Monday, February 26, 2007

Five Days, Part Two

Yes, KRO spent five good days out here on the West Side (as in the far West Side of the country, not the “wesssaiiiiiiiiiid” of wannabe gangster lingo). And yes, you’ve been waiting patiently to learn what I made for the dinner party in her honor.

First Course:

Freshman year, KRO and I lived across the hall from each other on the eighth floor of Thurston. We saw each other in the hallways, but had never spoken for the first few weeks of school. KRO has told me, in the confidence of a long, safe friendship, that when she saw me around the dorm in the early part of freshman year, she thought I was “stuck-up.” But, one rainy day I walked alone to class, umbrella-less, while my hair, jeans, sweatshirt, papers, super-awesome Banana Republic bag—everything—dampened into shapeless masses of cold. KRO, walking the same direction on the other side of the street, crossed and caught up with me. KRO’s first words to me were: Do you want to share my umbrella?

ECG’s Fantastically Fabulous Fondue and Homemade Bread. ECG, my partner in culinary crime—and just about everything else—made this course.

Second Course:

For KRO’s birthday sophomore year, I planned a surprise party. We lived in a little room in Virginia Hall, spacious compared to our freshman dorm, and happily housing a kitchen, but compared to our current living spaces, infinitesimally small. It is hard to plan a surprise party in such small quarters. There is no place to hide where one’s roommate can’t hear one on the phone. And, gifts? Impossible to keep as a surprise; however, that didn’t matter because I was pretty sure that KRO knew what I had bought for her. For months, KRO had been talking about the pleasures of real cotton sheets, sheets with a high enough thread count to feel like suede after a few washings, sheets so soft that ironing them would be a shame. With this much talk of sheets, how could I not assume that sheets were exactly what she wanted for her birthday? I thought she was dropping hints so loudly that even the animals in the zoo up Rock Creek could hear her. But that night, when she opened the present wrapped in comics from me, her face broke into shock, albeit cheerful shock. Seriously, what college student buys another college student sheets for her birthday?

Baby Spinach Salad with Chili-Garlic Nicoise, Shaved Parmesan, and a Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette

Main Course:

KRO’s home, the Eastern Shore of Maryland, is a flat, mostly rural stretch of ancient green-ness. It’s humid, isolated, and feels old in a way that can only be described as mystical. Her family, large, complicated, and Irish-Catholic, had lived there for many generations, so it made visiting the Eastern Shore feel even more ancient to me. One St. Patrick’s Day, we drove out for a long weekend of celebrating with her family. And celebrating it certainly was. KRO is the most moderate of drinkers, but that didn’t stop her from slinging out dirty jokes. We listened to her cousin recite filthy limericks, every other family member drag out the best jokes from their brain-closets of humor, and patiently allowed Uncle Richard to affix shamrock stickers all over our faces. My first exposure to Irish Coffee, heavy on both the cream and the whiskey, happened this particular weekend. The morning we drove back to DC, we stopped at the old, abandoned house on her parents’ property and picked feral jonquils and quince branches to brighten up our dorm room. The flowers smelled whiskey-spicy and lasted for days.

Milk-Braised Pork Roast with Fennel Seed, Garlic, and Sage

Side Dish:

We moved to an old rowhouse on 24th Street the magical summer before our senior year. KRO worked that summer performing cancer research in the medical school, while I worked—sometimes it seemed more like playing, really—at the florist. The florist shop filled the bottom floor of a business building, in which a prestigious law firm held its offices. The daughter of one of the founding partners, also a lawyer, stopped in every other day for a fresh collection of flowers. She was kind and walked with a brace to assist her shortened leg. Whatever hardships she had experienced because of her disability seemed to make her more generous and compassionate towards everyone, a sharp contrast to her fierce-eyed colleagues in their impatient suits. One evening, just around closing time, she stopped in with a handful of Oriels tickets, complete with parking passes. She asked if any of us wanted them. KRO, a Maryland native, loves the Oriels almost as much as she loves frozen bread slices and sad songs, both which she loves very much, so I knew I had to get them for her. I took the tickets and rollerbladed home as fast as I could that night. Once home, we threw together a bag of snacks for ourselves and our friend Mark who planned on joining us. Into the old El Camino, borrowed for the summer from KRO’s cousin, we went, three across like jumpy sardines, sweaty with DC humidity and the anticipation of a free game. KRO started the ignition. Or, KRO tried to start the ignition. It wouldn’t even turn over. We unloaded and lifted the hood; Mark listlessly fiddled with wires and whatnot, but he had no idea what to do. We tried a couple more times to start the car, but the evening wore on and the game happened without us. We leaned against the car that night, listening to a motor that wouldn’t run while a mockingbird sang.

Roasted Beets, Carrots, and Red Onion


The kitchen on 24th Street experienced constant use. We frequently fed our friends and baked more sugary goods than we needed to. We often shared our baked goods with our neighbor Thelma. Thelma had lived for years in the rowhouse adjacent to ours; she was close to deaf and wary of strangers, having lived so long in one place. Her loud “HUNH?” dropped like an anvil on the ears of anyone who stopped by her house. Her doorbell would ring, and Thelma would yell out her open upstairs window, HUNH?! A friend from her church would stop by: HUNH?! And when we brought her our excesses of baked goods, we’d get the same greeting: HUNH?! Thelma would see it was us bearing gifts, and she’d come downstairs to chitchat and thank us. We never really knew what to say to each other, other than simple inquiries towards each other’s well being, so our conversations were always awkward and brief. I think she was a sweet lady, just lonely, old, and scared. Each time we’d bring her something, she’d ask us if we’d ever had a rum cake from an old bakery in Capitol Hill. Neither KRO nor I had ever had what Thelma described as perfection on a plate. But that Easter, we did. Thelma, dressed to the nines from church, proudly carried over a pink bakery box and gave us what she had wanted to for months. It was a beautiful cake, with pristine white frosting and white roses—no colors, but simple decorations—almost modern in its austere beauty. Unfortunately, it didn’t taste like much of anything. Both KRO and I wished we had never cut it open. If Thelma loved both this and our baked treats, maybe we weren’t as good in the kitchen as we thought we were.

Mango Ice Cream on Almond Pound Cake

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