It was another feast of wonderful and complex and labor-intensive vegetarian Indian food. I enjoyed my role as downstairs kitchen manager, pulling out bowls and pots and utensils and appliances and serving dishes and the occasional spice jar at the request of the chefs working their stations. (I had put away my microwave and toaster oven earlier, to provide more counter space.)
Last year I had stocked up on various beers and wines that I thought would work with the food, but few people drank alcohol (drinking instead the variously spiced Indian beverages). But I know enough about hosting to know that this didn't mean that the same would hold true this year. I provided the workers in my kitchen with some nice Beaujolais to sip while they worked, and as the upstairs workers came down for various reasons they found the idea of wine appealing. We went through two bottles before the appetizers. (We also went through more wine at dinner than last year, both what I provided and what my landlord Stephen provided.)
This year we took a break after about three hours to eat appetizers: batter-coated fried vegetables of various sorts dipped in a freshly-made tamarind chutney. To give you an idea of what I mean when I describe the dishes as labor-intensive, I note that among the fried items were cherry tomatoes that had been stuffed with an herbed cheese filling before being coated with the spicy batter.
We ate the appetizers buffet style in my apartment, while the formal sit-down dinner was held upstairs. While that might seem as if this would double the amount of fuss and cleanup, in fact it simplified things greatly. After eating the appetizers, most of the guests went upstairs to finish preparing the dinner and to set up the table while Michael stayed downstairs to help me wash up the dishes and bowls and pots. By the time dinner began a large part of the washing-up had already been finished. And I was able to set up for dessert, which was also going to be held downstairs -- the moving between apartments like this spread out the day nicely.
Last year, as I supervised my kitchen, I became acutely aware that I didn't own much in the way of good cookware. This inspired me to what became a yearlong project of outfitting my kitchen properly. I spent many delightful months researching and purchasing all manner of fine pots and pans. Some of the guests even noted this -- not in a comparative way, but in an admiring way. "I don't think of you as somebody who cooks a lot, but you have really nice cooking stuff," said Lynn. Libbie was impressed that my steamer insert (which I, myself, have never even used) has a nice convenient handle so that you can remove it from a saucepan without burning yourself.
Besides buying cookware, I considered what else might prove useful (based on last year's experience). So I went out and bought a few "chopping mats" (very useful indeed for a group cooking session, it turns out), and I had the kitchen well-supplied with piles of clean tea towels and kitchen towels. Even so there were times when I was unable to fulfill a specific request, at which point I would announce "I'll add that to the list!" and I'd take out an actual list. "The list" became a running theme of the day, although shortly before dinner when Douglas asked me if I had a rice cooker I said, "No, and I'm not even going to put that one on the list." Douglas assured me that I didn't need to put this on the list, but he figured there was always a chance that I owned one since I seemed to own so many other kitchen appliances at this point.
The very next day, on January 2, I went out to Bed, Bath, and Beyond with "the list". I purchased the following items:
- A good-quality big metal stirring spoon. I had never felt the need for this before, as I use wooden spoons, but when somebody asked me if I had one I thought it odd that I did not.
- A good-quality stainless steel big slotted spoon. I had a skimmer and a small slotted spoon, which served us well enough, but this would have been useful for the fried vegetables.
- A nice ladle. I had a ladle. In fact, I've had that ladle for over 25 years. It was a cheap ladle to begin with. The plastic handle had grown haggard, and the bowl of the ladle had lost its plating. This is the sort of thing you don't notice at all until you hand your ladle to somebody else. I'm now the proud possessor of a fine new one-piece stainless steel ladle.
- A salad spinner. A colander and tea towels have served me well, but the salad spinner will be a good thing.
- A funnel. I had to borrow Stephen's funnel to pour the frying oil out of the pot into a container we could throw away. Now that I think about it, I'm sure that having a funnel can make certain cooking steps (of container tranference) less messy.
- A mortar and pestle. The need for this arises now and then in a recipe I'm looking at, and I've considered it. When somebody came down from upstairs to ask me if I owned one I was embarrassed to say that I did not. Now I do. It turns out you can get nice ones made of glass and even of stainless steel, but mine is green marble.
- A set of "splatter screens". While on my own I don't fry foods (which is what we needed these for), simmering tomato sauce tends to splatter my counter, so this will be good.
- When I pulled out my "universal lid" to use as a splatter screen, I noted that it was cheap and bent and beat-up and, again, embarrassing. So I bought a new one, made by Nordic ware, with a glass center.
While Jan was preparing the tomatoes for stuffing she asked if I had a melon baller (something even Stephen does not have) and I was proud to run downstairs and get her one. But she looked at it funny and said that this wasn't really what she needed, what she needed was a tomato scoop. I though she was kidding. She was not. She insisted that you can get a specific utensil that you can use for scooping out cherry tomatoes. I put it on my list, and later questioned her further. She said that this item goes by the brand name of "Tomato Shark". Nobody else had even heard of them, and they were nowhere to be found at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. They are, however, quite easy to find on the Internet, for $6, which makes them not worth paying the postage for. At least I know what to look for now.
Libbie needed a blender for the amazing avocado-oil-based dressing for the many-small-item-mostly-jicama salad. I brought out my early-fifties Knapp Monarch motorboat-engine model and noted that perhaps I really should get a new one (that doesn't smell slightly of burning rubber when you run it too long). Libbie the engineer then explained to me some basic design problems with blenders in general (that require you to scrape down the sides periodically) and talked to me about the desirability of a Braun immersion blender. So that's on the list, but still unpurchased.
It's really good for me to host a large party now and then. Before the party I am forced to clean more than I usually do, and to replace worn-out dish towels and the kitchen sponges (on my own I'd probably use them until they were mere scraps, or at least beyond the point where they remain properly sanitary). After the party I figure out a few things that can make entertaining nicer. By the time I die, I may actually have what I need to describe my kitchen as well-furnished.
And then you can all come over and cook the best post-funeral meal ever.