so i had this great idea. not great in the sense of life-altering or nobel-worthy, but still pretty great, like when you really want ice cream, and then, all of a sudden and completely out of nowhere, the inspiration strikes you to go out and get ice cream, and when you’re back from the bodega, curled up on the couch watching the gilmore girls and eating ice cream, you look up and think, man, this is freakin’ great.
but i’m getting ahead of myself:
○ while they have become increasingly rare, emiliejolie‘s soup nights remain one of the primary perks of north brooklyn life. they’re arrayed with more unusual delicacies i wish i knew how to make and/or pronounce and more people with whom i wish i had the self-confidence to converse than any other party in town. they’re crowded and noisy and fun and yet for some reason i don’t hate them; in fact, they’re the kind of event that makes even me happy to be someplace where people are. emily, in particular; that girl makes some delicious fucking soup.
i get the distinct impression that this proximity to others, to which she often refers as “community,” makes emily happy whether there’s soup on or not. she’s forever about the business of simultaneously encouraging and exploiting the phenomenon, with the aforementioned dinners, and her post at the mccarren park greenmarket’s dairy stand, and her being socially engaged virtually every night of every week. and this, i think, explains her particular affinity for soups above other foods. i boast no expertise, but from the handful of soups that rotate through my own repertoire, i’ve learned this much:
1. soup is very difficult to make in small amounts, and is much easier than most foods to prepare for ten or twenty or a hundred. if you’re going to be making a soup anyway, you may as well have a bunch of people over to help eat it.
2. soup is not really, in and of itself, a complete meal. certainly it will do in a pinch, but it begs for a loaf of bred, and a slightly more solid side dish or two, and perhaps a little something sweet, as a counterpoint to its savoriness, to follow.
as we all learned from the old story, soup does not merely accommodate a community; it demands it.
○ and then there’s boots, who’s been feeding me since i was a gaunt, frightened 22-year-old milling about the hudson valley in a state of post-collegiate shock, looking for something to do with my life, and also something to eat. her cooking is beyond delicious; it is, in fact, advocational: every meal is an argument on behalf of under-served ingredients and under-utilized kitchen techniques, an essay on what food preparation is, and what it should be. (think michael pollan in the sunday times magazine, except edible.) boots has persuaded me to eat and even enjoy all manner of things i feel certain are revolting, like kale and cole slaw and stuff with mushrooms in it. these “challenge foods” are, i think, her favorite topic to cook about.
dinners seem to present themselves to boots as she begins aimlessly chopping vegetables, much the way pretty boys with tensed muscles once hid in blocks of marble, waiting to be discovered by michaelangelo, and in the six years i’ve spent eating those dinners, she’s never served the same dish twice. it may be as a byproduct of this finesse and confidence in the kitchen that boots so excels at the art of hospitality, as well. she wants dinner guests the way writers want readers and actors want an audience; she has something to say, something interesting and important and true, and comestibles are her medium of choice.
○ and of course, you already know girlcate; she’s the one who’s been making me so fat.
a few days after i first made her acquaintance, girlcate was unexpectedly ejected from the place she’d been crashing since repatriating from france a week earlier. a northern california native, she found herself in a strange city with no money, no income, and nowhere to stay. (also, she was totally foxy.) what else was i going to do?
i figured my roommates would be annoyed by the sudden addition, but that was before i understood how our new tenant intended to pay her room and board. every few days our generally neglected kitchen swelled with the smells of melting butter and fresh fruit and vanilla. we would crawl out of our caves (i.e., our home offices (i.e., our bedrooms, which were too small for the enormously cluttered desks we had crammed into them)) to find the source of these aromatic distractions, and there would be girlcate, smiling and singing to herself, offering us something sweet.
girlcate, against all odds, is rather tiny, and only eats a few bites of any given treat. it’s not that she doesn’t enjoy the confections she concocts; quite the contrary. but as i learned that spring, the delicious cakes and cookies and pies and tarts that spring from her oven are a happy ancillary to her primary ambition. she was baking to add a spoonful of sugar to the bitter taste of looking for work and a home and friends in a crowded city where everyone is worthless until proven profitable. and while i’d never really been a dessert person, it simply couldn’t be denied: sitting in our living room, watching and arguing about primary season over plates of something warm and fragrant and delicious, our overworked apartment, our inhospitable city, and even our aimless, overpriced and under-appreciated twenties were a sweeter place to be.
