I'll be back the second week of November.:-)
Marianne Engel had previously brought me snacks, but it was obvious that this meal was far more substantial. she opened the hampers - one for hot items and the other, packed in ice, for cool - and started to lay out the food. There was a freshly baked round of focaccia, still smelling of wood smoke, and bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. She danced a swirl of of black across the surface of the yellow, and then dipped a chunk of the focaccia into the leoparded liquid. She said the familiar prayer before she lifted the bread to my mouth: "Jube, Domine benedicere."
She'd also brought cheeses: Camembert, Gouda, blue, Iranian goat. She asked my favorite and when I picked the goat, she smiled broadly. Next, some steaming wraps that looked like crepes but had a bawdy smell. Gorgonzola pancakes were not for everyone, she explained, but she hoped I liked them. I did. There were cantaloupe balls wrapped in thin slices of prosciutto, the fruity orange peeking through the meaty pink.
She continued to excavate the hampers. Bastardly plump green olives, fat with red pimiento stuffing, lounged contentedly in a yellow bowl. A plateful of tomatoes soaked in black vinegar with snowy nuggets of bocconcini. Sheaves of pita and cups brimming with hummus and tzatziki. Oysters, crabs, and scallops drowning a wonderful death in a marinara ocean; little wedges of lemon balanced on the plate's edge like preservers waiting to be thrown in. Pork sausages with peppercorn rims. Dolmathes, trying hard to be swarthy and look macho in their little green suits, scented with sweet red wine. Thick rings of calamari. Souvlaki shared skewers with sweet buttered onions and braised peppers. There was a shoulder of lamb so well cooked it fell apart if you only looked at it while thinking about a fork, surrounded by a little family of roast potatoes.
I sat trapped under the culinary avalanche, unable to move for fear of tripping a plate over. "There's no way we can eat all this."
"Finishing isn't the point." She pulled a bottle out of the chilled hamper. "Besides, I'm sure the nurses will be happy to help with the leftovers. You won't tell them I was drinking alcohol, will you? I like retsina because you can taste the earth in it."
We made a determined effort, but it was predestined that we'd never be able to finish the meal. We gave up, she brought out a slim metal thermos and poured Greek coffee into two demitasses. It was chuggingly thick that it took a good thirty seconds to pour out. Then she brought out the dessert: baklava so honey-dense that it oozed like a charitable beehive. Tricolor gelato, green white red. And of course bougatsa, her dog's namesake - light brown pastry with custard between layers of phyllo.
I noticed the dried blood clinging around the edges of her battered fingernails as she took food from the coolers. Fish n' chips, bangers n' mash. Prime rib with pudgy Yorkshire puddings. Finger sandwiches: ham and eggs, cheese and vegetables. Scones with strawberry jam. Kaiser buns. Garlic and onion bagels. Herb cream cheese. German butter cheese , Swiss, Gouda, smoked Gruyère, and Emmenthal. Fresh cucumber with yogurt sauce in a delightful bowl adorned with images of Hänsel and Gretel. Chunky red potatoes, quartered to show their white interiors; chubby green stems of asparagus, sweating butter; a plump eggplant's fecund belly pregnant with stuffing. There were fat mutton slices piled up in an obscene monument of arterial schlerosis. A lonely pile of sauerkraut that seemed to have been added at the last moment only because someone had thought there weren't enough vegetables. Roasted eggs, even though who the hell eats roasted eggs? Then, an abrupt culinary turn towards the Russian states: varenyky (pirogies in layman's terms), cavorting with candy-blackened circles of onions, and holubtsi (cabbage rolls, fat with rice) in tangy tomato sauce.
Marianne Engel popped an egg whole into her mouth, as if she hasn't eaten in days, and devoured it in a manner that was almost bestial. How could someone this hungry not have sampled the meal while preparing it? When she has tamed the worst of her hunger, she announced, "The story of Vicky Wennington has great storms, vigilant love, and saltwater death!"
I settled in, anxious to hear it, and took another bite of the holubtsi.