Unsuccessful Pranks: Seven Attempts

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 Break a prank down, and it takes an idea, planning, practice, patience, laughs, reactions, sometimes un-pleasantries, and success. Break an Unfamiliar Supper down and it takes an idea, a menu, planning, practice, patience and focus, many laughs, reactions, work, and success. It seemed  perfect that our last Unfamiliar Supper was held on every school kid’s favorite day: April fool’s day.

The day after Easter Sunday Brunch with a group of caring and amazing ladies, Lexie and I headed back into San Francisco proper, really into the heart of hipsterdom of the West Coast – The Mission.  Alex – a good friend of mine from High School whose message on Facebook prompted the whole trip out to the West Coast – had been so kind to open his home the night prior, allowing us to stay over so that we could get a fresh and clean start in the morning.  We woke in the morning to beautiful blue skies, an empty home and what we came to find out was an empty kitchen.

I had been emailing back and forth a few weeks back about who may show up, how many people, what the hosts wanted to eat only to get a lot of “We’ll get people there” and “Oh I’m so excited!” and “I eat every kind of food! Just not meat!” and even “Oh, you should check with Alex as to what they have in the kitchen because I think they have nothing to cook with.” As someone who’s life revolves around cooking and serving and feeding people and being around food, I didn’t really understand what “nothing” was when it came to kitchen supplies. They have a pot, right? Salt? Pepper? That should be all good. Turns out, they had next to nothing. Condiments and beer, that belonged to a roommate who wasn’t there, two pots, 20 forks, and no baking pans. “We have nothing.”

No matter, Lex and I were in for a small challenge, seeing as the space was incredible: huge ceilings, wonderful open floor plan, massive bay windows, open aired and comfortable kitchen. And seeing as Alex had been so kind to trust me with the place for the day to prepare, we started jamming out. Door open, fresh air, beat-filled music, and incredible ingredients from gardens, Berkeley Bowl, and the local Asian Market (Shout out to Duc Loi’s Japanese, Korean, and Meat departments: O! How I would live in that grocery store). It was a morning that encouraged all aspects of Unfamiliar Suppers, that is to say being in the kitchen cooking with amazing ingredients in a beautiful new city with a good friend and colleague is exactly where I belong.

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By four, the we had set up the mise-en-place with make-shift quart containers, two of the desserts had been made and were setting, I had run to the local Salvation Army to pick up a braising pan large enough to take Duc Loi’s full supply of short ribs that sat braising for four hours, the soba noodles were cooked and chilling, and the shitakes were marinating and preparing to be course one.  Thinking it was all under control, we stepped out for a few more things to get ready for the dinner itself: Tecates and burritos the size of babies. By five we were sustained and sated, ready for complete Unfamiliarity.

Complete Unfamiliarity in the sense that we knew only four people there out of the 20 that ended showing up.  But nothing brings people together (cue cliché) like food, right? Slowly but surely people started to filter in. Alex “found” a case of wine in his room to share with the crowd, people started to find their spots (see: couch, table, standing, what became a “chef’s pass”) and the supper began.

The first course: accidental mini banh-mi’s with roasted shitake mushrooms, fresh cucumber, carrots, and yuzu mayonnaise.  Tender, savory, slightly sweet.

The second course: Thai-style lettuce wraps with scrambled spicy tofu, with a hoisin-siracha glaze with cilantro and celery garnish. Fresh, bright, savory, with a touch of spice.

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The third course: Cold Soba noodle salad with a peanut sauce garnished with shredded broccoli, carrots, pickled shallots sliced nori, whiskey, pickled mustard seeds, and finely sliced snow peas. Hearty, filling, cold and refreshing.

The fourth course: Coconut Curry soup with Japanese Eggplant, baby shitake mushrooms, Thai basil, and cilantro. The perfect amount of mouth-coating savory sweetness with a bit of heat.

