So that was fun.
This was not a “Raptured into Heaven” burger. The burger did not teach me Krav Maga, weatherproof my home, breeze through the final level of Diablo II, get me a new job, or straighten things out with my ex-girlfriend. Things are not about to get real all up in the dining room because I ate this sandwich.
Still, for a homemade burger? It was pretty amazing.
There were ninety minutes to go before guests arrived, and everything was running smoothly. The bread was out of the oven, and my pimenton mayonnaise had held its fussy emulsion. Cream had been whipped, spiked with Grand Marnier, and prepped for deployment atop mugs full of warm boozy goodness. Chocolate-Chip cookie dough had been scooped onto parchment and was ready for baking. I had a gallon of cocoa on a low simmer. Ganache for the chocolate martinis was gently holding over a double-boiler. A Tom Waits-ey playlist was already murmuring in the background. I had cleaned the bejeezus out of my apartment, sourced a hat, and was ready to don a blazer. My long-held fantasy of a winter-themed cocktail party for my birthday was about to come into being.
Caramel. The braising liquid was caramel. Fatty pork braised in CARMEL.
Nearly all of my get-togethers seem to stem out of an unconscious but important rule. If I am going to braise fatty pork in caramel, certain things need to be in place. My shirt needs to be tucked in And, you know, bed made, clothes off the floor, toilet paper IN the holder and not just sitting on top of it.
In other words, company. I feel like if I don’t have friends over, I’ll go Lord of The Flies and basically eat the entire pot with my hands on the kitchen floor with my face painted. Remember: I’m still trying to be a once-a-week vegetarian and things have been stressful and I haven’t made pork in a while and haven’t really slow cooked anything for even longer. I NEED least this thin veneer of civilization as a hedge against Dark Urges.
When I was thirteen years old, I cooked dinner for my parents. I had just discovered my mom’s cache of early 60s cookbooks in the basement, where they had been collecting mold for 20-odd years. I presume these were wedding gifts, offered to a woman who was only marginally enthused about setting up housekeeping with anyone, let alone my dad.
I should also mention that my parents waited ten years to have me. Looking back on my adolescence, this fact explains much but excuses nothing. It wasn’t so much a decline in energy or parental interest, the problem was a bit more subtle. I wasn’t even able to understand or cope with it until it was too late. The problem was cultural: that specific ten years placed them on the other side of the generation gap – distinguishing them from the classic boomer parents most of my friends seemed to have. Come to think of it, we never went to the neighborhood block parties, our folks were always terribly suspicious of our friends’ parents, never quite comfortable with the cultural touchstones the era (It’s difficult to communicate someone who never listened to rock and roll or ever saw Star Wars.) and, most critical to this meal, never quite able to understand their two kids’ desperation to simply walk their own unconventional, independent path.
So back to this meal. Chicken flavored Rice-a-Roni, Jello instant pudding, and the piece d’ resistance, a soup, consisting of reconstituted bullion cubes and microwaved chicken tenders, served in a hollowed out watermelon. Inspiration for the latter derived from this book called “The ABCs of Chinese Cookng,” an otherwise forgettable collection of MSG, cornstarch slurries, unspeakable rice shortcuts. But I saw the watermelon image and felt like one of those people who gaze upon a picture of the Arctic and know… right then… that they would have to one day attempt it.
Epic. And I choose that word carefully, because the final audacious course was remembered, discussed, and eventually celebrated in family lore for years. Sadly, pictures did not commemorate the event, but the illustration above should give you an idea.