Sunday, December 26, 2010

Will to eat...fading

I feel as if I have been running for days. My hands are cracked, my legs are tight with exhaustion, and I am wearing lethargy like a cape. I have been on an eating marathon.

I wake up from a night of drunken debauchery (see "Homeless fishman Christmas) and suffer through a few hours of work before schlepping back into the city for FoSF's chunkier, raucous cousin...Meat Fest. After helping Kelly finalize his apartment cleaning, I rush to the North End to pick up Evie and we return to find Kelly in full swing. A cheese platter also fitted with pate, chorizo, and prosciutto stare up at us, and we graze through the final moments of chaos that dominate Kelly's kitchen.

The menu, surprisingly, has a few vegetarian options (more so than I would have imagined)...but they are so thick with starches and carbs that they may as well be bacon wrapped around chicken stuffed with quail. Kelly pours out the champagne into our glasses (cleverly marked with wine markers that fit our personalities...I am "understated but competent") and begins plating. Pan-seared cauliflower with garlic and capers are placed right next to his English potatoes slathered with herbed goat cheese (my favorite of the whole meal). Next comes Evie's mushroom pasta and her scallop and crab stuffed jumbo shrimp. Cordelia buzzes to be let in, joining us with a flush from the cold coloring her cheeks.

And then the meat appears. Beef Wellington, as big as my fist and coated with a glossy egg-wash, is pulled from the oven and Kelly begins cutting. Decorated with a puff pastry candy cane on it's surface, the pastry crumbles under the knife and the juices spill. The meat is pale and blushing in the center. Kelly divides it into quarters and we each get a slab.

I haven't really eaten all day. Still full from FoSF and just getting over my hangover, all I managed to trick my body into consuming is a small sandwich and water. By now, I am ravenous. I pile my plate with cauliflower, potatoes, pasta, a shrimp, more potatoes, and then the Beef Wellington. The meat is so perfect that I almost pick it clean out of its protective puff shell.

After gifts are exchanged, Kelly returns to the kitchen and Evie and Cordelia glow with delight. "Time for dessert," Kelly says and I can hear something sizzle on the pan. After a few moments, he scoops out a seared slab of jelly and doles out a portion on everyone's now empty plates. "It's foie gras," Cordelia says and divides a thick piece from her own with her fork. Kelly pours a Sauternes to pair and I look down with determination at my plate. By this point, I just want to cross the finish line. Fatty and smooth, with a crust of carmelization on the tops, the foie gras tastes delicious but makes my teeth feel slick. I rinse them off with the Sauternes and manage to clean my plate yet again.

As the night ends, I pull a comatose Kelly into the car with me to drive Evie back home and wish Cordelia a good night and happy holidays. I move automatically the entire drive knowing that, in a matter of hours, I will have to get up and start eating again for the holidays.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Homeless fishman Christmas

I slump over onto my desk. My computer stares back with judgment across its screen, knowing full well what I did last night. "Well, your shoes are at least different," Virginia says with a giggle. "So you only look a little homeless." I mumble something unintelligible and reach for my water. I feel twisted and rung out like a used sponge, but it was worth it for the Feast of the Seven Fishes.

The name itself evokes some sort of ancient ritual. It's other name is the Vigil [La Vigilia], which only enhances this feel. It has also been a tradition for Kelly's Bottega friends. Since we have been seriously dating, I have heard of the magical night from Kelly at odd times. It's always said with the glitter and awe that most see in five year olds when listening to them talk about Santa.

The day of, we gather/pre-game at Karen and Michael's apartment. Karen's mother coos at the baby as Michael pours champagne for a toast. A second toast is done when Cordelia arrives, and yet a third as we get to the restaurant and meet up with Evie. The waitress seats us at a gorgeous table in the back and Kelly makes the first choice of wine for the night. Nestled between Kelly and Cordelia, I keep shooting goofy looks to Karen (the only other non-wine geek) and prepare myself for the long haul.

Fish #1 - Cherrystone clams & pemaquid oysters with prosecco mignonette and lemon
Fish #2 - Duet of Tuna (yellowfin tartare, Spanish mojama, and artichoke)

The first two dishes come out almost in tandem. The salty shellfish barely sucked down before the waiter returns with the tuna. He refills our glasses [pouring a sliver more for me because, according to Kel, I am "the hot one"] and someone initiates "the Ugly Shell Game." As the clams and oysters are sucked down, we flip the shells over and stare at the coarse, raw sides blasted with years of saltwater. I have the contender for most of the game until Karen flips her knotted and pitted oyster.

