The Prompt: Shaken and Stirred—What’s the most elaborate, complicated meal you’ve ever cooked? Was it a triumph for the ages, or a colossal fiasco? Give us the behind-the-scenes story.
Sate’d, Shaken and Stir-fried
When I was in Thailand, age 19, I purchased a teak-handled brass cutlery set of 144 pieces—twelve place settings of 11 pieces each, 12 serving pieces. It was a beautiful set in a teakwood box the size of a suitcase, and I actually bought two of them! I was traveling by ship and so had no weight or luggage restrictions. Once I got back to the reality of the U.S. and realized what a pain it was to hand wash and polish all of these pieces, I never used them (and neither did my sister, who was the recipient of the other set)—except for once. I decided to plan one grand meal for 12 and to plan a menu that made use of every knife, spoon and fork. Although I’m sure I won’t be able to remember every course, I’m going to try, but as a memory aid, I first need to remember all of the pieces. Here goes: shrimp cocktail fork, salad fork, dinner fork, cake fork, demitasse spoon, teaspoon, soup spoon, ice tea spoon, steak knife, butter knife, table knife, cheese knife sugar spoon, 3 large serving spoons, salad serving fork, salad serving spoon, meat carving knife, meat serving fork, bread knife, pie server. Phew! I can’t believe how easily I remembered the pieces. It renews my faith in my memory and as an exercise, probably staved off Alzheimer’s for a few more years.
So, what I served, if I recall correctly, was an Indonesian meal and it probably included: shrimp cocktail in a sweet chili sauce, lemongrass sweet and sour coconut milk soup, cucumbers and sweet onions in yogurt and dill sauce, nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice) with mixed fresh vegetables, chicken sate in peanut sauce, kecap manis (sweet soy sauce), deep fried rice noodles with scallions (to replace the shrimp chips usually served with the nasi goreng), more sweet chili sauce to put over the rice and noodles. coconut ice cream (I believe we used the demitasse spoons for the ice cream) green tea ice cream, some sort of cake (This must have been so, to enable us to use those cake forks.) Tsing Tao Beer, iced tea and wine. I don’t know how I worked the cheese and butter knives in—probably during the hors d’ ouvres course.
I had set all the tables elaborately, using sarongs purchased in Bali as table cloths as well as batik napkins I’d had made there. Unfortunately, a friend who didn’t quite realize the planning that had gone into this, arrived late, just as we were sitting down to our meal, with four uninvited friends in tow! I am afraid I was less than gracious as I tried to gerrymander an extra table with regular stainless cutlery. The best-laid plans!!!! Many years later, I served a 13 course Chinese meal where I had guests bring the ingredients for one dish, which I sent them a list of. (I had on hand the unusual ingredients they would have had a hard time locating.) I think I was responsible for most of the dishes, but wanted them personally involved. When they arrived, I had a Chinese chef there who helped each to prepare their individual dish. Some of mine, I’d already made, but had him help me with one more complicated dish.
Most of the evening was spent cooking, but it was so much fun and by the time we sat down to our late meal, everyone’s mood had been elevated by numerous large-sized bottles of Tsing Tao beer—a vice I’d discovered in China and found a supply of in the trunk of the car of a drapery salesman whom I dated once—just long enough to buy the entire case of beer. I don’t know why he had it and why he was wanting to get rid of it, but it was another case of the synchronicity of those years in L.A. when all of life seemed to get sorted out and when I finally got on my way to becoming closer to who I wanted to be.