Sunday, June 26, 2011

Napkin Notes #4: Summer Fêtes> Unposh nosh easy on your dosh

I cook five days a week; six, if I am entertaining on the weekend. Improvement is the necessary incentive to keep both meals interesting and I, interested in cooking.
I am a firm believer in good book-lending practices so I frequent the library twice a week. Anyone who’s ever been in my home will tell you I cook by sight–foodography is a kind of stomach pornography to me. To entice the senses, the best cookbooks are easily 95 percent big glossy prints and 5 percent instruction. I tend to think verbose chefs lose their audience unless they’re on tele and actually have something instructive to say. Take Michael Ruhlman’s The Elements of Cooking. Not a photo in 245 pages of circumlocution. I would have had more stamina to sit through a year’s subscription of Opera News than read that. Well, maybe not a year’s subscription. Maybe two months.

Remember Chairman Kaga–the original host of Iron Chef, Japan? Darting eyes, flaring nostrils, and frilled cuffs (with Bill Bickard’s campy English voice-over)? How the knob did that series survive 2,000 dishes? Oh yes, it was because of the droolicious rations that whet your stomach juices into industrial strength pressurized jet sprays when the cameras linger on the finished dish. It doesn’t matter if the secret ingredient was cabbage or potatoes; they looked like they would cost $300 more than the actual cost of the ingredients. I suppose that’s what happens when you ply on the foie gras or bedaub everything with caviar. So much of what we eat begins with our hungry eyes, noses, mouths and stomachs.

So, after surveying the Surrey Library shelves for the glossiest spine that will preface some cuisine whose ingredients are not beyond Canadian grocers, but not finding any, I decided locally gotten fresh ingredients are the panacea for all guests with a persnickety palate. I turned to the pages of my 1994 travelogue lunch notes in the old quarters of Nice to one of the simplest fares my tastebuds had ever had the presence of mind (if tastebuds did such a thing) to enjoy and recall. There was the least fancy dish called socca which I had mistakenly believed was made of cornmeal when it was made with chickpeas. We also had Farcies a L’assiette (“farcies,” meaning stuffed; hence stuffed tomatoes, stuffed zucchinis, stuffed onions) and moules-frites (mussels and fries).
I coined a new word that day – “Delumptuous” to mark a meal that was good and fresh and simple. Everything we farcied into our faces was delicious and sumptuous.

These bygone memories make up my kitchen homilies. The most successful parties, in my humble but accurate estimation, only have two outcomes:
1. People know they are loved.
2. People want to come back.

It’s summer and I’ve a Throw-down à la Bobbeh Flay for you. Find your foodict friend who squeals like a Billy-o when you hint you’re having a delumptuous party for five using only five ingredients from the farmer’s market within 5km of your home. (I’m making this stuff up as I go along …)
Strawberries are in season in Surrey, BC where I live, as are summer squash, kale, basil and thyme. Nothing has to be fancy nor expensive and sit-down meals are entirely overrated. One need not be careless about liquor if the host’s intention is to compliment the dinner and not catastrophize it. Crushed fresh strawberries with a splosh of wine cooler is a refreshing winner when you garnish it with basil mint and flowered chives. I grow these in my backyard because they’re hardy as mahogany.

It’s mind ba-lowing what anyone can get away with when the food is tasty and the company connects well with each other. I’ve also gotten away with food piled high and pan drippings resemble a Rorschach gravy blot of two people dancing. It’s lovely when the biggest headache your guests winge about is whether to have more quiche lorraine or kale with walnuts? That’s a champagne problem: having to choose between two ideals.

Questions for your guests to make the fête funnily memorable:
Make a list of things you don’t know. (If you are like me, I would suggest a less comprehensive list of 20.) Give your guests your problems. Here are some of mine:
1. Why do we need a turkey baster when it’s impossible to clean and what’s wrong with using a big ole spoon?
2. Why do clothing manufacturers sew their labels in such an uncomfortable place?
3. How do you tell someone with very bad breadth, that?
4. How do you think they make clothing out of banana or bamboo fibres?
5. How do you tell the person who can talk the hind leg off a donkey, that he/she talks too much?

Bring weird/wonderful kitchen doodads and ask them what else they can be used for. See #1 above.

Value-add your evening soirée by giving them tips. My suggestion is make them ALL up. It helps to put some Unhelpful tips in with the mix too. My favourite? Chew gum right after you’ve eaten seeds or nuts to clean the grit lodged in your teeth.

Introduce your friends to dubstep; if they fail to appreciate that, play Kajagoogoo, Howard Jones, David Bowie, AHA or anything from the 80s.

Remember, anyone can throw a successful party when pigs fly. And we all know, pigs fly when they have enough love and thrust!!