Monday, September 13, 2010

Oxymoron as a Culinary Device

One wouldn’t imagine being served haute cuisine in a rustic cabin, but I can vouch from first-hand experience that the same is true! Likewise the juxtaposition of seeming opposites normally reserved for the literary vernacular is equally effective in matters of gastronomy and architecture.

On Sunday evening we dined with a mutual friend in nearby Pakenham Township at his quaint cottage situated in a glade immediately adjacent the roaring Indian River. So carefully revitalized is the log cabin that one cannot help but think it part of an idyllic and archaic Hollywood set. Bing Crosby and Holiday Inn have nothing on this place! Everything about the cabin is homey and packed with charm. As with most similar social venues the walls are cluttered with paraphernalia contributed by our host’s many admiring guests who have thought to bring along a memento of one sort or another, often charged with over-lying comic relief. In addition the ancestral atmosphere is thickened by the presence of numerous paintings, sketches and bric-à-brac once belonging to other friends and departed family members no longer whinnying among us. Our host nurtures that peculiarly country custom of dilating upon one’s clan and other close associates, always proving to be a genealogical delight for the astute observer.
As our host got the first round of the event under way by serving up a surprisingly wide variety of single malt Scotch whisky, I marvelled how like this miniature chalet was to a yacht, wherein everything is judiciously placed to provide maximum convenience within a relatively confined space. Indeed the expression galley kitchen springs to mind when describing the seat of the action. I might add that we were largely confined to quarters last evening because of the falling rain. In the past our dining experiences have been preceded by a wander about the property particularly to relish the thundering water of the River below. On this occasion however we kept indoors and heated by the small electric fireplace which whirred on and off throughout the evening.

To my entire pleasure, our host shares with us the preference for small intimate gatherings, conducive to private conversation rather than mere cocktail taradiddle. Besides the looseness of the function afforded us at times the opportunity to amuse ourselves with the two vibrant English cocker spaniels which were in residence. The melting effect of dogs in a group setting is immediate especially to those who like us love animals.

Our host reported on our enquiry that he entertains at the cottage during the season on average twice a month, which, considering the extent of what followed was no small compliment. We began with hearts of palm wrapped in Prosciutto lathered in an orange mayonnaise accompanied by a tapenade of figs, anchovies, garlic and dry toast squares. What we thought was to be the main course, but which turned out to be an introduction only, was a delicious Coquille St. Jacques (redeemed in its richness only by the thankful absence of potatoes). This maritime specialty precipitated all sorts of conversation about bivalve molluscs generally, which surprisingly are on the whole anathema to our host (things like clams, mussels and the like, though apparently not including the scallop). It was at this juncture in the proceedings that I committed the faux pas of asking whether our host had overlooked bringing the rolls (which I knew without examination would be homemade) to the table, since I had noted the presence of side plates and butter knives. We were then informed that he proposed to serve the rolls with the main course after the succeeding salad course! Well! This intelligence gave new meaning to tucking in! And tuck in we did, though I confess with ever increasing lethargy. Urged along by our host’s exertion that “it can’t be saved, it’ll only be thrown out” we managed to motor through the entire crispy lettuce salad dressed with homemade walnut oil and mandarin oranges. When however we were served the plat principal of salmon, baby potatoes, snow peas and beets, and having been warned that there was homemade apple pie à la mode to follow we simply had to leave a portion on our plates, naturally to save room for the pie! As a result, we will today have cold salmon sandwiches. By the way, the homemade rolls did of course eventually arrive, and it was a moment’s work for me to get through two of them, buttered!

The final ceremony of unbuttoning the waistcoat, stretching and spinning a yarn consumed a good deal of time, which we noticed whizzed by. By this time the dogs, which our host had taken the precaution of feeding early in the evening and who throughout the evening had been handed bits and pieces from the festive board, were now curled up on their respective couches, apparently sound asleep. Their alert ears were of course quick to detect the gathering motions of departure. Amidst the customary thanks and cheery-ohs! we made our way through the black starless night and drizzle to our vehicle to take us away from the rushing River water and tiny log cabin to our own home. A thoroughly pleasant Sunday evening!

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