Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Perfect Meal

There is a final, optional scene called "A Quiet War" in Neil Simon's adaptation of Chekhov, "The Good Doctor." The first link is to a YouTube capture of a performance which doesn't impress me much, but I include in case you want to play with it yourself. It is two retired military commanders meeting on a park bench to debate the perfect five-course meal. My younger brother, a theater professional described it to me years ago and it has haunted me ever since.  He and I could perform this at a moderately good level after only one rehearsal, and under a strict director who would tolerate no nonsense from either of us we could do it magnificently.  That might take a few rehearsals as s/he beat us into submission. It will never happen, but it is fun to think about. The spoiler is that they have debated to a near standstill, with the one who went first confident that he still holds a slight advantage as the other wraps up until his rival introduces at the last moment that a fine cigar should top it off. The other realises in a moment he has missed this crucial detail and concedes.

What is the perfect meal? I was thinking of this today as I was putting out a limited charcuterie for the two of us and wondering if the day will ever come when I can spread such a table as I dream for a group of loved ones over a large room, with twenty labeled cheeses, a half-dozen sliced meats, copious fruits (pears and berries work well with cheeses and meats), and both breads and crackers. This to be an ongoing feast that begins mid-afternoon and extends well into the evening.  There are small scattered tables, but this is mostly about the conversation as everyone mills about. There are chairs only because one might grow weary, or because an important small conversation might need to take place amidst the hubbub.

The assumptions and controversies reveal themselves immediately.  You will notice that this is not a perfectly prepared dinner for a few intimates but a large social event. This is not a Broccoli-almond soup/Coquilles Saint-Jacques/Beef Wellington for four sort of affair but a party structured by the food and wine. Scripture describes heaven as a wedding feast, and I am all in.  We do not usually remember how well the food was prepared after a wedding reception, but only that it was tasty, enough, and those we loved were there.  Wine and fruit juices should be plentiful, but I am undecided about liqueurs, beer, various soft drinks and the like.  Coffee and tea to fill up the corners, or demitasses of chocolate at the end, certainly.  But some drinks have such dominance that they take over not only the food but the conversation.  Can't have that. We have to apply rigorous disciple to keep the beer snobs from ruining everything.  Wine snobs are fine - they are simply amusing. I do want to have this be a setting that children can navigate, with things difficult to reach for the youngest ones but manageable for the others, who can then cruise without injury throughout the event. Hors d'oeuvres...hmm...hmm...I am uncertain.  Desserts shall be tiny and only come in at the very end, when those under the age of eight or so have spent their energy and have collapsed into the mats, pillows, and blankets along the walls. They would not appreciate such fine stuff anyway. I might hold the hot beverages until then as well, as there is a lot of extra complexity arising from saucers, creams and sugars, and spoons. Not a good mix with children.  Now that I think of it, beer could be allowed but only in those small glasses used for "flights," and something similar for sodas.  Sparkling water and juices should be enough to keep the troops happy, in addition to the wine. Liqueurs only after most of the crowd has gone home, and then also the fortified wines, a room for cigars, and a few fireplaces will close down the night. There should be a verandah with at least some covering throughout, regardless of temperature. I suppose a verandah suggests tuxedos and gowns.  I had not thought of that, but am not opposed.

Yes of course my brothers and all my sons are coming.  We negotiate the schedule endlessly until they all can be present. 

For some the perfect meal can only be on a holiday, which brings its own emotional power with it, and carries also a natural limitation of the guest list.  Traditional foods are also doubled and trebled in flavor in such circumstances. I can see that.  I would like to have friends and family both, but understand that  this might create an excess of energy that diminishes all.  Especially with my friends and family.

Expand on this topic at whatever length pleases you.

4 comments:

james said...

Eating you can do by yourself; dining requires friends.

Dan Kurt said...

Perfect Meal:

1) Chinese Banquet--best if a "duel" between two hosts and two banquets. I experienced this in Taiwan and each spectular one were of 13 courses ending with a special soup.

2) Dim Sum --especially in Hong Kong with six or eight in party.

3) Those meals with new bride when she was learning to cook. What special memories.

Dan Kurt

Grim said...

As an alternative -- which I do not endorse, but raise for the purpose of discussion -- Epicurus might suggest that the perfect meal is less a feast of dozens of meats and cheeses, and more exactly the right amount of exactly the right foods. Perhaps a Beef Wellington, with a smaller but select array of cheeses that compliment its flavor; just the right wine, and exactly the right amount of it; a salad or vegetables chosen to provide the vitamins your body needs to feel as good as possible, which the main course did not.

As for the cigar, perhaps there is no amount of tobacco that will enhance your sense of well-being as much as no tobacco at all. But that is a matter of personal choice.

PenGun said...

Dig a hole in the ground. Take a huge Salmon and bury it. Start a serious fire on the burial mound. Roast potatoes and other veggies in foil, all covered with melted butter, on that fire. Most people drink a nice IPA around here, but I like a good single malt myself.

A corruption of a traditional West Coast Haida feast. ;)