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The fifth course, and final savory course: Braised and Roasted Short Ribs rubbed in a hoisin glaze served with Mirin rice, nori, and a sesame fried egg. The meat literally fell off the bone. In all reality, the bone was just for decoration.

The sixth course: Cold brewed Earl Grey Milk Tea with Boba. Floral, mildly sweet, gorgeous texture.

The Last course: Matcha Panna Cotta. Honestly, what a perfect way to end an incredibly huge meal: soft, sugary creamy Panna Cotta with a hint of vegetal Matcha, coming with that caffeine to keep you up and digesting.

Three hours later, we had seen a lot of excited faces, heard a lot of laughs, received a few pats on the back, let ourselves enjoy a few Tecates, and only could pack up one Tupperware full of left overs. A success, with no hang ups.

There is no proper way to end this, except to say: THANK YOU SAN FRANCISCO (Alex, Max, Evan, Laura, Rachel, and Daphne. Thank you.)

 

unfamiliarsuppers@gmail.com if you want to set one up of your own.

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Wander with Unfamiliar Suppers

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When you get off the plane, dazed, confused, and hyped up on airplane coffee, you know your trip is going to be magical when an overcast sky doesn’t get in the way of your ecstatic gasps at every new architectural design, every flower in the next window, or hill you have to climb. The first two days spent in San Francisco were “acclimating” days, better know as “play” days.  We figured we had to take in all of the fresh blooming spring flowers, and who could resist walking up the San Francisco hills, let alone say no to someone who offered to take you around to Oakland’s community gardens? It was silly to think of working nonstop, and to be honest: who appreciated a day old mise-en-place? The fact was, these wandering days with no true agenda lead me to one of the best days I’ve had in some time.

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Lucky for me, three of my favorite people were in San Francisco at the same time – a best friend from high school, one from college, and obviously my traveling companion. One night after an impromptu leather workshop and subsequent Pakistani food, I found myself catching up with my high school friend. We planned the next day in the sun with a run, wandering through the mission, fresh juices, and bakery visits. Afterwards, Lexie and I rode over what seems to be one of the longest bridges in America, save the one leading to New Orleans, to be taken on a tour of Oakland’s community gardens. Sun shining, Motown music blasting from the garden’s neighbor’s porch, we midst of a free-for-all in the blossoming garden of greens, peas, edible flowers, and herbs — and this was only the first of three gardens. On our second day there, we had sat in the upstairs of a coffee shop, writing with jittery hands out our menus. Some were complete. The first was not. Dessert wasn’t anywhere near figured out until our last garden, where we found rhubarb taking over an entire flower box – Lexie needed to have it, and I was struck by inspiration. Strawberries weren’t quite in season, and to be honest – strawberry rhubarb isn’t my bread and butter for a dessert. It’s good, I admit. But it’s played out. Sorry.

 

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Resting for a second in my college buddy’s home for a split second with Jasper the house cat, we geared up to go to a house party in what was to be one of the nicest homes I’ve ever been in. Who knew the Oakland hills had magical sunsets and talented concerts? On top of I all, during the concert, the whole street’s power went out, and the artists lit candles, broke out the acoustics, and howled at the moon in beautiful harmony.

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The next morning, in what could only be called an afterglow, Lexie and I inventoried our garden findings, and took Ms. Zoe’s – a great friend and consequently our garden tour guide the previous day – advice to head to Berkeley Bowl for the rest of our goods.

Now, let me just say candidly: Berkeley Bowl has some of the most aggressive cart-drivers, but it is all worth it since it may be the best grocery store in the country. The selection was incredible and I cannot speak highly enough of the layout – 60% produce (conventional and organic in separate sections), 15% bulk items (thank you fresh soba noodles and every grain you could think of), 5% wine, and the rest funky canned goods.

