A Luncheon to Remember

I’ve been getting together for lunch every quarter or so since 1998 with four ex-colleagues from Oracle, and i cherish what has become something like a tradition. After all, only one of us still works at Oracle and two of them have married and had children.

This time i decided i’d cook for them and worked up a foolproof menu: an entree of poached salmon served cold with caper mayonnaise and brined and lightly marinated cucumber and red onion slices. For a green vegetable i’d wilt a chiffonade of mixed fresh spinach and choy sum, throw in a half cup of chicken stock, clap the lid on for a few minutes over low heat, and then remove the lid to let any excess liquid escape before serving.

Note: I better admit that i just discovered choy sum last Saturday when i asked my Hmong vendors at the Noe Valley Farmers’ Market what that new vegetable was. The version my vendor sells looks somewhat different from the photos in the above link, more like gai lon than anything else i know. I’ll photograph his the next time he has it.

For a second vegetable, cranberry beans that i’d bought fresh last October, shelled, blanched, and frozen. Simmering them with a chopped Chantenay carrot and some yellow onion for an hour takes them to the top of almost everyone’s favorite bean list.

Hot cornbread instead of something from a bakery, and, to use up the egg whites left over from making the caper mayonnaise, The Pie for dessert.

What could go wrong?

Well, on Friday morning i tracked down a Coho side at Whole Foods, bought it home, and poached it just beyond that perfect moment when after it cools off there remains a bright red raw stripe dead center in the thickest part. No biggie, as at least it was darker in the center and wasn’t dried out.

That evening i made The Pie and once again put the sugar into the egg whites a little too early so that the meringue was not stiff enough to form a proper shell. Another no biggie, and i put it in the oven anyhow since the filling can just be spread over the top of the disk.

The caper mayonnaise turned out fine.

Then when the hour was up for the crust i noticed that the disk had not taken on any color this time but i was tired and knew it had to cool before i could fill it, so i decided it would be ok as it was.

I had to start Saturday morning by making a dash to the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market for Marsh grapefruit from the Hamadas. I mean, if they’re kind enough to to keep bringing to market the dwindling output from one of the last remaining Marsh trees on this continent, i have to be there for them every Saturday to buy a dozen.

Then i got home and realized that omigod, everybody’s gonna be arriving at noon, so i frantically took all the cold ingredients out of the refrigerator and started prepping.

The doorbell rang before the chopped bacon in the bottom of the cornbread pan had rendered its fat and crisped but at least the greens and beans were in holding patterns.

The greens were good, the beans were fabulous, and everybody seemed to like the salmon. The cornbread wasn’t done until we’d nearly finished the other courses, but it was good.

And then it was time for the pièce de résistance, The Pie. The presentation went splendidly, and then i started cutting the first piece. Where’s the crust?

It had somehow deteriorated to a thin, runny layer beneath the filling, but i had no choice but to serve it anyhow. I couldn’t imagine what was wrong, as nothing remotely like this had ever happened before. The guests were kind.

It was only late that afternoon when i was driving down to San Jose to catch the evening semifinals of the SAP Open, for which i’d bought a ticket on the spur of the moment the previous evening, that it struck me what had happened.

I don’t cook as much anymore, and nowadays the main use of the oven is to sterilize jars for jams and jellies, which i do at 225 degrees.

And that’s what i set the temperature to.

So instead of a crunchy crust, i ended up with warmed eggwhites with sugar and chopped pecans over which a thin veneer of doneness had formed.

The delicious irony here is that a part of the lunch conversation was over the horror of caring for aged parents as they slid down into Alzheimer’s.

And the rest of ’em don’t know it yet, but equally horrible is watching oneself slip inexorably into the same abyss.

Rosmarinus officinalis prostratusOn the other hand, this is why God invented trailing rosemary:

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