Fish #3 - North End whipped baccala with olive oil, grilled bread, and wild mushrooms
Fish #4 - Neptune Waldorf salad with smoked salmon, grapes, walnuts, and apples

Evie picks the next bottle as Kelly chases the chef (a friend of the group's) back into the kitchen to make sure he knows about Karen's nut allergy. "Kelly! He knows!" she shouts as he disappears behind a corner. The baccala is airy and savory. I dollop more of what I can only assume is a fine mousse of mushroom and olive oil onto it and force myself to start pacing. I haven't really eaten all day and I binge on the fish and wine as if it were my last meal. The salad is just as delicious--Karen's well-being saved by her own plate with some hot pepper to replace the effect of the missing nuts.

Fish #5 - George's Bank diver scallops with celery root, golden raisins, and petite mache
Fish #6 - Grilled Main lobster tail with buttery leeks, shaved black truffle, and chanterelles

Michael's turn for another white that pairs as perfectly with the fish as the previous choices. The scallops are plated like delicate sculptures, looking very much like the netsuke display at the MFA. Caramelized on top, they melt away from the fork in a way I have never seen in seafood and I swallow mine with as much gusto as the baccala. "This is my favorite holiday tradition!" Kelly beams and Michael smiles wide. "That's eight," he says and the rest of the wine geeks applaud Cordelia for her guess. "We had a pool going to see how many times he would say that," Karen explains to me as Kelly faux-fumes.

Fish #7 - Roasted monkfish with shellfish brodetto, roasted tomato, and olives

Kelly's indignation is cut off by the last fish. At this point, I am a human aquarium with the devoured fish swimming in the perfect whites. Cordelia makes the last wine choice and I look down at my monkfish. The last serving on the plate, it's heaped with vegetables and looks nothing like the monster it came from. Drinking a generous helping of the new wine, I plow through the fish before foisting my shellfish brodetto onto Kelly. The other people at the table, however, are in a similar state...nursing their wine glasses and looking down at the ruins of their plates.

After the "Merry Christmases" and drunken hugs, Kelly and I load up into a cab back to Cambridge. Content and lit like a Christmas tree, I drunkenly hug his arm the whole ride back. "And just think," Kelly says with an evil smile, "You get to do the meat feast tomorrow..."

To be continued.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

'Tis the season to get really fat

The entire apartment smells like nutmeg and smoke. I crack the oven door, gag on the dragon's breath curling out in gray wisps, and slam it shut as soon as I'm sure that nothing is really on fire. I have had this new oven/apartment for a few months and this is the first time it has fought back. Have I been using it too much? I did a few items for Thanksgiving, a pie here or there, dinner...nothing too strenuous. In fact, it has been training with me these past couple of weeks. We've gotten up early everyday, downed a glass of raw egg yokes, and worked out for hours until we're sweating/rusting. It's Christmas/Hanukkah, which means cookies.

For the past few years, or rather for the past few years that I had steady employment, I have been baking cookies for the girls at the office. Virginia, Baxter, and Peggy have been putting up with my crap all year, and I show my appreciation by adding to their waistlines. I usually wait until the cookie tins go on sale at the local craft store, and then I plan on how to fill them [the tins and my co-workers]. Last year, the girls and I came to the idea of an informal cookie swap for the department if only because (1) it is cheaper than gift cards and (2) we were already doing one unintentionally.

Last year, I cranked out:
  • Chocolate cherry squares
  • Mexican wedding cakes
  • Eggnog cookies
  • Peppermint snowballs

This year, I decided to up the quality instead of the quantity [and I actually have a S.O. to shop for, which adds a whole person to budget for]:
  • Port brownies
  • Eggnog cookies
  • Kris Kringles with dried cherries
I pull the first batch of the eggnog cookies out of the oven, but smear one with a stray thumb. Moving them from the sheets to the cooling racks, I pull the smooshed cookie off and pop it in my mouth. Richer than a normal sugar cookie [from the generous splash of eggnog], it tastes like Christmas/Hanukkah. The whole kitchen smells of cinnamon and nutmeg instead of the strange smoke from my tired oven. As it catches its second wind, I add the second batch and rinse out my mixing bowl. Looking down at the neat rows on the cooling rack, I decide to smoosh two more to make the rows even and check to make sure these, too, aren't poisonous.