By 1pm we were home, organized, and properly cooking. As we had known from before, Lex and I simultaneous busted out the preparation in no time. “What do you want with this?” “Oh, I got that tart” “Okay, so I’ve done this and this, what can I do for you?” “Are you doing okay” “Holy hell I get focused chopping for so long” “Let’s just go play in the sun for a second?” “Where is Jasper?” It was yet again great to be working in the kitchen with her.

One of the perks of Unfamiliar Suppers, for those who cook with U.S., is how incredibly giving the hosts are. Every home we went into, the host would give us the freedom to do whatever we needed to do with their kitchen, allowing us full creativity. We were able to have both their support, their kitchen, and freedom of expression. Sometimes those kitchens are incredible, sometimes they need us to use the toaster oven as the make-shift spice rack. The top of the refrigerator is for oils. The kitchen table is covered with chopping boards with no room for a diner quite yet. Maybe the oven door is a bit too close to the refrigerator so it hesitates mid-open. And maybe you have some of the best cooking experiences ever there.

The first course was complete. The second on its way. The third was prepped and sitting in the refrigerator until further notice. The dessert sat on the coffee table, cooling, out of sight out of mind (as many baked goods must be during the cooling process, mind you).

By 6:30 pm, we were set. The kitchen had been cleared, cleaned, and the prep-station for serving had moved into another room for the time being. People started to wander in, hugging as they passed the kitchen, asking if Laura was here, wondering what the name of our little supper club was “was it unfamiliarity?” “it’s supper club nyc right?” “Familiar foods, for sure.”

When everyone had taken their seat in the candlelit living room around two tables borrowed from a church just up the road (and needing to be back the next day by 9am for Easter services), I turned to Lex to find out how exactly we would serve. “Buffet?” “Plate it?” “Let’s do it Downton Abbey style.”

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First course out was a local Greek-style salad. Red and green lettuces, frisse, massaged kale, rice stuffed grape leaves, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, shallots, rice wine vinaigrette, nasturtiums. Not many words are needed to describe how beautiful that dish was.

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We wanted to keep with very classic courses, so we followed the salad course with a pasta dish. While we were prepping, we also came upon the cover of one of Laura’s cookbooks, and had to make it too: roasted eggplant with baked ricotta. So as people’s appetites were piqued by local greens, we hit them with a fresh basil-parmesan pesto soaked pasta cooked with white wine, shallots, and capers for added acidity all twirled with Downton excellence and topped with basil chiffonade.

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With spring coming, we chose a fish dish over a meat course. Next was Cod Amandine. Beautiful cod fillets swimming in white wine baked – almost poached – for twenty minutes with the smallest bok choy florets and whole cherry tomatoes along side almond slivers. The dish was light, acidic, filling, and vibrant. The cod was paired with Israeli couscous cooked with coconut milk, giving a bit of heft and sweetness to the final savory course, and of course – heaps and heaps of herbs.

As Lexie pointed out while roaming around the gardens: we should do a rhubarb jam because it is the perfect plant to make jam out of. Cook it with sugar and it jellies itself. Nature’s wonder. So jelly it, we did. We had to do something with strawberries – but not the main stage. Rather, I wanted a bit of acidity to balance the incredible sweetness of any jam. Lemon tarts. And since lavender grows literally nine steps from the kitchen, those lemon tarts became all that much classier: Lemon lavender tarts with freshly macerated strawberries, local rhubarb jam, with a touch of whipping cream. Insane.

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Five hours after the first guest arrived, two cases of beer, six bottles of wine, many conversations, one masterpiece drawing, and 25 full bellies, we called the first Unfamiliar Supper a success. In a few hours we were to be getting up to start the process all over, but this time for Sunday brunch.

 

Sun and Produce

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As we rolled down an open freeway in Brooklyn or Queens with the sunrise sprawling out before our sleepless eyes, we blasted Notorious B.I.G.’s Goin back to Cali and listened to the lyrics mimic our lives “we got the 7:30 flight.”  We started to question the idea of staying up all night for 7:30am flight, but by 11am San Francisco time, after a smooth and restful flight, we were satisfied: we made it to the west coast.

