Dinner with friends. (a drama in four courses).
hors d'oeurves. A. called Saturday to invite me to dinner the next night, and since she is one of the best cooks I know I eagerly accept. I arrive to find everyone waiting for L., who has gone out to the car and is taking an unusually long time to return, and an array of cold appetizers on a narrow table set perpendicular to the dining table. There is a sort of salad of finely chopped dried tofu, cilantro, and pine nuts, a coolly fragrant study of contrasts, the savory, chewy tofu, the crunchy pine nuts, the astringent, clean taste of cilantro (which I usually hate, but tonight find addictive). There are slices of - I think - beef tendon, translucent and spicy, and a platter of smoked chicken. L. returns, agitated - he cannot find his car and worries that it has been towed away.
first course. There are pots on the stove, plates of various ingredients arranged around A.'s gleaming, open kitchen. It is always a pleasure to watch her cook; everything is in readiness for its moment at the stove or simply waiting for its finishing touches before arriving at the table. While L. paces around, phoning various towing companies in search of his car, A. eases coils of wide egg noodles into boiling water. The noodles are tossed with beef braised with tomatoes and fresh arugula, which promptly wilts from the heat of the pasta and sauce. The beef is tender, intensly flavored, rich and savory in contrast to the slightly bitter greens. The conversation runs around in circles - where is the car? did it get towed? are you SURE you remember where you parked it? J. will drive L. to the towing yard to get the car, if only they can find it. L. is inconsolable. It is his birthday, and his car has disappeared.
main course(s). Finally L. can stand it no longer and goes off to look for his car. His wife, J., insists on accompanying him, leaving me, V. (a young German girl staying with J. and L.), and another couple, M. and J., along with our hostess. The conversation continues on the same theme....where's the car? Meanwhile we eat chanterelle mushrooms, with their light and earthy scent, sautéed with slices of pork (I think), sweet and savory all at once. There is shrimp stir-fried with tofu, slippery and soft and chewy, and a plate of Chinese greens, providing the same bitter contrast as the arugula did with the pasta. Sweet black cod is marinated in sake lees, the white fish made tender and intoxicating. We wonder if J. and L. will ever find their car. A half an hour has passed. V., being a visitor, does not know downtown Seattle and has no idea where the car might be, but she has a vague recollection of various landmarks nearby. Finally, stuffed to the gills and unable to bear the suspense, we head off into the night to look for the car on our own. A. wails in the background as two more guests slip out.
intermission. V. and I head outside, I asking her questions about what she remembers, she pointing out landmarks that they passed. One block north, two blocks west, one block south. And we find it. The car is two blocks away from A.'s apartment. It has taken us five minutes. Triumphant, we clap each other on the back, call everyone, and head back, secure in the knowledge that we have truly earned our dessert.
dessert. The rest of dinner is spent gently teasing L. about losing his car, or rather, losing his memory. There is cake, chocolate, layered with cherries and cream, and there are little steamed buns shaped and tinted like peaches (for longevity, they are a Chinese birthday tradition), filled with a sweet bean paste. And there is laughter, and love.