Road Foodie

Some people drive simply to arrive.

Gotta Give

Posted By on July 10, 2009

We two form a multitude. When it comes to making dinner.

When it comes to creating a perfect evening, we two form a multitude.

Since, as I’ve mentioned, we live in a country where the arts can be seen as optional (ditto health insurance), individuals must shoulder the responsibility for funding them. In England, they have an excellent, well-funded National Theatre; Here, I join the now-shrinking generous multitudes and regularly auction myself off for the benefit of various non-profit organizations. The winning bidder receives either a bespoke sit-down dinner, or a cooking class, in their own home sometime between May and December (when, as we all know, I turn into a pumpkin). Occasionally, the winner never cashes in, but in the case I’m about to describe, the cashing-in was big-time. I’d almost forgotten about it: Last fall a shall-not-be-named “society” hostess bid big bucks for me at John Houseman’s The Acting Company’s annual fundraiser. Shortly afterwards, I headed off for my Winter in the West, and shelved all such quotidian concerns.
Elegant, yes, but they're a little eighties.

Elegant, yes, but they're a little eighties.


I got the call in early May: It was time to pony up and cook. The details slowly emerged:
1. Instead of dinner for 6, as offered, could I cook for 10? “No problem!”
2. The dinner will be in Manhattan, a two-hour-plus drive away from home. “That’s OK.”
3. Bidders always cover the actual cost of food, but I’ll have to eat gas, tolls, and parking on the upper east side (“Oh, there’s always parking on the street, honey”). “Um, sure—but I’m going to have an awful lot of stuff…”
4. One of the ten guests will be George Soros. (OMG! Cue frantic, debilitating self-doubt. What the Hell am I going to cook?)
The hostess was open to any menu possibility except pork, which left me feeling completely bereft. To quote Friedrich Nietsche (ish): “The most unendurable thing, to be sure, the really terrible thing, would be a life without pork, a life which continually required improvisation.”

I improvised. After the debacle of the Betsy Apple dinner, in which I learned for the ninety ’leventh time not to serve an untried dish for an important dinner, I submitted some tried-and-true items from my immense library of (non-pork) published recipes. After thirteen menu consultations, we have lift-off on a menu that I feel really good about:
Stand-up Hors d’: Lobster and White Bean Spoons (The Relaxed Kitchen, St Martin’s Press ’08)
First Course: Grilled Watermelon and Grilled Manouri Cheese with Mint and Black Pepper (learned from Mr. Psilakis on the not-yet-published book project)
Main Course: Butterflied Jamison Farms Leg of Lamb with Chimichurri Sauce; Couscous with Red and Yellow Tomatoes, French Beans with Braised Red Onions (from Williams-Sonoma Sauce, Salad, etc.)
Dessert (which everyone knows I don’t do): C’s famous Salted Caramel Cheesecakes.

Populist crostini for a liberal mogul.

Populist crostini for a liberal mogul.


For ten, I knew I’d need a sous-chef, and the ever-agreeable C was ready to back me up. “What about drinks?” he asked. “I’m only responsible for the food,” I responded, “The housekeeper will be helping out with that kind of stuff.” Right.
Once I have the date, I order the lamb and start making lists. This reminds me of my catering days in Spain, and is verging on fun (I push aside the memory of my first husband dropping a green bean in the hostess’s lap).

Yum-yum lamb (only because she nixed pork, of course).

Yum-yum lamb (only because she nixed pork, of course).

First, the lamb arrives on Fifth Avenue and the housekeeper puts it in the freezer. Wrong. I arrange to have it come out, and instruct our hostess (a professed non-cook) to bathe it in minced garlic, a little red wine, and lots of olive oil for the ensuing two days. Then, “we” decide to add a lightly tossed green salad, as a separate course (this makes five) before the dessert. We’re good to go.

On the morning of the party, I get another verging-on-frantic call: “These sort of people tend to run very late, I don’t want people starving and drinking too much: Can you add another stand-up hors d’oeuvre? I don’t care how much it costs.” As I look around my kitchen, my eyes alight on the leftover crostini bases from last weekend’s Populist Barn Dance. How fitting, I think, it would be to re-purpose them for an event of vastly different style. Plus, I hate to waste food. I add aged goat cheese and caramelized walnuts to the Fairway list and grab some fresh thyme from the garden and Austrian pumpkin-seed oil from the fridge. A fabulous new canapé has been born, and waste has been averted! As one of the only seriously wealthy Democrats in this country, I feel certain Mr Soros would approve.

An embarrassment of beautiful beans.

An embarrassment of beautiful beans.

After packing the Highlander to its gunnels with my griddle pan (there’s no grill), virtually every foodstuff, spice, and tool I could conceivably need, we set off down-state at 2pm on the eve of the party. After hitting Fairway, we arrive (across the street from the Met), and of course there is nowhere to park. The doorman tells us we’ll have to lug everything up the service elevator (“You can’t bring food through the lobby, lady”), ie down an exterior flight of stairs, around the back of the building, through a door and a narrow passageway, and up the rather less stylish back elevator. It’s raining. This takes three fully-loaded trips from a double-parked car. C, an alumni of The Acting Company, is still smiling. Both of us can be overheard murmuring “It’s all for a good cause.”

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