Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Culinary Time Travel: February 27, 1990

I don’t have a recipe to share with you today, but I’m thankful for this little blog space where I can sit and write.  I realize that I’ve enjoyed writing about food for a long time, starting with a prize-winning essay in fourth grade detailing my disastrous attempt at making breakfast for my family when I was six years old.  (It involved my cooking oatmeal to within an inch of its life, stirring the porridge so insistently that it went far past the point of creamy until it was fried beyond recognition, setting off the smoke alarm in the process!) We could write on any topic we wanted for this district-wide contest, but even as a kid whose age was still a single digit, I found myself choosing to write about food.

I was thinking about previous February 27ths today, and I was laughing to myself while remembering the dinner I’d attended on this day in 1990.  It was a memorable evening if only for the reason that I tasted all kinds of food I’d never tried before, and I felt like I had been introduced to this whole new culinary world.  I was a particularly obsessive journal-writer as a teenager so it's not surprising that I felt compelled to process the entire evening in one of my many cloth-covered notebooks as soon as I got home, scribbling late into the night.

I had been asked to perform at a LA-area fund-raising dinner for the Interlochen Arts Camp (formerly known as the Interlochen National Music Camp), the magical place where I’d spent several formative summers.  This event was held in downtown Los Angeles at the California Club, a very exclusive social club that provided my first encounter with valet parking, an old-fashioned elevator operated by a tuxedo-clad gentleman, and a cocktail hour with hors d’oeuvres passed on silver trays.  I was sixteen at the time and proudly wearing my favorite green-and-purple plaid Laura Ashley dress for the occasion, a detail I cannot write with a straight face now, and I was thrilled to be there.

I was taking it all in. There were musicians from the LA Philharmonic seated at our table, all Interlochen alumni themselves, as well as music faculty from USC and the radio host of one of the classical stations.  At first I felt impossibly grown-up to be the only teenager mingling with the grown-ups at this fancy party. But once the food began to arrive at the table, I was very glad to have my parents there, if only to watch them and figure out how I was supposed to eat all that was set in front of me. 

In 16-year-old Louise’s own words:
“They first served these scallops in a sauce with spinach on this plate I honestly thought was a tortilla.  The plate was sort of puffy and had these darker spots on it that looked exactly the way a flour tortilla does when I put it under the broiler. I swear it looked just like an open-faced scallop quesadilla, and I was ready to pick the whole thing up until I noticed everyone at the table using their forks to eat the scallops first.  Good grief, I’m so glad I didn’t pick up the whole thing and try to eat it that way, because that would have been REALLY embarrassing. Even though scallops aren’t my favorite, I decided I was going to be brave and eat everything that was served tonight…. 

".... The main course was veal, something I’ve never had before, which I discovered I liked quite a lot.  It was served with perfect little carrots and parsnips, and these uniformly cut tiny green beans were wrapped with a bit of green onion which could have passed as a rubber band.  (Yet another potentially embarrassing moment until Mom told me what it was!)… The butter for the roll was shaped like flowers.  Crazy.  Then came a salad of lettuce and watercress, and there was a wedge of Brie cheese and crackers, but I didn’t eat all of the cheese because it was so bitter and salty so I gave the rest of mine to Dad.  I guess Brie is an acquired taste which I obviously have not acquired yet!  And wine tastes really good until you actually swallow it—I also discovered that tonight when I took a sip from Mom’s glass.  Ugh!…. 

"...But the dessert was absolutely magnificent: a round cup was placed before me, with some raspberries set atop what I thought was just custard, until I put my spoon in and broke through the crystallized carmel on top to expose the most fabulous vanilla crème with more berries inside—HEAVEN!!!!!”

At the time I thought nothing of enjoying an extended multi-course dinner and then, as soon as the dessert plates were cleared, immediately standing up in front of the hundred assembled guests to play the Sibelius Concerto with my mom accompanying me on the piano.  My nerves have always been fairly steady when it comes to performing, although now I would certainly want to get the performance over with beforehand so I could actually enjoy the dinner.  But that wasn’t an issue at all when I was sixteen, so it’s just as well.  Ah, the joys of youth!

As for the food I encountered that night, it now seems unfathomable that there was a period in my life when eating a scallop was truly an act of bravery on my part.  It’s even harder to imagine a time when I had no idea what crème brulee was.  But when I think of that evening, I am instantly transported back to how excited I was to be there and experiencing these new taste sensations, and I have had the biggest smile on my face on my face while writing this.

(And as for that comment about wine, well let’s just say that I’ve certainly grown up a bit in that department too, if this photo of my wine racks is anything to go by.)


Two Years Ago: Chocolate Malt Ice Cream
Three Years Ago: Roasted Cauliflower Soup
Four Years Ago: Film Food, Coconut Cupcakes


MarkandAnn Johnson said...

Dear Louise--I'm sure your Sibelius was equal to any Creme Brulee that night, but everything was truly an adventure in 1990. I recall when the college cafeteria went to Marriot, we were served whole steamed artichokes and this country girl had to get a lesson from you in how to manage that one! I loved your journals with all the underlining and exclamation points. I only wish we could laugh over some cappuccinos now!

louise said...

Ann, thanks for saying hello here! Yes, life was definitely an adventure in 1990, experienced with much underlining and multiple exclamation points indeed--and it still is! I love that we are all works-in-progress, then and now. Yes to laughing together over cappuccinos someday!