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on the downward side of the age mountain.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Lone Man and his Dinner

A worn key turned easily in its companion; opening the weary door that scraped and creaked, when the man entered. Inside, the living room held furniture that had seen better days. Fabric once colorful and stretched tight now sagged. Curtains rich with embroidery were brittle to the touch and rugs had traffic marks from years of shoes rubbing against their nap.

John was oblivious to his aging surroundings. They fit him. He had grown up in the house and was now living in the third floor apartment once reserved for servants. Shrugging off his suit coat he smoothed its lapel, straightened the sleeves, and removed his tie retaining the knot. Both were hung on a Victorian hall tree in the entry way.

Tonight was Wednesday. Nothing on T.V. All four channels were midway through their sit-coms. Another night alone eating dinner and to bed.

John shuffled into the kitchen and punched the light switch on. The kitchen was not much larger than a closet lined with cupboards that defied age with annual coats of cream colored paint. All surfaces were pristine. Even the top of the refrigerator passed a nightly white glove test. His eyes came to life as they embraced the kitchen. Opening the fridge, John assessed its contents. An absent-minded hum echoed off jars and tins. He delved in and began to gather ingredients.

Vivaldi jumped into the kitchen from a pre-programmed station. John’s hum couldn’t keep up with the pirouetting violins and abandoned song as he honed in on what to make for dinner. Foraging under the glimmering light; shallots, lemon, garlic, and parsley mounded next to the fridge. A chilled bottle of Pinot Grigio turned John’s attention to the cupboard. He removed a solitary Waterford crystal wine glass and filled it a scant ½ full. Swirling the golden liquid John inhaled then sipped from the glass letting its cool liquid caress his throat.

Veal scallops, butter, asparagus, and cooked red skin potatoes from a previous culinary adventure were added to the counter’s bounty. A second sip gathered the flour, olive oil, fry pan, and sauce pan.

Olive oil splashed into an aluminum sauté pan and water salted like the sea broke into a smile of bubbles on the stove top. Opening a drawer John grasped a steel in one hand and a carbon steel Sabatier in the other. A few well measured swipes against the steel brought the chef knife’s edge back to life and ready for work. The ingredients began marching to their destination with precision.

John’s whole attention was on the veal. His new culinary challenge was to teach himself how to flip food. Graduating from pancakes and not proficient enough for fried eggs, tonight’s venue was a perfect segue toward this accomplishment. Hot olive oil welcomed the flour dusted veal, sealing it and quickly and browning the edges. Moving the pan in a circular motion released the scallop so it slid freely around. Next, he thrust the pan back and forth until the meat was resting on the opposite side and slightly curling up the side of the pan. With a shake forward and jerk back the veal gracefully turned in the air and landed perfectly in the middle to finish its cooking.

A smile broke on John’s face while he thought of doing it again, a grumble from his empty stomach convinced him otherwise. Shallots, garlic, and a splash of wine went into the pan to reduce. Asparagus tumbled into the waiting water for a quick cook. Noticing his glass empty he poured another measureful. Aromas entwined with the baroque and steam warmed the kitchen.

John ran his dinner plate under hot water to remove the cupboard’s chill. Once warm it was dried, and the veal placed on the left side. Sliced potatoes went into the sauté pan with chopped parsley, and a large knob of butter swirling around and emulsifying. Three sliced lemons and a squeeze of juice finished the sauce. Drained asparagus joined the waiting veal and the potatoes wedged themselves between the two. Sauce was spooned judiciously over each item.

A single set of sterling and large linen napkin rolled tightly in a monogrammed ring went on the small dining room table. Candles were lit. John carried his glass and meal to the table. It was Chopin’s turn to accompany John’s dinner party. Lilting piano nocturnes soothed the room. At times like this John never felt alone he was his favorite culinary companion and critic. Wednesday melted away leaving an empty plate and a man content with life.

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