Friday, July 29, 2011

Recipe for Disaster

This is a story about the week I didn't cook.

As part of our training (and part of the way it keeps itself afloat) the kitchen often takes on catering jobs. We split up the work. Some women cook, some women work the event. On this particular week, I was working the event. Despite the title of this post the event was not actually a disaster, it just felt like it was going to be a disaster. First bump in the road- the space we were using for the event didn't have a refrigerator large enough for the drinks, so we had to find a way to transport them to another building that supposedly had adequate refrigeration. We found someone to lug them there. Check. Then, the rental equipment (i.e. the tables, chairs, tablecloths, hot boxes etc) arrived late, and when it did the delivery men refused to unpack the wares leaving us 6 women to unload, drag and open all the very heavy equipment. Well, we got the tables set up and were in the process of spreading out the tablecloths (which, of course, were the wrong shape and color), when the client emerged from her office, all in a huff, because she wanted the tables set up a completely different way. So off came the tablecloths and the few hotboxes we had managed to set up. And drag, drag, drag went the tables. The rest of the set up really does read like a grown-up version of Alexander and his Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day. The plates were dirty, the samovar didn't work, we were missing knives, the drinks never actually made it to a refrigerator; and when I walked into the room where we were storing the few drinks we could stuff into the one itty bitty refrigerator at the event space, there was water all over the floor and a strong smell of electricity in the air. (There were lima beans for dinner, and I hate limas.) The good news is that nobody was electrocuted. The bad news is that we had lukewarm drinks on a hot day. But hey, that's what panicked calls to the kitchen for "ice, lots and lots of ice", are for, right?

Then, the guests arrived and everything fell away. A friend of mine noted that the thing she loves most about these events is watching how a plain space turns, almost magically, into an elegant one. And I concur- there is a lot of magic and comfort in a set table and vase of flowers. But for me, the thing that I love about these events is the feeding people. Once I was set up behind my station and the guests were lined up with their plates in hand, all the stress and worry just sort of dissipated. My feet didn't hurt. I forgot that I was thirsty. I wasn't annoyed. The smile on my face was real.  There is simply something so potent about the moment of contact when you're feeding people, because you know that's it's not a simple business interaction. You're not just supplying a service. Food is laughter and friendship and family and cups sweating in the heat and memories and the moment you taste something new and just stop; it's deals made, and lingering conversations about politics and literature and greasy hands wiped on napkins, or jeans and shirts. It's a fried egg, eaten alone. It's a room full of hungry guests. Food is dirty and strong and bold and subtle and elegant and whispering. Food is comfort. Food is.

I came home that day exhausted and grumpy. The clean up was just as chaotic as the set-up. The high of service had completely faded away. I crawled straight into bed, do not pass Go, do not collect 200 dollars. I took a nap, had some coffee and thought about my aching muscles. Then I made myself some comfort food.

Grilled Cheese with Harrissa

This is the ultimate comfort food. (Also, I am currently obsessed with harrissa)  It's good for nights (or days) when you can't move, or don't want to move and you just want something warm and gooey. You could, theoretically, serve this with a green salad and feel virtuous- but, why?
Good cheddar cheese is quite difficult to find in Israel. Sometimes I import from the States (thanks, Mom!) and sometimes I splurge and go to the fancy cheese store at the shuk. What I am trying to say is that if you don't have cheddar, use something else.

-bread of your choosing, sliced
-good cheddar

Butter your bread as you would for regular grilled cheese. Spread a thin layer of harrissa on the insides of the bread. Layer on a few good slices of cheddar. Heat your frying pan, griddle, or iron. Grill. I'm sure y'all know how. Eat hot. Lick your fingers. Make another.


  1. Ooh, that sounds really good.

    Also, you got to use the word samovar. There's one in my parents' dining room, but no one my age knew what I was talking about when mentioned in conversation. Great word, terribly underused.

  2. Samovar is a great word, isn't it? Underused, ineed. Let's start a samovar revolution.