2015 begins with a high pressure system of northerly weather: whitecaps breaking on the rocks and a hard wind scratching her nails down the grey-green sea. The ground is frozen today and a Blue Heron stands coiled up on the tide flat, watching, watching.
I apologize for my absence from the site but I got sick on my last day in Las Vegas with some kind of traveling cold which I felt compelled to share with my loved ones, resulting in a lot of snoozing, sneezing, laying about and mutual bringing of soup.
Christmas came and went, and it gave me a chance to think about our lucky life of abundance. Let me finish with Las Vegas. The reason for the trip was to eat at this one restaurant: Joel Robuschon. I had read an article about it years ago in the New Yorker, about how the the builders of the MGM Grand had built a mansion for him in the Casino and he had created a 5 star restaurant in an attempt to make the most exquisite dining experience anywhere in the world. Foodies decried it as unworthy of the title: "Disneyesque" "slight-of-hand" Others said he was successful in making the best food from fresh ingredients, with the best staff, ect... I told myself that if I ever had some money to spare I would spend it with some people I loved at this joint. And I did. And it was the most fun I ever had eating.
Of course it is slight of hand. They get you a little drunk on the magnificent Champagne and the attentive staff who will not let your water glass go empty. The twenty five kinds of freshly made bread, the cold corn bisque with fresh sweet cream, to start, and then push on to all kinds of delicacies, that don't taste like any flavors I could recognize, neither salt nor fat nor sugar, but all were delectable. We laughed out loud with each course. We were not trying to play it cool. The staff started laughing with us. The chef came out to see what all the hub bub was from these hicks. We told him our stories. And when Jan told him about Sperm whales and Black Cod he brought us extra deserts. (also because our black cod was four minutes late to the table which he was desperately sorry for) By the end we were all friends. The Chef came out and gave us bags of food to take back with us, along with extra courses and deserts. The deserts were miracles of invention. A Soufflé warm from the oven that they put home made ice cream into the top at the table melted down into the chocolate-rasperry goodness. Finn took a bite and looked at me and said, " I think I might cry." Emily asked in all seriousness. "Do you think it would be all right if I went back there and kissed the dessert chef?"
We left happy, and stuffed, The check was about twice the amount as I spent on my first car: a van that I had for about a month then the engine caught fire and I left in a little down in Eastern Washington. This meal was a much better value.
Now, would the meal have been so good if we had pulled the exact same food out of styrofoam containers and eaten it at home? Of course not. Meals are events, defined by setting and expectations. Anyone who has been hunting or gathering and eating their catch on a windy beach or around a campfire know. Wild food tastes better outside. Grandmothers pies tastes better in her kitchen. Context is everything in storytelling and in meals. The story being told at Joel Robuschon is one of european high culture. It is a trip to an imagined Paris, granted one that only may exist in the mind of a tourist to Las Vegas, but it is a spectacularly decadent Paris and a Paris, where the waiters are exceedingly kind.
But I have to say, even if you pulled this food out of a plastic container it would still be unbelievably good. I will dream about the one perfectly cooked asparagus tip with pate and an artichoke heart appetizer, until the day I die.
Now, let me tell you about another meal. I worked almost every day of the Holidays. I did not work the 25th or the 26th. The days I'm at the office around 2:30 my friend from prison calls me. It is part of his schedule. He has a night job as a custodian, so he sweeps and cleans up. For this he earns about $83 a month for which he is grateful. He had been serving his time earlier in southeastern Alaska and now he is much further north. When he was arrested two years ago he was taken directly from high school and they didn't let him get his coat. Department of Corrections no longer allows anyone to give inmates clothes so they have to buy clothes from their commissary. Commissary has to cover all toiletries, towels, shampoos, soaps, over the counter medicines, and any snack food, you are allowed to have. Clothes in most prisons can only be ordered a few times a year. My friend is in a place where it is commonly below zero. I sent him money this year so he could buy wither clothes the one time he could order them. He called me last week to say that he got his long underwear and his winter pants. He was very happy.
He was also happy. He was spending twenty dollars on a Christmas Feast. I asked him about it. He said his "Cellie" or cell mate is getting out in February and this makes my friend a little bit sad. My friend is young and somewhat vulnerable. His Cellie is 62 and well respected. He doesn't like people coming into their cell and that is fine with my friend. I believe the prison authorities paired them up to keep my young friend safe. For the Feast, my friend is making Nachos, he has three cans of Chili, four bags of corn chips, two cans of refried beans, and one can of jalepeano flavored squeeze cheese. His Celliie wants meat so he chopped up a can of Spam and added that into the mix. They heated it all up in the microwave on their section where their cell is and they celebrated the holiday by themselves. They ate on greasy paper plates with plastic forks back on their bunks in the solitude of their cell. They decided to drink water and save money. This was their Christmas Feast. The last one they will have together.
I asked my friend how it was, and he said, most uncharacteristically: "Magnificent," and I'm sure it was.
Ice cold wind blowing
my neighbor calls to tell me
he saw hummingbirds!