Wednesday, September 15, 2010

In the Nick of Time

Last week, a client called shortly after lunchtime and asked me to cater a dinner he was hosting—not in a few weeks or even a few days, but just hours away. He’s a loyal client as well as a valued friend, so after a five-minute menu discussion, I was out the door to shop for the food that I would have to bring home and transform into a first class dinner within just a few hours. --No problem, I tell myself.

Once back in my relatively small but very efficient kitchen, I started with the Chocolate Pie --the meringue bakes for one hour and needs to cool before filling with the chocolate mixture, and after that, it needs several hours in the fridge. As the meringue baked, I made the chocolate mixture, then put a large pot of water on to boil. I shucked the corn, plunked it into the boiling water. As soon as it was cool enough to handle, I de-cobbed it and made the “pudding” part of the A Maize Zing Corn Pudding. With the kitchen clock reading 4:00 p.m, I’ve a few tasks to complete: preparing the appetizers, picking the shell from four pounds of crabmeat, fixing and cooking crab cakes, preparing and assembling tomato platter. It’s good, I tell myself. Except I keep getting interrupted by the telephone. Sound like you’re not the least bit harried, I tell myself.

Ahh, telly’s ringing again; my hands are covered with crabmeat mixture that I rinse off just in time to grab the receiver before the answering service kicks in. Then I hear myself repeating my client’s dilemma and my solution: Ah, you need the food one hour earlier their meeting ended early and they changed their flight departures … O.K., well sure, I’ll see you in an hour. I hang up, take a deep breath -- I can do this, I tell myself. As I race, minute by minute, from the stove to the sink to the fridge to the counter and a back to the stove, the telephone keeps ringing. Midway through, I am reminded of Lucy and Ethel working the assembly line in the all-time favorite chocolate factory episode of “I Love Lucy!” Eyeing the clock way too often, I realize, I still have to mix the six ingredients for the dip, bake it, bake corn pudding, cook crab cakes, assemble the Brie and tomato platter…

O.K., speed it up … preheat oven, shove in the A Maize Zing and the dip, set timer … whack Brie in half, stuff with pesto, top with chopped tomato, warm skillet, melt butter. While butter is melting, slice tomatoes, add crab cakes. Warm another skillet, melt butter, slap Mozzarella in between tomato slices, add crab cakes, garnish tomatoes with basil, flip crab cakes. Uh-oh, it’s 4:40, I have ten minutes to finish food, pack car, and get there. Spinning faster now, flip crabcakes in second skillet, transfer first batch of cakes to platter, add butter, add more cakes, cover tomato platter, flip cakes, cover Brie, remove A Maize Zing and dip, transfer cakes to platter, get car out of garage. Carefully cover pie, cover cakes, pack oven-hot A Maize Zing and dip, take first trip to car, 4:48 and this is no lazy man’s load, 4:52, second trip, third trip to car. Faster, I tell myself, speed it up… fourth trip to car. Finish packing, car in gear and foot on the accelerator, I arrive at my client’s – mercifully, he lives just around the corner – at 5 p.m. on the dot, just as promised!