Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

Cooking Without Warning

Last week, in addition to the big dinner party on Thursday, I was twice able to feed friends a decent meal on no notice whatsoever. In this case the ability to spontaneously host was more or less related to my dinner party preparations, but I'm pleased nonetheless.

Last Monday bconn (the guest of honor on Thursday) had a last-minute change of work commitment and was free for dinner. I was in the middle of some preparations for his party (it was my last free evening of the week) and had already eaten dinner (so going out was not going to work), but he came over and as he talked about various work concerns I pulled out a good bottle of wine and heated up some pumpkin-apple soup I had on hand, made by a local company called "Urban Fare"; the soup is fresh and organic and is as good as anything I could make, especially sprinkled with a little Parmesan. So I didn't really cook, although if I had nothing else I would have made up some quesedillas as I had flour tortillas on hand. The big issue was that my apartment was company-presentable, without notice. (Because of the upcoming dinner party, but still.)

On Friday my friend Michael came by after work because he thought he might have left his wallet at the party on Thursday. We had an absolute feast of leftovers. The salad dressing tasted better the next day and, oddly enough, so did the reheated garlic bread. I made fresh pasta and for sauce I used the tomato sauce that the sausage had cooked in, simmered with the little bit of leftover sausage cut up small. We finished off the Shropshire Blue and had a small bit of pate and a half glass each of the boxed Shiraz (which we had stopped drinking at the party when I brought out the better stuff).

This set me thinking about a vivid memory I have of once watching my mother put together a lunch for her father and uncle not just without warning but at as inconvenient of a time as possible, without giving any external indication of how inconvenient this was. To explain this I need to note a bit of background, which is that for nearly twenty years my parents produced a folk music festival. This was an enormous undertaking, to understate it a bit, and six months of the year were pretty much filled with the runup to the weekend itself. The pace increased as the festival approached. I think there was no sleeping at all by the final two preceding days.

Sadly, one year the festival itself coincided with the final days of my mother's well-loved Aunt Clara. On what I remember as the day before the festival -- possibly the Friday afternoon itself -- my mother's father and uncle stopped in on their way from Philadelphia to New York (where Clara lived), basically to tell my mother that she needed to go see Clara right now. My grandfather used to attend the festival, and I know he had some idea of how large of an undertaking this was, but to my perspective he seemed to have no understanding that my mother could not just leave and go to New York right then and there. (My mother reads my journal, and she will probably tell me this isn't so, that her father was just there to update her on Clara, but he was pretty insistent and -- quite understandably -- was focused on his sister's dying and the festival was immaterial to him at that moment.)

But what I mostly remember, and the point of my story, is that when my grandfather and my great-uncle Willie arrived my mother completely stopped what she was doing (preparing the house for 60 guests, finishing up the paperwork for the concerts...) and, as my grandfather filled her in on Clara, she made up a tuna salad and put out a platter of lettuce and tomatoes and condiments and fed her father and uncle as if feeding them were the only thing there was in her life at that moment. The ability to just pull this out, at a time when you have an overwhelming number of commitments and tasks and concerns (not to mention a great sadness about losing your aunt), is something I strive for.

Not that feeding Brian or Michael was anything like this situation for me -- I literally did have nothing more important to do and wanted nothing more than to feed them -- but the unexpected pulling together of a meal without visible fuss set me thinking about that afternoon about 25 years ago.

[Postscript: My mother, and her sister Jacki who came down every year to help put on the festival, did get to see Clara the day after the festival, on what turned out to be her last (or next-to-last?) day.]
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