I’m just back in Brooklyn, and still recovering from the past week in the Valley. Trouble, Sally (our friend-cum-my agent), and I hosted a Oaxacan-style goat roast and spring feast (and Trouble’s 34th birthday party) for 65 of our nearest and dearest last weekend. The whole thing turned out to be a splendid success…and left us all totally knackered.
It’s quiet, almost too quiet, here in my apartment. I’m not prone to loneliness, but over the past week or so, I became almost accustomed to the constant planning, preparations, and comings and goings of friends. It felt strange to leave Trouble’s house this morning after spending so much time there over the past week and a half, getting to know the lawn, barn and corners of the kitchen in a way I hadn’t before. But sadness aside, I managed to savor the drive South with the windows down, taking a detour to my step-mom’s house in northern Westchester to take a swim, my first of the season, in the lake. What a wonderful sensation after so much bustling, to slip into the cool of the water and allow it to buoy my weight, and then lie, slowly warming, on the dock in the midday sunshine.
Last week started off with a Monday drive in the pounding rain to our friend Bernardo’s Mexican grocery in Corona, Queens where I picked up tamarind, manteca, pineapples, panela, cinnamon sticks, and a few bags of fresh produce. Then I headed north to Millerton, New York, where I was picking up a family friend’s dog, Charlotte (who was formerly mine… long story), for a last-minute week of dog sitting. Then, six hours later, I pulled into Trouble’s driveway.
For the beginning of the week, I was on double deadline– finishing the recipe testing for my cookbook proposal and getting everything in order for the party. My days were full. I spent my mornings hiking with Charlotte, then settled in at my computer to make calls and lists for the party, and then gave myself over to a few frantic hours of translating and testing manioc recipes (like the deliciously chewy “cupcakes” de macaxeira pictured over there).
Mid-afternoon on Thursday, I hit “send” on my proposal (it’s funny when the recipient of that email, your agent, is also your party’s co-host… and coming over that very evening for dinner and yard cleanup).
That evening, We roasted asparagus, portabello caps and steaks and nibbled our way through a quart of fresh strawberries while Trouble, Sally and I talked logistics.
Friday, we picked up tables and had our rental chairs dropped off and the kitchen and bathroom cleaned (by someone else, thankfully). Sally and I, both fastidiously organized and something of neat freaks, spent a couple of sweaty afternoon hours out in the yard, tidying up, and then downed a bottle of rose (we were just testing the case we bought for the party, obviously) while we chatted, dirty and exhausted, on the couch.
Saturday morning dawned with a buzz of excitement. We spent the morning at the farmers market picking up our goat (smaller than expected, which induced a moment of panic), veggies, and flowers for decor. Then back to the house, where a small army of friends began to arrive with more ingredients from Queens (like our favorite masa and fresh tortillas from Nixtamal and huge, gorgeous agave leaves, tomatillos and pork for al pastor from Bernardo’s market).
Saturday and Sunday were a blur of activity– cleaning and sorting through dried corn and beans, cleaning out the cooking pit, peeling garlic, seeding chills and making salsas and the rub for the goat. I won’t go into all of it, but here are some photos.
|Trouble with agave leaves, courtesy of Jessie|
|husking tamarind for agua fresca|
|sorting black beans|
Sunday morning, Trouble was up at 4:30 am to build a fire to heat the oven.
|Trouble at the fire at the break of dawn|
I couldn’t fall back asleep, so I padded outside to help and offer coffee. With time on my hands and not much to do in the early dawn, I ended up stewing a pot of rhubarb. Then off to pick up last minute supplies in the thin morning light, with the sun rising into a flawlessly blue sky. We picked up the Sunday paper (Ha! As if we were going to have time to get past skimming the front page!). Back at the house, our friends and a certain very famous food writer began to arrive. I made French toast for Trouble, his son, our wonderful photographer, Ilana, and early guests, and held down my post at the sink, washing a steady supply of dishes so Trouble could cook and shmooze with the writer, who had come to interview him. The goat was rubbed with guajillo paste and wrapped in agave leaves. The whole package, along with a giant pot of masita was in the ground by 9 am, and the pit covered with corrugated iron, blankets and soil.
I can’t remember much about the time between then and when the full flock of guests arrived bearing sides, desserts and booze. I do remember heating stack after stack of tortillas for grilled chicken and pork, and that the goat wasn’t quite ready when the dramatic digging up occurred. I remember drinking too much rose out of a glass jar and nibbling at plates of food brought to me by my best friend from college. I remember the spectacularly delicate rhubarb tart and a jammy peach blueberry pie that friends brought for dessert. I made round after round of the party in the late afternoon sundays, laughing with our friends as our chickens pecked away at dropped crumbs and tried to run away from toddlers’ sticky, grasping fingers.
It was a terrific party, if a completely exhausting one. As the sky faded into a twilight blue, a small crew of us lingered over Mezcal, Bourbon and wine. We finished off the remaining two tarts and ate second rounds of goat. When no one was looking, I cleaned the kitchen. Again.
The next morning, we slept late and woke with heavy eyes and leaden limbs. Stumbling outside to let the chickens out of their coop, I took stock of the wreckage in our yard. Flies circled the leftover tamarindo agua fresca, the stripped goat carcass lay on the prep table, chairs lay strewn in small circles, empty bottles covered the round table where we had finished off the night. Usually, a mess like that would immediately cause my throat to constrict and my blood pressure to rise. But all I felt was a warm relaxation and contented exhaustion. There aren’t many afternoons in my life I can recall in which I have been surrounded by so much good taste and love, and with perfect late May sunshine tickling the back of my neck to boot. Our three essential needs (as listed by MFK Fisher, as much my guru as anyone)– love, food, and security– were all present in abundance. Perhaps that’s why it all felt so good.
|I wouldn’t dream of having chickens|
that didn’t like pie!
Maybe next time we host a big gathering the farmer will get our meat order right, and the cooking time in the pit will be be spot on. Maybe our tables will be the perfect height for our chairs. But probably not. Flaws are a part of the game, and good friends never mind hanging around over a few drinks and good company to wait for a tremendously satisfying meal.
As I pulled on my rain boots in the muggy morning heat and tromped around back, past the mess, to answer the hens’ morning beckoning (and feed them some leftover pie– thank goodness our hens aren’t too discerning to eat the ones that our foodie friends rejected!), all I felt was gratitude. For great friends, great food, and memorable occasions. I’d gladly accept these lingering tired days in exchange for a fiesta like that any time.