Amuse-Bouche – a small fanciful offering from the chef, an enticing harbinger of the meal to come.
Beggar’s Purse – a savory morsel wrapped in delicate layers of flaked pastry, tied at the top as if beckoning to be opened by a slight tug of the hand, itching to reveal the delights hidden within.
Would she ever inspire such passion?
An idle thought that darted through her mind midway through what was promising to be a very long and somewhat painful evening.
It was 9:00 p.m. and they were only now being served the first course of an eight course meal. The amuse-bouche had been a beggar’s purse, which she had dabbed at it. It was quite good, actually, but she was just not in the mood, angry at letting herself get roped into attending this event. She didn’t even celebrate Christmas. But here she was, Christmas Eve, seated at a table with 24 strangers. The 25th, Bev, the hostess, was her colleague at work. Bev needed a last minute substitute to fill the seat of an invitee who had gotten the flu. So Bev had asked her to come, knowing that all she had planned for the night was streaming a movie at home and ordering Chinese. She owed Bev, who had recently managed to salvage a deal that was almost doomed.
She was wedged between a thirty-five year conceptual artist on her left and a twenty-five year old middle school teacher on her right. That had been quickly established over the beggar’s purse. She herself was on the wrong side of forty, almost too old to understand half the references being discussed at the table.
She made another effort with the artist, asking him what kind of art he created. Tilting his head to his left, looking down his nose at her, he drawled, “conceptual”.
“Ah,” she said, “like a banana taped to the wall?”
“No,” he sniffed, “like meaningful interactive ephemeral videography”.
She had no clue what that was.
Seeing her confusion, he continued. “Political statements momentarily caught in time, that self-destruct.”
“So, if I bought the piece, I would get a whole lot of – nothing?”
He shot her a look of what could only have been pure hatred and turned to his date, on his left. As the wait staff began to collect the amuse-bouche plates, her gaze fell upon the couple across the table. She recognized the pair – he was a young newscaster from a local television station; she, an “influencer”. They were deep in conversation, totally oblivious of everyone else in the room, their eyes devouring each other. And that’s when the idle thought about passion crossed her mind.
Suddenly single – a state that sneaks up on you.
Hubris – the Fates (probably male) laughing at your dreams.
Life- measured in heartthrobs of time. What happens when the ticking stops?
Her father had raised her to believe in the illusion, however fleeting, of good luck. Behave, do what is expected of you, and good things would come your way.
If she ever hesitated, he would ask her – “What are you waiting for, an invitation to life?”
As she continued to look at the couple across the table, she imagined that her response to her father tonight would have been along the lines of – “Dad, do you realize that it is out of sheer callowness that we embark on relationships in our youth that we then spend the rest of our lives extricating ourselves from?” She could hear her mother piping up at that point – “Honey, life is the same sentence rewritten countless times. You just need to know how to read the lines.”
The couple reached for each other’s hands. Never underestimate the power of touch. She could almost feel the electricity running through them.
The idea that people were born to be happy was a startling notion for her. She had been taught that only by dint of hard work, and some sacrifice, could she taste some flavor of joy.
“So, what exactly are you going to do when you grow up?”, her twelve-year old son had asked her earlier that day. She had been drifting lately, feeling irrelevant, her shelf-life past due. Passing days in a state of suspended animation. Somehow the leaps in her imagination hadn’t been borne out by the daily scrub of life.
“You’re a friend of Bev’s?” It was the twenty-five year old to her right, pulling her back to the dinner, to the soup being placed in front of her.
“I work with her, yes. How do you know Bev?”
“She’s my sponsor this year. I’m from Mobile – Alabama? – I teach sixth grade there – and I’m on a program where I get to teach sixth grade here in New York for a year.”
“How are you liking it so far?”
“It’s like a year abroad for me.” He smiles, a genuine smile, all teeth. “I haven’t been anywhere until now.”
Self-deprecating humor. She likes this young man – a rare gift.
“Well, you should keep on going. Once school is out in June, why don’t you take your bag to Europe for the summer?”
“Have you traveled much?”
“I have, yes.” And she began to tell him her story. A life that at first seemed full of promises. A career in the making, a husband found, a child delivered, a modicum of success at the firm she joined. Days consisting of long hours of work, deals found and successfully closed, years interspersed with travel to exotic places. And then, imperceptibly, becoming overwhelmed by the mundane details of living – running just to keep in step. A marriage ended. Junior associates at work climbing over her to be promoted. Sold on the notion that she could do it all, she was not yet willing to admit the impossibility of having it all. Time shifting the ground beneath her feet, throwing her off-balance.
“Once you take your feet off the fast track, there is no return,” she told the young man. “Lying flat on your back, you see the past events in your life from a skewed perspective.”
“Would you do it all again, in the same way?” he asked.
She thought about his question. And then realized, astonished – “Absolutely. It’s worse not trying. There is never ‘later’ – only a should-have-done filled with regret. I may have a sack full of mistakes I carry on my back, but no could-have-dones.”
He thought about this. Should she tell him that she was feeling adrift right now, an almost-too-old, perhaps unnecessary fount of irrelevant information, at loose ends? She leaned back into her chair. She wanted to tell this young man – “Go for it. I had some fantastic moments back then. So, yes, lope into the horizon. You may get singed, but you’ll never understand what there is until you have seen what may be.”
She was waiting to enter a state of grace. In the meantime, there were two more courses waiting to be eaten.
Crepe bundles with caviar and sour cream.
5 T unsalted butter
1 cup whole milk
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
¼ t salt
2 T chopped chives
16-20 long chives
¾ cup sour cream
4 oz. caviar
Make crepe batter:
Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat; set aside 2 T for cooking crepes. Continue to cook butter remaining in the skillet until it is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Blend butter with remaining crepe ingredients, except chives, in a blender until smooth. Add chives and pulse 1 or 2 times to just combine. Let batter stand for 30 minutes.
Blanch whole chives in a small saucepan of boiling water for 10 seconds. Drain and pat dry.
Lightly brush skillet with butter, then heat over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Stir batter. With skillet off heat, add ¼ cup batter, tilting and rotating skillet to coat bottom. Cook until golden around edges, maybe 15-30 seconds. Flip crepe over and cook until underside is set. Slide onto plate. Make more crepes.
Top each crepe with 1 1/2T sour cream and 2 t caviar. Gather crepe around the filling and tie 1 or 2 chives in a knot to close purse.