Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Now we're cooking . . .

This was the third day of our unplanned lay-up in Chicago. In the morning, Phil hung around the marina area, looking forlornly at the empty slip, while Bernie went to the Green City Market. That's not too different from how we expect some mornings will be when we're on the cruise -- except the part about the forlorn look and the empty slip.

Now, the best part about Bernie going to a farmer's market is that she must do something with all the stuff she buys. And that means she cooks.

And Phil eats. Really well.

And he likes that.

Unfortunately, at some point during the middle of the meal, Bernie, who is no longer satisfied with a mere complement on how great it all looks, smells and tastes, asks THE QUESTION.

Lately, THE QUESTION has become an item of dread for Phil. He knows that, while on it's surface it sounds like a simple request to verify that her dishes are working well, it's really a complex chess game of strategy, gained and lost advantage and, ultimately, victory or defeat. And lately, Phil's been on a losing streak.

That's why he tries to hide his frightened shudder when she asks, in a very innocent manner (but which doesn't fool Phil for a moment), THE QUESTION: "What flavors do you taste?"

You see, she knows very well that Phil is completely incapable of describing all the subtle, and many of the not-so-subtle, flavors in the dishes she prepares.

He used to be able to do that back in the days when they'd go grocery shopping together. After all, they only bought the standard cooking items, most of which he was familiar with. You know, things like ketchup, chili powder, and the occasional stalk of celery. Heck, they even cooked together (Yeah, right! Pouring the wine while Bernie stirs the risotto and sears the salmon does not count as "cooking together".) every now and then.

That all changed when she went to culinary school.

Suddenly, she's using ingredients such as "cracked Mediterranean rosemary needles" or "organic ground cumin". These were things Phil couldn't hope to notice mixed in with all the other mouth-watering flavors in her culinary delights.

So that caused him to wander into the kitchen as she was preparing the meal, and ask about what all she was using. Then, when The Question came, he could frantically search his memory, hoping to recall some of the exotic-sounding ingredients.

Unfortunately, Bernie soon caught on and simply began using recipes with way to many ingredients for Phil to remember. That way, he would always forget one or two of the important flavors, and would lose the game that evening.

But at least the ingredients came in clearly marked containers. So Phil soon learned to poke his head into the kitchen every now and then, pretending to make light conversation while desperately searching for containers that bore labels which, with a little luck, he could use to describe the important flavors when that Dreaded Question was asked. (This was a trick Phil picked up from Derrick, friend of ours whose wife, Kristine, went to culinary school with Bernie. Derrick faces "THE QUESTION" when Kristine cooks, too, and dreads it as much as Phil.)

Of course Bernie, who is nowhere near the dullest tool in the shed, soon caught on. She started going to farmer's markets and buying fresh, locally grown ingredients.

That makes the food even better but, without labels, how's a poor guy supposed to know what's in it? After all, chopped up green things look, to a non-culinary guy like Phil, well, like chopped up green things.

So now he's begun lurking around the corner from the kitchen, hoping her cell phone rings. Then he can eavesdrop on her describing to one of her friends the meal she's preparing.

Today, no one called.

So his answer was simply "Lamb. And it's delicious. I especially like these, uh, chopped up green things sprinkled on top."

(For the record, it was Country Cottage Farms' Lamb Chops with a lavender/thyme/garlic crust; Ratatouille, with Nichols Farms' purple peppers, eggplant, red onions, squash, and a Brandywine Heirloom Tomato from Iron Creek Farms; Bennison's Bakery's Rosemary Parmesan Brioche; and Mint and Lemon Verbena infused water.)

See what I have to deal with!

Boy, we can't wait to leave. Can you tell that maybe there's a little stir-craziness beginning to set in? (Yeah, I've already filled up the freezer with food for the trip, tomato sauce (for the trip and this winter), vegetable stock (for the trip and this winter), frozen fresh fruit (so we can still have blueberry muffins and rhubarb pie in the winter.)

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