My friend, colleague, and cohort in Unfamiliar Suppers headed west for one reason: to cook. Or rather, to cook, eat, catch up with old friends, run on the beach, soak up much need vitamin D, explore new neighborhoods, listen to live music, gather produce from vendors and gardens, and drink Tecate. That last one wasn’t foreseen, but turns out it happened more often than not at our suppers.

Why west, though? Why not south? Or even to Texas? Back in December of 2012, I wrote a blog on what may be called the first Unfamiliar Supper, well the first proper one at that. A dear friend in San Francisco so kindly mentioned it to all of his friends and got them excited about it. My last words on that social media monster, Facebook were “name a date, I’ll hop on a plane.” A month later, I had bought a ticket for Lexie and myself, and we had one gig in our planner: The last weekend in March we would be cooking for Alex, Max, and his house.

The rest started to fall into place over the upcoming weeks – turns out my university has quite a large chapter of alumni out in the Bay Area, and most remembered liking or at least standing my cooking. Now that I had made it semi-official with a whole Supper Club, 25 people signed up to eat a four course meal the last Saturday of the month, in Berkeley, at one of my kindest, sweetest friends from college’s home.

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The last meal, a Sunday brunch, became – in my mind – one of the most memorable Easters in my memory. Fourteen lovely ladies gathered around a table, chowing down on three courses and enjoying the festivities of Bloody Marys and each other’s company.

Over the next week, I’ll delve into each of those Supper’s ups and downs and pigs’ heads. Until then, consider this scenario from a New Yorker in the middle of winter. How happy would you be?

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South of the Equator

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When you get five cooks in a kitchen, some may think that is too many. Unfamiliar Suppers begs to differ. After two days and help from four cooks, sixteen people left a ten course meal stuffed and beaming.

To be frank, this meal was all devised coming off the heels of the last supper – Brian, an amazing cook, was so inspired and excited by Unfamiliar Suppers that he threw together an eight course tasting menu. He wanted to show off the flavors that didn’t come through in your typical Mexican, Peruvian, or Columbian restaurant. He wanted to talk through his food about the international influence of Chinese immigrants on Peru and the strong cross over of the use of rice, soups, and meat. Italy’s influence on Argentina is incredible, so were the dishes involving huge slices of Pork.

With a ready-made menu, we had to find the perfect host. We wanted someone who was easy-going, a huge help in the kitchen, and ready to get people excited about the huge tasting-menu. Who else but Miss Lois? Now that the crew was assembled, we met a few times and got straight to the food.

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Meeting on Tuesday morning, ready for a long day and night of cooking, three of us set out into the wild lands of Western Beef – a mega-supermarket that had deals for days and South American sections for weeks. Mexican spices, Columbian oils and sugars, pork that would make Brian’s grandma proud… it was the perfect bulk store.

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After the excitement of three cooks running around a massive grocery store wore off, it was about three, and we were in desperate need of starting the prep. Brian leading Lois and I, we had big plans. Stocks and desserts done, vegetables chopped and peeled and julienned and bruinoised, herbs picked, pork braised, the prep list was as long as – and for good reason – a professional kitchen’s. It wasn’t all work and no play, though – we had some adult beverages and jammed out to bad music, and I finally listened to more than one Bob Dylan song… for shame. I know. For. Shame.

The next day, after a few peaceful hours of sleep, three of us met up at the Farmer’s Market in Manhattan. If the grocery store was like kids in a candy store, the three of us set free with little monetary limit in a Farmer’s Market was like those boys in Lord of the Flies before things went so terribly wrong. Fresh breads, gorgeous sprouts, hearty root vegetables, colorful carrots, delicate greens – we needed it all. As Brian said “We are just looking for things that are beautiful. We want to make this beautiful.”

