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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Jetsetting to Supper

A scramble for supper.

That's what happens when you're trying to claw your way back to control over a haywire week.

When one of us is recovering from jetlag, having arrived at the airport less than 16 hours ago. Slept for about four. Worked for another four. Spent the remaining four commuting, unpacking, cleaning the car, catching up with the laundry, trying to tap out the first line of the story that dragged him onto the plane in the first place.

And when the other's trying — at the same time! — to pull together a book project where Murphy's Law has been outdone. Illustrator skips town. Two-thirds of the illustrations disappear into ether in his wake. Editor and author and another illustrator fall ill serially. Files call themselves by totally different names on the typesetter's, author's and editor's computers! Three illustrators and three editors are called in to the rescue. Contracts and payments are foiled by the vagaries of stock markets. The comedies of errors and misunderstandings cease to be funny. Bits of crucial equipment malfunction... until finally a ship's anchor dives into an underwater cable, slicing through our Internet lifeline!

So of course The One Who Stayed at Home (moi) has done no shopping! The veggie drawer is far from full. The breadbox is bare. But The One that Went Away (him) was charmed by certain edibles at a Thai supermarket, thankfully.

Now normally we like to sit and admire the long-haul groceries for a day and a half before surrendering them to the pot. But this time, the lean larder and echoing emptiness of the refrigerator would not admit of such fancies and foibles.

Out of the shopping bag they came, to line up on the counter. A cluster of enokitake. A vine of ripe-to-bursting tomatoes. A small package of coppa slices. A cardboard casket of pale, waif-slender enokitake.

From the larder: A cup of buckwheat flour (kootu ka atta), eked out with a cup of plain white (maida). A standby tin of smoked sardines.

Yielded with a sigh by the refrigerator: A solitary egg. A mug of soured milk. The last slices floating in a jar of homemade bread-and-butter pickle.

And so dinner was dictated.

The tomatoes went into the oven, with an olive oil rub and a flick of fleur du sel, of the Ile de Re variety. The enokitake were swaddled tight in coppa clothes. Twenty minutes they stayed, side by side, under the grill.

Meanwhile: The buckwheat and wheat flours were whipped about with an egg and the sour milk; then left to stand until the tomatoes were crinkling, splitting and spitting their juices.

Tomatoes out to rest while one of us sliced the pickles, opened the can and slid out the sardines, and the other made crepes of the batter loosened with just a splash of water.

Done already? It only remained to fold and stack, divide and dish up, with a grinding of white pepper on top.

For fast food, it was a revelation. This was in 2008, after all. Our first sighting of tomatoes on a real, live vine! Losing our enoki virginity! The sheer serendipity of sour milk! The decadence of ripping right away into the costly (for us) coppa! And all in 10 minutes less than Domino's undertakes to deliver.

But novelty apart, this meal became the gold standard of off-flight meals in our household. We riff on it again and again, most recently just this June, when there was back bacon rather than coppa; a tray of yellow pear tomatoes; a can of kippers; fresh milk from the freezer; an old bowl of homemade yogurt; and ground flaxseeds instead of the egg.

It is the reason we always carry a grocery bag on trips abroad, and make our last tourist stop a supermarket run.

It is the reason we're never out of kootu ka atta, buckwheat flour, which lives in a jar in the freezer.

It is the reason we can't be bothered that no fast-food chains deliver where we live.

Short of an Act of God, we have learnt we can deliver a dinner finer and faster.

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