Friday, November 23, 2007

Agua de Valencia

Madrid at night feels like a Discovery Channel special: the action shots in which cars and people flow through the streets like a human liquid, and you can imagine it from an aerial view, the intersections bright with stoplights and storefronts, the idea of the individual swallowed by the pure mass of bodies and steel. El Corte Ingles, the Spanish department store, squats like a giant commercial hen over three or four city blocks, its bank of store front windows illuminating the sidewalk with flourescent light. Leah and I had been striding along discussing how best to buy all the groceries and get to dinner on time when I got stuck behind an older woman with a cane and a crowd of men in suits. I watched Leah's back moving surely through the crowd, arms swinging, blonde hair lit by window displays, looking more like a general on parade than a crunchy granola in a soft shell mountain jacket. She turned her head quickly, locating me as I laughed and dodged coats. Without breaking stride she put one finger in the air like a tour guide, looked back again and yelled over her shoulder "Are you with me?" I laughed so hard I doubled up as I jogged to rejoin her.

I felt more sanguine about the idea of feeding and entertaining 15 people once we'd bought all of the groceries. Better, that is, until we had to carry it all home, the 6 kilos of flour, 8 loaves of bread, three chickens, a small tree of celery, and other sundry items, necessitating short recovery breaks on the walk home. The only thing we were missing was Crisco, an ingredient it turns out that only an Amerian would use. It wasn't until Thursday morning that Leah called me from The American Store (it's actual name), to announce that not only had she found canned pumpkin, but had also managed to procure a tub of Crisco, that wonderful, familiar blue tub of hydrogenated fat. "It's small, so I'll have mix it with butter to make the crusts."

I was showered but not yet dressed, wearing an old pinstripe Oxford shirt my brother discarded, sitting on a Hello Kitty stepstool, the trashcan in front of me, peeling 3 kg of potatoes. When the buzzer sounded, I slid down the hallway in my socks; "Hola," I said into the phone, expecting to hear Leah and Steve, but instead heard the sound of empty air on the other side of the intercom, confusion setting in as then the doorbell rang. "It's Andy," said a voice from the other side of the door. I slid to open it, the momentum carrying me past the door as I yanked it. I must have look bewildered; as Andy stood there in his work clothes holding a bottle of wine, his face just as surprised as mine.
"Are you alone?" he asked. "Weren't Leah and Steve supposed to be here at five?"
"Yes, but I'm assuming Leah's five pies took longer than expected."
"Oh, wow. Well, let's open this bottle. What can I do?"

Somehow, in my inaguaral run as Thanksgiving chef, I managed to produce three tender, perfectly done chickens. Three hours ahead of time. My roommate Alice and I stood looking at the oven door, the three pullets slumped in their juices, the stuffing spilling into the pan.
"Do you have a beach towel?" She asked me.
"Yes, why?"
"My mom takes the turkey out, covers it with tin foil, and then wraps it in a beach towel to keep it warm."
"Does it work?"
"Oh yeah," she nodded emphatically.
"But for three and a half hours?"
"No," she admitted, "for maybe an hour before we eat."
We both started laughing. "I wish we could make the oven hot without heating them up and drying them out!" Alice mourned.
"Me too. Well, leave them in a warm oven?" I ventured, staring at them.
"Yeah. And besides, if the chicken isn't hot, everything around it will be."

Steve looked like he belonged in the Beatles: skinny tie, suit, and freshly shaved after a month of growing out a beard, he stood with Leah, each carrying two pies. The whirlwind began in earnest, as Steve and I moved the furniture, Leah began mixing a vat of Sangria, and Andy moved brusquely about the kitchen in his apron, adding more curry to the sweet potato wedges. Friends started arriving, and the house filled with the merry sound of mingling, trips to the porch for sangria, and music. "We're going for more wine," Marisa informed me, "and bread," added Kate, as they buttoned their jackets.

The table was loaded down, the pot of soup nearly lost behind six bottles of wine, stuffing, mashed potatoes, bread, sweet potatoes and chicken. There were so many of us that "buffet style" desolved into "take some of what's in front of you."
"Oh! I almost forgot," I said, and dashed to the kitchen.
"WHERE DID YOU GET THAT?" Neil asked me, cradling the bowl of cranberry sauce in both hands, starting off the giving of thanks with a homage to the the stuff.

We all sat in a circle saying what we were thankful for, in Spanish, plates of food balanced precariously on our laps, and glasses of wine sitting on the floor.
"Doy gracias por mis amgios y esta experiencia."
"Yo doy gracias por mi salud y esta cena."
"Y yo, doy gracias para la juventud--"
"Y que la juventud no sea gastado en los jovenes!" Marisa added joyfully, waving a fork.
"What?" We asked.
"And that the youth not be wasted on the young, it's Shakespeare, right? He says that youth is wasted on the young, so I give thanks for youth NOT being wasted on the young."

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