With no more than three hours left before people started to trickle in, I felt so secure given that last supper was literally thrown together in two hours to great success. The amuse was prepped. The dessert needed only a quick fry. Soups and rice dishes were as ready as any restaurant would have had them before a big hit on Saturday night.

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By 7:30 most people were there, candles were lit, and the dinner commenced. Amuse course: crispy fried bread with a reduced South American mirepoix of peppers, onions, garlic, and tomatoes. A quick three bites to start the meal – crispy, slightly sweet from the tomatoes, and wholly robust from the garlic and onions. First course was a beautiful roasted vegetable salad with mache, sunchokes, parsnips, carrots, and beets. Sweetly roasted, a slight acid bite from the mache – a gorgeous first course. Second course followed closely behind with raw sliced apples, pan roasted Brussels Sprouts, fried pancetta, parmesan all over a gastrique. And that concluded the small delicate courses, since the following bean dish started to hit hard. Trotters and tails and beans all cooked together with whiskey and beer and maple syrup set the tone for the rest of the evening. Nonstop food. We were not playing around anymore with light bites, but rather we were bulking up for the winter’s cold.  Courses kept coming, piling on top of each other, almost relentlessly in the best of ways. Major entrees with huge flavors followed by major entrees  with just slightly bigger flavors flew out of the tiny kitchenette-turned-commercial kitchen just tempting you to try to finish that last bite. Oh, you just had seven handmade gnocchi? Why don’t you try that slice of pork and that bowl of chicken soup and maybe a dinner’s worth of fried rice? Luxury and decedance was the name of this game.

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Four. Hours. Later.:  People were taking spoons full of a savory-sweet rice pudding from my hands and preparing for their final dish: dessert. I had walked around fifteen minutes before dessert making sure that people still had room. Small smiles and smaller nods said “sure, why not?” By the time Lexie and I walked around with a bowl full of powdered sugar, Mexican cinnamon, a touch of cayenne pepper, and freshly fried churros as well as a bowl full of melted lavender chocolate dipping sauce, people were trying to snatch a second churro. Despite the fact that most people just finished eight large courses, we had people demanding, not even requesting, a second and third helping of dessert – a success at the very least.

Wine, beer, and cocktails paired. Plates demolished. New faces met. Unfamiliar Suppers was a success.

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The Internationality of South America

Pan con Hogao

Roasted Vegetable Salad with Mache

Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Apples, Pancetta, Gastrique

Frijoles con Garra with Trotters, Tails, Plantains, Limes

Braised Pork with Roasted Apple Mash, Honey, Pickled Mustard Seeds, Caraway

Gnocchi, Chimichurri, Roasted Pork

Fried Arroz con Pollo

Sudadito de Pollo

Savory Rice Pudding

Spiced Churros with Lavender Chocolate

 

Check us out on Facebook now, too!

 

Unfamiliarity


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Here’s my plan (maybe you’ve heard it, maybe you haven’t, yet):

In conjunction with 20somethingmeals, I want to cook dinners in unfamiliar places.

Explanations are duly needed, I acutely understand. What this will become is a traveling dinner party. A supper club for those who want the gathering to happen in their house, and an experiment in unfamiliar territories in both location, company, and culinary geography for myself.

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How it all boils down is: after being invited (but of course, I am a gentleman through and through) I will come over to hosts’ homes, tread delicately through their kitchen to find the cheese grater, the cutting board, the emulsion blender, and the dull knives. I’ll find out how accurate the oven may be, if the mustard in the fridge is past due — or that smell is just authenticity — and cook coursed-out suppers to fuel the host’s dinner party.

I buy the ingredients. I cook the food. I serve and talk about it. I’ll even pair wines (I’ve been known to do that a few times before).

The hosts need only set a date, talk to me about what kind of food they want, how many people might be coming over for their dinner party, and I’ll do the rest.

The caveat? None, other than I might take pictures of the food and write about it later.

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In return, I’ll put out a donation jar just in case the food was that good.

