Those damned beans. What the hell am I going to do about the beans?? My friend FA and I have scoured Tangier, going thither and hither from modern grocery stores to tiny markets to the chef at El Morocco to no avail. I cannot make an honest succotash without corn; nor will I make one without a creamy, green, button-shaped legume. Over cocktails in the Salon Bleu, whilst the actors are parsing their character’s goals, I am obsessing over a bean. The British dance captain, puzzled about the source of my agitation, asks if I am dithering about a “broad bean”? In a flash, she has texted one of the actors scheduled to board a plane in London in 3 hours time and sends her off to Sainsbury’s to pick up 5 kilos of frozen broad beans. Hallelujah and pass the tequila, the succotash is saved!!!! I head off to bed before ZR arrives, with visions of favas dancing in my head.
Thursday morning dawns unusually foggy and damp. No matter; I have an Everest of work to do and 48 hours to finish it. I have list upon list – a separate sheet of paper for each item of food, with ingredients, prep schedules, and packaging instructions that tree up to a master plan. Each item will be crossed off as it it completed, i.e.,
Each of the items on the menu gets the same treatment, and I have worked out which items will actually benefit from being prepared ahead of time (potato salad), which won’t suffer from being prepared ahead (pecan bars), and which MUST be made as close to serving as possible – fried chicken, biscuits.
A quick aside. Cooking is my team sport, my theatre, my happy place. It is rarely, if ever, a solo endeavour, especially for a large crowd. In a perfect world, it is the kitchen scene from The Big Chill, with music blaring, a flirty choreography and swoon-worthy smells. It is messy and hot and smells good and tastes better and leaves you feeling spent and happy and with a big fat smile on your face – just like really great sex. There is an undeniable intimacy to cooking good food with good people.
I am really looking forward to an afternoon of chopping and dancing and laughing with some pretty dancer boys and girls; alas, it is not to be. Our fearless leader has had a family emergency, and must leave for the states immediately. Of course we are all devastated for him; he is the heart and soul of the project and is the mastermind holding the reins of about a dozen different horses pulling this chariot across the finish line. Everyone steps up and insures that this chorus of events will never miss a beat, but it means that I am alone. Alone with a bushel of potatoes, not to mention squash and peppers and cornmeal and and and. Kevin manages to wrangle one of the charming, delightful housekeepers to “help” me, but between her lack of French and mine of Arabic, and the need to hustle, I am better off by myself.
Line by line, I cross off the prep lists for the potato salad, the succotash, the cornbread, the sweet tea and the lemonade. Little glitches crop up – the cherry tomatoes didn’t make the grocery delivery, the celery is ALL leaves and no stalks – but there is nothing that affects the timeline in a significant way… until I grab the precious bags of fava beans that have been thawing in the walk-in. As I open the first bag to add the beans to the mise-en-place for the succotash – I will cook it tomorrow, but all the vegetables will be cleaned, chopped, measured, etc today – I notice that these broad beans look a little milky. Upon further inspection, I discern that they are indeed rather lovely fava beans, but that they still have their tough skin. Apparently, in England, they are eaten skin on! That won’t work for this application, so I set upon these beans with a vigor usually reserved for the shoe department at the Barney’s Warehouse Sale. Time line blown, I start peeling each individual bean, hoping against hope I will finish in time for dinner with the gang. It feels like those beans are having bean babies as I peel them – the bottom of the bowl is never in sight. Until it is. Clean up once again involves scrubbing soot off my forearms, but it’s nothing a cute outfit and a dinner at El Morocco with a jovial, gorgeous group of boys and girls can’t erase.
Friday passes in blur of cooking and packaging and cleaning up. By 4pm, the potato salad, the succotash, and the cornbread have been prepared, tasted, seasoned, re-tasted, re-seasoned and re-tasted. One hundred brown kraft paper 8-ounce Chinese food boxes are lined up on that marble table, to be filled with potato salad; followed by 100 boxes for succotash; then 100 4-ounce boxes for the cornbread; and 100 waxed paper bags for pecan bars. A tiny smile tugs at the corners of my mouth, and I take a deep breath for the first time in the last 48 hours. The biscuits are cut and panned and will be baked in the morning; and there will be six waiters at the beach house to help pack the picnic boxes – Kevin promises!
It’s all about the chicken now. I have come to the conclusion that I have to fry it tonight, due to circumstances beyond my control – not happy about it, but oh, well. Once again, my dear dancer boys stop by the kitchen to make sure I will be joining for dinner, which sets me off into exhaustion-induced hysterical giggles. There will be no Casa d’Italia dinner for Cinderme tonight – I will be waltzing amongst a series of bubbling vats of 375° oil. In a moment of divine inspiration, I get the major domo to drag the camp stove upstairs to the service kitchen and set it up on the table!!! I am such a genius!! Now, I can have four fryers going at a time – and since I have my trusty deep fat thermometer on hand, I can make sure that – SHIT – as I head upstairs to start the oil heating up, I drop the thermometer onto the tiled floor of the Salon Jaune and it smashes to smithereens. Now I have to rely on my intuition and muscle memory to figure out when the oil is exactly the right temperature to make the perfect fried chicken. No problemo. Shit.