1940s Archive

An Alphabet for Gourmets

continued (page 3 of 5)

I almost never ate meat, mainly because I did not miss it and secondarily because it was inconvenient to cook it on a little grill or cut it up on a plate balanced on my knee. And it made the one-room apartment smell. I invented a great many different salads, of fresh lettuces with fresh herbs and vegetables, of marinate tinned vegetables, now and then of crab meat and suchlike. I learned a few tricks to play on canned soups, and Escoffier as well as the Chinese would be astonished at what I did with beef bouillon and a handful of water cress or a teaspoonful of soy.

I always ate slowly, from a big tray set with a nice mixture of Woolworth and Spode. I always soothed my spirits beforehand with a glass of sherry or vermouth, subscribing to the ancient truth that only a relaxed throat can make a swallow. More often than not I drank, then, a glass or two of light wine, with the hot fresh food: a big bowl of soup, with a fine pear and some Teleme Jack cheese; or two very round eggs from a misnamed “poacher,” on sour-dough toast, with browned butter poured over and a celery heart alongside to be the crisp part; or a can of bean sprouts tossed with sweet butter and some soy and lemon juice, and a big glass of milk.

Things tasted good, and it was a relief to be away from my job and from the curious, disbelieving impertinence of the people in restaurants. I still wished, in what was almost a theoretical way, that I was not cut off from the world's trenchermen by what I had written for and about them. But, and there was no cavil here, I felt firmly as I do this very minute, that snug misanthropic solitude is better than hit-or-miss congeniality. If One could not be with me,“feasting in silent sympathy,” then I was my best companion….

B is for bachelors …

… and the wonderful dinners they pull out of their cupboards, with such dining-room aplomb and kitchen chaos.

Their approach to gastronomy is basically sexual, since few of them under seventy-nine will bother to produce a good meal unless it is for a pretty woman. Few of them of any age at all will consciously ponder on the aphrodisiacal qualities of the dishes they serve forth, but subconsciously they use what tricks they have to make their little banquets, whether intimate or merely convivial, lead as subtly as possible to the hoped-for bedding-down.

Soft lights, plenty of tipples (from champagne to straight rye), and, if possible, a little music, are the time-worn props in any such entertainment, no matter on what financial level the host is operating. Some men head for the back booth at the corner pub and play the juke box, with overtones of medium-rare steak and French-fried potatoes. Others are forced to fall back on the soft-footed alcoholic ministrations of a Filipino houseboy, muted Stan Kenton on the super-Capehart, and a little supper beginning with caviar malossol on ice an ending with a soufflé au kirschwasser d'Alsace.

The bachelors I consider at this moment are at neither end of the gastronomical scale. They are the men between twenty-five and fifty who, if they have been married, are temporarily not and, therefore, triply conscious of both their heaven-sent freedom and their domestic clumsiness. They are in the middle brackets, financially if not emotionally. They have “been around,” and know the niceties or amenities or whatever they choose to call the tricks of a well-set table an a well-poured glass, and yet they have neither the tastes nor the pocketbooks to indulge in signing endless chits at Mike Romanoff's or Twenty One.

In other words, they like to give a little dinner now and then in the far-from-circumspect intimacy of their apartments … which more often than not consist of a studio-living room with either a disguised let-down bed or a tiny bedroom, a bath, and a stuffy closet called the kitchen.

I have eaten many meals prepared an served in such surroundings. I am perhaps fortunate to be able to say that I have always enjoyed them … and perhaps even more fortunate to be able to say that I did enjoy them because of my acquired knowledge of the basic rules of seduction. I assumed that I had been invited for either a direct or an indirect approach. I judged as best I could which one was being contemplated, let my host know of my own foreknowledge, and then sat back to have as much pleasure as possible.

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