If this sounds dope, or cool, or on just plain swell, email me and we’ll start thinking about what foods you want. The five borough are options. In the future, so are other cities… just sayin, my dear west coasters…

To suppers, in unfamiliar places!

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Unfamiliar suppers email: unfamiliarsuppers@gmail.com

And just in case you’ve ever wanted to email 20somethingmeals, there is an email address now. 20somethingmeals@gmail.com

Story Time: Red Rooms and Snazzy Shoes

There are some days you need to treat yourself. Feel Good Friday. Sunday Funday. Thirsty Thursday. Whatever you want to call it, there are days for decadence.

In the middle of a never-ending shift at one of the restaurants I find myself in far too often, one of my dear sweet friends, turned to me adorned in her Egyptian-inspired apron/smock and asks “Do you want to go out to dinner?”

Yes. Of course yes. She tossed a few ideas around, but really they all landed on the same name at the end of her catalogue. “Here, here, here, or there?” “Oh, I had an idea, there!” “I would love to get a cocktail and a few snacks here or, really, there.”

With a few friendly phone calls, we were in at 9 o’clock at night for a feast that would leave us waddling out of the restaurant a half hour into the next day.

We got out our restaurant around seven, so with a glass of wine in us, we got ready, listened to the best and worst of current music, and headed over.

From the moment we walked into the restaurant, we felt important. It was the atmosphere of sophistication and a presumption that we, that is all of us that roamed and mingled around tables for two lit by small Tiffany-impersonating lamps, belonged there; we made it in life and could spend frivolous moneys on small portions of huge flavors.

Since the beginning of my endeavors, my journeys, into the food worlds – I have wondered what exactly was the preferred way to go about eating the perfect meal paired with adult imbibements. Cocktail, sparkling, white, red, dessert, espresso? Sparkling, cocktail, white, bigger white, red? Should hard liquor even play around with the amuse-bouche? Should alcohol even be around food – if the food is good enough, why even tamper with it?

That last question, in the face of true eaters, gastonomes, all over is a laugh. Even the revered Gopnik claims “Dinner with water is dinner for prisoners” (31, The Table Comes First).

In any case, we took to the first option: a cocktail at the bar with her in heels and a fur and me in snazzy shoes and a collared shirt. Gabbing about nothing and musing about our shift and those around us – how exactly do so many 20somethings have enough money to afford SoHo lofts and TriBeCa two-bedrooms – we spent fifteen minutes soaking up the higher class.

Once at our table, a small table for two in the corner of what looked to be a French brasserie, carpeted red and cushioned with comfort, we told the server – a joyous man – to choose our menu. We were hungry and ready to see what people really get for all of the hype and accolades. First, playful starters. Second, delicate seafood. Third, decadence. Fourth, gluttony. The food was outstanding playing around with fleur de sel, foie gras, truffles, fruit de mer, butter, homemade cheese, and chocolate. Poach, Roast, Braise, Brine, Sear, Mandolin, Julienne, serve raw and true. Radishes and Cauliflower, Chicken and Mozzarella, Uni and Brussels Sprouts – really this menu did no wrong. Paired with a half-pour of beautifully crafted wines for each course – the accolades stood tall and my wallet couldn’t handle this more often than a few times a year.

We walked our ways through the emptying restaurant to coat check, put our winter wardrobes back on, and exited back into the real world, escaping what seemed to be a secret, satiating hideaway.

 

Snow Falling, Doorbells Ringing

The night before the supper club, I was so sure I had it all together. I had made the soup, the carrot cake was done save the icing, most of the produce was cut and ready to sizzle in a pan with heaps of garlic, salt, and pepper. Little did I know, by 7pm the next night, I would still be waiting on the beets to roast, the kimchi to caramelize and the mushrooms to braise. By 7pm, people were also knocking on my door.

