DEAR GROANING BOARD FORUM,
I am not a regular subscriber to Groaning Board, but from time to time I have glanced through your food-charged pages, usually while waiting for my neighbor Cerise to pound out a few medallions of veal, or to grind up a block of frozen Perrier for our daily aquavit swizzlers. (We like to relax a little after our husbands have left for work and the kids have been packed off to boarding schools in another state.) Anyway, my attention is always drawn to your “Forum” letters, which I confess to having found very exciting, but which I have always thought were written by some of your more imaginative editors. In fact, I never believed a word of them until last week, when something happened in my breakfast nook that completely changed my mind.
When my husband and I got married fourteen years ago, we realized that God had given us both a very precious gift: pink, healthy gums and flawless enamel. On our honeymoon, we made a commitment that no matter what other couples were doing, we would totally eschew sweets. (Today our household has perfect checkups, with the exception of our oldest—whom I’ll call Lance—who had his lights and several incisors punched out in a brawl with some Ring Ding-crazed townies near his boarding school.) Only once since that time has my original commitment wavered: at a wild party one night, a good-looking man tried to press some candied macadamia balls on me, but when I hesitantly brought one of the confections to my mouth, the scent of scalded molasses made me gag.
Thus, I was totally unprepared for what happened the other day. I was lounging around in my apron with a copy of Sugar Blues, avoiding the mess stacked up in the sink. There was a knock at the door, and I naturally assumed it was Cerise, returning my veal hammers or wanting to borrow a cup of salt. How wrong I was, Forum! I opened the door and before me stood a dazzlingly handsome young man, whom I’ll call Derek, holding a cardboard box. He was not more than a few years older than the boy I am calling Lance. Derek said he had been told to deliver an order to my house, and when I told him I hadn’t made any such order, he simply shrugged and said he probably had the wrong address.
It was a hot day, and on an impulse I asked him if he wanted a glass of water.
I don’t know why, but there was something about this apprentice grocer that made me tremble. I could not take my eyes off him as he strode into the kitchen and set his carton down on the counter. His long hair was the color of a fine Montrachet and had the texture of an artfully arranged plate of Chinese vermicelli, and perfectly complemented his T-shirt and corduroy jeans, which were the color of a Hubbard squash. As he raised the glass to his mouth, I could not help noticing the way his lips resembled the plump little chicken livers my husband and I like to wrap in bacon and grill on the hibachi. When he—Derek—finished his lusty slurping, there was depending from the tip of his nose a tiny bead of water, its gleaming clarity suggesting the almond ex-
tract my father was so fond of as an adult.
While Derek drank, I casually examined the cardboard box he had brought in. To my horror, it contained brown sugar, syrups, confectioner’s sugar, penny candy, flour, butter, cake and brownie mixes, red and green sprinkles, silver BBs, and fruits and nuts of all kinds—all the things my husband and I had agreed to forsake years before! Yet I was secretly thrilled, too. Suddenly, I became aware that Derek was watching me, and I barely managed to stammer, “L-looks like somebody’s planning a bake sale.” “Yep,”he replied, adding with a conspiratorial wink, “As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t mind choking down a couple of fresh macaroons myself right about now.” He flashed a wicked smile at me, revealing a mouth full of perfect teeth, white and shiny as Chiclets.
Before I knew it, I was wantonly lathering cookie sheets with butter, beating egg whites to a creamy froth, and thrusting pan after sticky pan into the steaming oven. I was a woman gone wild, and all my inhibitions melted away. For the first time in my life, I understood the potent urges that drove Betty Crocker into the craven demimonde of ready-mix desserts so many years ago. Buche mocha a la creme fraiche, braised gumdrops in almond tulips, raspberry waffles with jimmies, plum duff—the gleam in Derek’s eye told me that no dessert was too exotic for the two of us, so long as it was shared in a caring and mutually supportive way.
We went on like this for several delirious hours. Just as I was spooning the last bite of whortleberry clafouti onto Derek’s glazed tongue, the back door burst open. For a brief, vertiginous moment, I thought it was my husband. Fortunately for us, it turned out to be Rex, whom I’ll call the milkman, with several cans of Dairee-Foam under his arm. Soon—after some tentative probing of the refrigerator and the by now ravaged carton—our fingers, forks, and spoons were tangled in a joyful threeway over a quivering mound of peach melba. Several minutes later, exhausted from our exertions, we all three collapsed into a grateful slumber.
I do not feel guilty about this scene, and plan to repeat it as soon as I can, but if my husband ever found out he’d kill me.
Dear Sweet Tooth,
We encourage you in your newfound freedom, which we believe is merely an honest expression of long suppressed but perfectly healthy needs. Still, we feel it would be wise for a woman in your position to take the standard precautions—a dead bolt on the kitchen door and periodic fluoride treatments.
DEAR GROANING BOARD FORUM,
We are just a couple of ugly college guys who happen to love crudites and cheeses from around the world. As a result, we don’t go out with many girls, but not too long ago something happened in our dorm that we would like to tell you about.
