I'm man enough to admit that, under the right set of circumstances, I can be pretty damned childish.
Such was the case but a few evenings ago, when a Chinese-style banquet was to take place at my very own home and I was politely informed that my kitchen skills would not be required.
This took me by surprise considering how many dishes needed to be prepared: close to a dozen by my count, many requiring a fair bit of prep work.
Instead I was told that I might "pick up an appropriate dessert" should I want to "help out." I was told this, mind you, just a day before the banquet was to take place. A banquet that was weeks in the planning.
I'm no genius, okay. But I know when I'm being dissed. Bad enough that I was not to so much as slice a water chestnut or wash a mustard green. I couldn't even make a dessert, I had to "pick up" one.
It was when my utter lack of necessity sank in that the inner (willful) child emerged.
"Think I'll make some biscotti," I said to nobody in particular. "Yeah, that'll work."
The cupboard was open in mere nanoseconds so that I could ponder which ingredients to use.
"Did you just say biscotti?" (I may have failed to mention that my associate was in the room at the time.)
"Candied orange peel. Perfect," I sang out, removing a container of the sweet citrus rind from beneath a honkin' mess of dark Swiss chocolate.
"You're making an Italian dessert for a Chinese meal?"
I reminded the person with the giant spatula in hand how oranges and crispy cookies are ubiquitous after-dinner treats at Chinese restaurants throughout these United States, and wondered what could possibly be unacceptable about the dessert idea that I had advanced.
"If that doesn't do it for you, then think of it this way," I went on, perhaps too far, I'll admit. "How many times have I dragged you across Canal Street after eating in Chinatown so that I could grab a pastry in Little Italy?
"C'mon, orange biscotti makes total sense."
Suddenly I found myself alone in the kitchen, I do not know why.
Communications between associates can be sometimes difficult, I find, don't you?
Anyway, so I made what I damn well pleased and everything managed to turn out just fine. The candied orange peel made for a really great biscotti, and with a lovely Alsatian dessert wine, it was a splendid end to a pretty amazing meal. Which, as it happens, I've got a few frames of, if you're interested.
After all, nobody showed up that night for the biscuits.
Nope, not olives. Quail eggs marinated in soy sauce.
There were a couple different dumplings but these were the best: Homemade turkey and mushroom shu mai topped with carrot puree. (Both the dumplings and the quail eggs, along with steamed Chinese sausage and soy cucumbers, got washed down with Champagne and other sparklers.)
Szechuan pork and preserved cabbage soup. (We switched to a Riesling here.)
The main meal (which is where we moved on to a Kerner from the Alto Adige) was comprised of five different items. Spicy Napa cabbage and mushrooms was the vegetable dish.
Then there was the steamed pork and water chestnuts with salted duck eggs.
Shrimp and cucumber with cloud ear.
Chicken with walnuts.
Salt fish fried rice.
And, well, y'know...