June 30, 2009 at 10:33 am

Rob Gardner

On Menu Monday I noted that a few disasters occurred during an episode of local cooking.  Thing is, late Friday, with the glow of the postprandial Black Maple Hill bourbon (which followed a few local beers) it did not seem so bad after all.  Alls well that ends well, right?  Well, I can say this, during the course of the episode I exhausted my entire repertoire of curse words.  And in the cold light of a new day, I can certainly marvel at it all.  What happened first?

The dinner began really, not on Friday, but on Father’s Day, or even the days previous to Father’s Day.  For one thing, as a Father’s Day present, the three girls did nearly all of the house cleaning for our family brunch.  For another thing, the house remained fairly clean following said brunch.  Clean enough that we felt able to invite some friends over for our Friday Feast.  I swore to myself I would not lose my cool with the kids.  See, at least half of Friday Feast is about getting the kids to clean the house for said feast, and the other half, almost, is me going batty about the lack of cleaning progress.  I would stay relaxed.  Having faced down that hurdle, I survived the second one too.  The meat, a boneless log of pork shoulder got defrosted in time.  I marinated it with olive oil, herbs, green garlic and anchovies; then put it in a pan in the grill off-set from the coals.  I expected about five hours of slow roasting.  The rest of the day would be for salads and other sides.

Did I mention dessert?  Do I ever mention dessert.  No.  Because I never make dessert.  I either open up a package of Eli’s Cheesecake or eat what my wife or mother makes.  In this instance, my wife planned on strawberry pie.  In the AM, she prepared the crusts and berries.  She would bake the pie when she returned from Mado.  The first disaster fell.  I was rooting something out of the fridge and the bottom crust, placed in glass pie plate came down.  Smash.  Glass.  Everywhere.  And a lot of swearing.  And no apparent pie for dessert.  What could I do but clean up and move on to salads.

My wife was home about the time I got around to dressing the finely shredded cabbage for my famous garlicky-lemon cabbage salad.  One of the surest things in my catalogue and something I’ve taken to making whenever the meal smacks, at all, of Mediterranean flavors.  When it seemed ready.  I tasted.  It tasted awful.  Just awful.  When I make cole slaws I’m a bit used to having to tweak from the first taste, adjusting sweet, salt and mayo/oil to get the right mix, but this was not a cole slaw.  It was famous garlicky-lemon cabbage salad, and I can make it in my sleep.  I added more salt, which I soon realized was exactly not the thing I needed.  The salad just tasted so bitter.  I think, but am not positive, that it was bad olive oil.  I chalked it up to the same gremlins that pushed the pie plate out the fridge.  Although at the time I admit to yelling at the gremlins in a not so calm tone.

I finished up a salad of shaved fennel, radish and parsley in an orange juice vinaigrette.  I’ve had good success with raw fennel salads, so I did not sweat this one either.  It would be better than the cabbage that did not come out.  Except the fennel seemed to have no flavor.  Zip.  Zero.  I’ve never had such bland fennel.  Not only was my cooking being challenged, but my whole faith in local foods was getting a work-out.    Damn.  Damn.

I went back to tend the meat and make it meat and potatoes.  I found some good looking storage potatoes, sliced them, and put them in the pan to cook in the pork renderings.  That could not go wrong.  I decided to speed up the process by putting the pan over the coals.  And that did work getting the fat going.  With the head start, I decided to put the potatoes back on the less hot side.  But I decided to put the pork over the coals for a bit.  The meat was almost done, and I figured a bit of crust would be a nice finish. 

I was back inside where my wife was having a few disasters of her own.  The pie turned out to be not quite the disaster I thought.  She had another crust, what would have been the top crust, already made.  That could be a bottom crust now, and she would make a crumb topping.  Except it took her a dickens of a time to find where she put the other crust.  I mean which of those gremlins put the crust in the basement fridge.  She was faring worse with her risotto, which was going at a snails pace.  I left her trying to will that to fruition, with less vocal swear words.  When I got back to the grill, the roast was on fire. 

I guess I should have paid more attention to the amount of fat on the roast.  I put the fire out.  A little char-crust would not kill anyone, flashing back to Junior Soprano saying, “we did not know about charcoal cooked food back then”.  The pork shoulder went just fine with a a little trimming.  The risotto that got done, but without the peas that the gremlins hid, tasted good too.  There was a delicious green sauce for the meat, potatoes cooked in pork fat; grilled asparagus and grilled green onions.  We had already had several slices of garlic toasts.  Who is not in a good mood after fresh grilled garlic toasts.  Then, there was strawberry pie, and two ice creams made by our friends.  Did it matter that the gremlins made sure that when my daughter put one of the ice creams in the basement freezer for safe keeping; they popped t the freezer door ajar.  I mean who does not like soft-serve.  It was an episode of dining disasters but a good dinner none-the-less.