My roommate, Sven—who is as homely as a bucketful of quahogs with the good ones taken out—and I—with my face that could make a locomotive take a dirt road—were sitting around the dorm lounge late one afternoon, drowning our sorrows with a ripe Camembert. There was a Galloping Gourmet rerun on the tube, and so we did not notice when a couple of tall and incredibly foxy coeds named Maura and Colleen sat down on the broken-down couch behind our chairs. The G. G. was boning a fricasseed squab when Maura, the taller of the two girls, whispered in my ear that she liked her Camembert all gooey and dripped over rice crackers. It was obvious from the way she stood by her friend that Colleen, too, had a thing for runny French cheese. I was surprised and so was Sven, but we had the presence of mind to invite our hungry Amazons back to our room, where we assured them there were crackers galore.
By the time the elevator stopped at our floor, the tension was unbelievable. We almost ran to the room, where the fridge—its shelves groaning under the weight of myriad Stiltons, Goudas, and Pont L’Eveques, full-blown in their perfect maturity, and a Simu-Pewt platter bulging with hors d’oeuvres variés— beckoned invitingly. Soon, we were smearing Brie on each other’s Triscuits (we forgot all about the rice crackers!), knocking back shapely wedges of Edam, and spearing Sven’s sour cream and caper dip with carrot sticks and some absolutely marvelous radishes. Sated, the girls left about two hours later, and promised to return the following week with a Gorgonzola we would not believe.
On weekends, Maura and Colleen have to settle for unbuttered popcorn and tofu with their boyfriends, who are on the track team and have restricted diets. But when they are shot-putting and hammer-flinging, little do they know their girlfriends are sharing fragrant afternoons with a couple of dorm churls. If the jocks ever found out, they’d probably kill us.
DEAR GROANING BOARD FORUM,
Enclosed please find a snapshot of my candidate for Groaning Board’s Plat du Mois: a delta of blanched salsify set off by a single Tunisian olive, and surmounted by two gloriously sculpted orbs of mousse de Cheetos. Hope you like it!
THE CHEF NEXT DOOR
DEAR GROANING BOARD FORUM,
For many years, my wife and I have enjoyed a rich and varied diet at home, but every now and then we are overcome by an irresistible desire to dine in a public place. Unlike so many of our old-fashioned friends, whose refusal to try different culinary experiences outside the home has turned their marriages into humdrum routines, we are as happy now as we were when our relationship began. We are always ready for a new adventure, and our only rule is that no one must get hurt.
Still, we were not prepared for what happened to us on a recent trip to New York. On the recommendation of your restaurant critic, Mommy Best Western, we decided to try a place called Plateau’s Auberge—where, Mommy assured us, we would receive “a sensuous assault on the mind and palate. A must for jaded diners who think they have seen it all.”
Assault is right. The decor was unbelievably tacky and run-down, and we had hardly finished the potage du jour (a rather pedestrian roux de mouche Espagnole) before the leering goon at the next table was trying to force his crabe roulade sauce marechale on my wife. In spite of a droopy moustache and several pounds of clanking jewelry, the man bore such a strong resemblance to Rex Reed that our appetites were ruined. But that’s not all. By the time our entree arrived (an execrable venison Grand Veneur au safran served with chestnut puree en barquette), our table was literally surrounded by a heaving mob of sweaty diners, all urging us to try this or that “delicacy” from their own tables. The din was intolerable, and we left without touching our sorbets.
Forum, we will never trust Mommy again. True, the waiter did treat us with the sort of sneering condescension we have come to expect in finer French restaurants, but we cannot think of another positive thing to say about Plateau’s. We are not squares, but we think there is something wrong with our society when so-called gourmets cannot enjoy a meal in public without enlisting the participation of total strangers.
Next time we want adventure, we’ll go Korean.
Groaning Board Forum replies:
We stand by editor Best Western’s review. Disclaimers notwithstanding, Disgusted are prisoners of an uptight value system that went out with the shah’s kitchen staff, and we feel that the thousands of open-minded tourists who flock to Plateau’s every week prove its concept is the most exciting development in haute cuisine since valet parking. Sharing entrees—provided it is done in a caring and mutually supportive way—is an easy way for novice epicures to acquaint themselves with a variety of pretentious dishes, and the confusion involved permits more experienced diners to stiff an importunate waiter with a maximum of pleasure and a minimum of risk. With wishbones and drumsticks strewn all over creation, who’s to say who ordered that overpriced pheasant smitane, anyway?
DEAR GROANING BOARD FORUM,
When I get home from my job (I collect and embalm fire ants for a large entomological research laboratory), I like a hearty, home-cooked meal of meat and potatoes. Wild ethnic cuisine such as pizza or shells in tomato sauce has never turned me on, and until recently, I never suspected my wife’s tastes were any different.