○ so my great-like-ice-cream idea was to get these three women to join forces toward creating the ultimate dinner, and then, when the meal was made and in need of consumption, to be conveniently present. emily could devise a summer soup, and boots, who’d been working against her instincts to develop the methodical patience and precision necessary to bake bread, could provide a complementary loaf. girlcate, obviously, would do dessert.
“coach and i can help you ‘blog about it,” i offered by way of incentive. not that they needed any.
it was this hare-brained scheme that eventually manifested itself, on a stormy sunday afternoon in greenpoint, as the north brooklyn ‘bloggers’ banquet. by noon we’d begun drizzling our way into coach and boots’ anachronistically elegant one-bedroom, where heavily-herbed dough was already being kneaded and proofed. girlcate got to work slicing currants for the frozen yogurt that would top her almond tart while coach and i snapped and scribbled. emily entered with canvas bags bursting with corn and avocados and enough cilantro to feed an army of aesthetes, and, of course, an entourage in tow:
○ there was vancouver-sent designer and urban planner-to-be dory kornfeld, who looked after our arteries with a watermelon-tomato-feta salad and provided some much-needed vim as well; she seemed to be the only one of us who hadn’t arrived horrifically deprived of both sleep and sanity, and so we were all happy to overlook her recent move to crown heights, as a result of which she technically no longer met the evening’s residential requirement.
○ photographer jacob pritchard came toting his shiny 5D and set about the thankless task of prepping the stringbeans and favas for his ragout. and while i am, under most circumstances, hypocritically averse to having my picture taken, it’s hard to resent being captured so gracefully by his intimate eye and unfussy documentary aesthetic. my only complaint is the disappointment i’m left with at how my life and i look when observed without the selective framing and narrow depth-of-field and liberal exposure.
○ and travel-pornographer tanveer badal, keeper of the breathtaking and envy-inducing photographic road journal atmosphere, brought a long lens and a squash curry stew to add some spice to both our dinner and its subsequent reportage. he proved an invaluable asset on both the evening’s culinary and literary fronts, helping to stir or chop or clean with one hand and photographing the mayhem that had necessitated his assistance with the other.
emily shucked out on the veranda while jake’s well-manned shelling operation commandeered the kitchen counters and boots and girlcate negotiated shared sovereignty over the oven. coach was working overtime, ignoring illness and exhaustion to document the tumult that proliferated itself across his normally quiet and calming apartment: the slicing and salting and boiling and baking and watching and waiting. there was stirring and shaking and dicing and dancing to be sure (boots with a proper chopping knife in her hand is something akin to fred astaire with a coat rack in his), and the persistent stutter of expensive shutters swarming about, like colonies of aesthetically inclined insects seduced by the smell of attractive young hipsters cooking. and there was also napping and chatting and labyrinth and the making of labyrinth and singing along to labyrinth while slicing currants. and then there was a dinner of unimaginable deliciousness and good wine and witty banter and all in all it would be hard to imagine a more precisely perfect day.
had i been thinking clearly, i wouldn’t have been surprised to find the evening somewhat grander and more worthy of note in practice then i had imagined when first i connived to get myself fed. i’d only expected each participant to bring food, but when you ask such of a thing of people who love food so intensely, they’re bound to bring whatever it is that inspires that love as well.
and so all gathered found themselves nourished not only by the assembled feast, but also emiliejolie’s community, and boots’ hospitality, and girlcate’s appreciation for life’s sweeter things, like naps out in the hammock, and jim henson among friends, and the rich decadence of an afternoon devoted entirely to the production of a pleasant afternoon.