Sometimes it isn’t a matter of waking up on the wrong side. At times, a day will flop on its side several hours in, as my did a couple nights ago. This was without a doubt such a remarkable afternoon, it can’t live in my mediocre memory for long. It must see print and longevity. For it’s one for the books.
Sunday started quite swell, unaware was I that the universe was in the mood to play pranks. I went for a morning jog, baked a delicious quiche from scratch (beginner’s luck), had brunch with some friends over Camille Braun Cremant d’Alsace, then got a brief taste of Christmas by going to the mall for a few knit leg warmers and St. Nick gifts. It all started out so idyllic.
That should have been first sign.
But no, actually the first sign started with the meal itself– the meal that began the previous night with the purchase of short ribs. I shared the recipe I was eyeing to the butcher, to be sure he’d cut it correctly. Then as I went to marinade the meat in a bottle of wine and spices, it was all wrong. We had to return it for the proper cut. In the fridge and on my way, it wasn’t until the next afternoon—the ill-fated Sunday afternoon—about twenty minutes before I was to initiate braising, when it occurred to me: I forgot to turn the meat over in the entire 24 hour period it was marinating. Seriously? What a rookie mistake. I read up online about how awful this was for a thick, chewy cut like short ribs. But it was too late. I gave it a half hour on the other side and crossed my fingers.
I was cooking for my future parents-in-law. Two people who spent their first years of marriage eating short ribs for supper near nightly due to cost and availability. They knew how to make it in their sleep. I hadn’t even put it in the oven, and already it wasn’t looking good. You should know, I mysteriously screw up every meal they come over to eat. It’s incredible actually. It has become a self-fulfilling prophecy perhaps.
Alas, I placed it in the oven and proceeded to prep the side dish: Aligot. This French-inspired regional dish of the southern Massif Central, is one of my fiancée‘s absolute favorites. He was begging for me to make it, so I looked up the recipe. I then felt my arteries clog as I read the ingredients. A few cups of Cantal cheese (substitute sharp cheddar), a couple cups of crème fraiche, a half stick of butter… All for a recipe that makes about 6 servings. ‘That’s it!’, he exclaimed, “That’s the recipe!” Alrighty then. In the name of love. Good grief. (Though I admit, my inner fat kid was cheering!)
After peeling the potatoes into the sink, I slowly put them down the disposal when all of a sudden… it stopped. Flash forward fifteen minutes, we were shoving the plunger down the drain. We then tried chemicals that put Drain-O to shame. Finally, flash forward thirty more minutes, the tough meat braising in the background, the water went down. It was clear! Hooray! What a relief.
Not one minute later, while rejoicing and reviewing the next step on the recipe, we noticed a small flood of water falling from the cupboard below. Shit.
We quickly removed everything we could, changed clothes to avoid touching the chemicals just poured down the now burst pipes, and began sopping up the potato skin mess that had blown through. At this point, I was wondering if JV was reconsidering the proposal, focusing instead on the ‘crash’ part of my nickname: crashley. I told him, I come with a disclaimer. But only then do I think he realized it.
We finally got the sink pipes working properly, so I went on with the meal. Transferring the meat from the casserole to the baking dish, draining off the fat, and pouring it back on top for the final glaze gravy, I was in the home stretch. By the handfuls I mounded the cheese on the whipped potatoes, and I ignored that I just spent 3 days eating turkey dinner and leftovers nonstop before this decadent meal. I checked on the broil braised short ribs, turning them once as it said, licking my chops. I had the feeling all the worry was in vain. This meal was pointing to a success after all. And I was satisfied.
I was whipping away, admiring the fatty potatoes, when all of a sudden a loud sound cracked the silence in the room. What the…??? The oven door blew open on my feet, smoke filled the room and glass shards skated across the floor. Oh… my… God. I instantly knew what happened. The Pyrex exploded. Just a minute earlier my face was a couple inches from the pan.
JV was quick to salvage the meat—‘Give me the tongs! I can save it! I got this!’ I furiously beat the potatoes, refusing to acknowledge the disaster below me. Refusing to mess up the Aligot as well. Are you serious, God?
JV scooped out the meat, sure it was unharmed by the hundreds of pieces of glass. HIs mom slowly shook her head, insisting that it was not safe.
As we sat down to eat our potatoes and brussel sprouts, JV munched away at the gravy-less short ribs, grinning wildly and exclaiming how great it tasted! I, out of sheer stubborn will, put myself on the line and forked out a piece. It was quite good, in fact. And there was no crunch that told me I was about to die.
Within a few minutes, we actually all put ourselves on the line. He and his folks munched through the remnants of the explosion. And I was touched, as I put a lot into the meal. That said, I also learned that I need to let go sometimes. I put such high expectations on a piece of cheap meat (relatively speaking). And not only that. It’s everything. I think we all tend to do that. We focus on the little parts of our day that fall apart, forgetting that it began with a jog, friends and a damn good quiche.
As we took the last couple sips of the 03 i Clivi Merlot and said goodbye to his folks (after extensive research and evidence of other pyrex kitchen catastrophes), we looked at one another, exhausted and certain we needed to walk away from the kitchen and end the night on a good note. We headed to the new speakeasy in town: Williams and Graham.
This Highlands hideaway was just the ticket. Just behind the bookshelf was a world that took you back in time. We enjoyed a Pisco Sour and an El Diablo. Damn, they tasted good. We had a nice laugh and reflected on the odds. Even a couple days later, I can say it already provokes a smile in hindsight. Life’s imperfections tend to make a greater impression sometimes.
But I am staying away from the oven for at least a week.