Then, not too long ago, an assassin bug I’d been keeping as a house pet got loose. I assumed the little insectivore would head for the root cellar, where my wife stores my potatoes, and which is home to thousands of naive earwigs who wouldn’t know an assassin bug from a hole in the ground.
I never did find him, but what I did find was more disturbing than the loss of my old friend: a collection of gourmet cooking utensils that would have beggared Julia Child’s. I was too dumb to know what they were then, but there were omelet pans, woks, whisks, souffle thermometers, cheesecloths and pastry horns, ramekins, and espresso percolators of every description. The only device I recognized was a Ronco salad dryer I had seen on TV.
I did not know what to make of my discovery. The connection between my wife’s recent loss of appetite and the cookware in the root cellar never dawned on me, and rather than risk the embarrassment of exposing my ignorance, I kept my mouth shut.
Then one Tuesday—I remember because Tuesday is our usual burger and fries day, and I had gotten a half-dozen all-beef patties out of the meat locker that morning—the mystery came to a surprising but delicious resolution. I had gotten halfway to work when I realized I had forgotten my wallet. Returning home, I slipped into the house unnoticed and went upstairs. When I emerged from the bedroom into our loft hallway, I happened to glance down at the dining pit, and what I saw gave me the shock of my life.
There, clad only in a chef’s hat and cooking whites, stood my wife, arranging two candelabra, a bud vase, and some sterling flatware on a damask tablecloth! My own wife, who has never served dinner on anything but a TV tray in the ten years of our marriage!
Fascinated, I lay down on the wallto-wall and peered between the banister rungs to see what developed. I was late for work, but I didn’t care.
After polishing the forks and spoons, my wife drew the curtains and went to the closet where she keeps her ironing board. From the closet, she pulled out a chalkboard easel and set it by the table. She began writing on the slate, but the only thing I could read was “A la carte, Thirteen and Fifty. Due to the unpredictability of supply, a dollar surcharge may be added to shrimp and lobster items.” When she finished, she went up the steps to the cooking level, where she began doing things I had never imagined in my wildest dreams.
Her first act was to put several chains around her neck—garlic, I have since learned. (Unaccountably, the sight of her slim throat harnessed by strange and powerful vegetables made my mouth water.) Next, she removed several very pale-looking steaks and a couple of skimpy fish fillets from the fridge, and slapped them down on the cutting board with such force that I winced. Then she moved to an adjoining counter and began punishing a blob of dough with her knuckles. Sweat broke out on her brow as she kneaded and pummeled the defenseless pastry. Soon, all four burners were going on the range and the kitchen became an inferno, but my wife did not mind—in fact, the heat and violent exertions seemed to spur her on. For the next two hours, she was a frenzied dervish, whipping this and beating that, pinching condiments into bubbling pans, and in general making such a racket that I was sure the neighbors would hear.
Then the doorbell rang. To my surprise, my wife stripped off her baggy cooking whites, revealing another bizarre costume: a floor-length gingham dress. A white pinafore and a lace cap completed the transformation: she looked exactly like a recent divorcee working part time as a “saucy wenche” in a colonial-style theme restaurant.
Pausing only to mop her brow and light the candles, my wife hurried to the door. She let in a man of about forty, took his coat, and showed him to the table. He pointed to several things on the chalkboard, and then my wife went up to the cooking level. Several minutes later, she returned with a huge oval tray of steaming dishes. Tipping over a candlestick and both water glasses was all part of the “saucy wenche” scenario, I realized, and with her meticulous attention to detail, my wife did not neglect to drop most of the vegetables onto the tablecloth while attempting to serve them one-handed with two opposed spoons. To complete the picture, she pretended to be unable to open a bottle of wine, struggling with it between her legs and then under her arm, before handing it to the man to open for himself. She walked away from the table muttering, “I quit, I quit. I’m going back to Bennington and then get a real job.” The man seemed delighted with her performance.
A few minutes later, my wife reappeared in yet another bizarre costume: a black evening dress and a string of dime-store pearls. She looked exactly like a woman about to become a recent divorcee. She sat down, and for the next hour I watched in utter amazement as they held hands and fed each other. My wife seemed transported, though the partner she had chosen intrigued me. She once confessed to me that the idea of serving meat and potatoes to an intellectual turned her on, but the man was definitely not an intellectual. From his slightly shabby tweeds, unctuous ways, and sophomoric table talk, I would have guessed him to be a creative writing instructor, or perhaps a contributing editor at National Review.
Forum, the sight of my wife having dinner with another man excited me in a way I never thought possible. Since that day, I have watched her serve many different men with cuisines as various as Northern Italian, German, and shopping mall Polynesian. I’m still a meat and potatoes man, and as such I try to avoid between-meal snacks, but sometimes watching my wife’s activities in the kitchen stirs such powerful urges in me that I have to relieve myself with a bag of beer nuts and a can of Pabst. She does not know I’ve been watching her, and I hope she never does—if she found out, she’d probably kill me.
MEAT AND POTATOES