4pm (the day of): I got out of work and snagged a friend to trudge across lower Manhattan for a few things I still needed. You know, the small things: bread, kimchi, bowls, forks. For some reason I thought my apartment had enough things to feed twenty people, and I’d just make people eat out of bowls. Thankfully my friend wanted me to step my game up a little, and took me through the evolving blizzard into the depths of Chinatown for bowls and mushrooms. Once inside, our legs were soaked with heavy snowflakes, and I felt like I had been transported back to Taiwan or Korea. Really, it was like neither of these places, but it had been almost a year and a half since I had been in a large Asian market, whose air was heavy with fresh fish and other fruits of the sea. The large root vegetables on display in front of me and the lighting a bit dim. The floors were dangerously slippery and the candy section was filled with taro and bean paste candies. Next to the teapots sat digestive aids. It was a flash back, however vague the references. My friend ushered me through my nostalgic haze to find bowls, and we bounced, back into the tundra that New York City had become up to find the last of our ingredients.

5:30pm: Finally back home, arms tired from carrying half of my total ingredients, warm (our heat has just kicked on… how serendipitous), and excited, I suddenly became overwhelmed. With only an hour and a half before my wonderful friends were to be over, I still had to complete my menu. Roommates would come through asking if they could help out; “Should I cut these onions?” “Want me to wash that bowl?” “Did you see my yogurt?” No, stop that, and oops it’s in my dish. It was chaotic and frenzied and so g-d fun. Needless to say, I mildly blacked-out during that time. But somehow, I had roasted beets, and made candied almonds. Bread was toasting in the oven and Brussels were hanging out, wilting ever-so-slightly and marinating with kimchi (which, by the way, was sold to me by a work-a-holic Korean man whose produce stand is open for about 20 hours a day. He exclaimed upon my buying kimchi “Oh! You like the kimchi? You’re white though”. How sweet it was to feel a tad bit back home in Korea), and lentils were soaking up the last dregs of broth.

6:30pm: My first bailout.

6:45pm: My numbers have plummeted: 18 people to 9. It was the storm’s monstrous snow drop that swayed people. Considering the MTA had just shut down, and there was a possibility that they might shut down again, I couldn’t blame anyone.

6:50pm: Ten more people had re-confirmed. Numbers saved.

7pm: The first doorbell rings.

7:45pm: Soup is served.  A butternut squash and parsnip soup started off with a garlicky mirepoix and vegetable stock. Cooked for two hours, and pureed, I let it sit overnight to let the flavors blend and intensify. I served it hot, with toasted baguette and a hefty drizzle of white truffle oil.

8:15pm: The second course is laid out in the middle of the table. Roasted crimson and golden beets with olive oil, salt, and pepper to bring out their natural sweetness and earthiness. The beets were let cool for ten minutes and tossed with freshly roasted and cardamom candied almonds. The sweet crunch balanced the tender earthy root. Soup-like lentils, heavily seasons, came with a robust mirepoix (heavy celery, caramelized onions, and roasted carrots). Chunks of garlic found their way from bite to bite. Off to the left sat Brussels Sprouts sautéed in a wok with butter and kimchi. The Brussels sweetened their aggressive pungency with browned butter and balanced out the sharp, and crispy kimchi, all coming together to create the perfect bite: salty, sweet, earthy, and bright. The meat-main of the night was a roasted Portabella mushroom topped with sautéed kale, onions, and thick smoked bacon. Let me put it this way: for six mushroom tops, there was a pound of bacon. It was no vegetarian’s paradise (or… was it?).

8:30pm: The last person gets there, worn and battered from getting lost in the neighborhood with a fiddle that was momentarily left in a liquor store, a bottle of wine, and a dead cell phone. Her story was my favorite part of the night.

8:45pm: The Brussels Sprouts bowl was empty.

9:00pm: Where there were 8 bottles of wine, there are now three.

10:00pm: Brenda, who never showed up, is by default heart-broken. There is no more cake.

12:30am: The final guest rolls out into the winter wonderland on their way home and I gaze at the battle ground that I had created. And I felt content.