1940s Archive

An Alphabet for Gourmets

continued (page 4 of 5)

I almost always found that when my host knew of my opinions on the situation, he was more relaxed and philosophical about its very improbable outcome and could listen to the phonograph records and savor his cautiously concocted Martini with more inner calm. And I almost always ate and drank well, finding that any man who knows that a woman will behave in her cups, whether of consommé double or of double Scotch, is resigned happily to a good dinner. In fact, that given the choice between it an a rousing tumble in the hay, he will inevitably choose the first, convinced that the latter can easily be found elsewhere.

The drinks offered to me were easy ones, dictated by my statements made early in the game. I never bothered to hint but always said plainly, in self-protection, that I liked very dry Gibsons with good ale to follow, or dry sherry with good wine. Safe but happy, that was my motto! I was given some purely beautiful liquors: really old Scotch, Swiss Dezaley light as mountain water, proud vintage Burgundies … countless bottles of champagne, all good, too, and what fine cognacs! Only once did a professional bachelor ever offer me a glass of sweet liqueur. I never saw him again, feeling that his perceptions were too dull to exhaust myself on, if in even the short time after winning my acceptance to his dinner he had not guessed my tastes that far.

The dishes I have eaten at such tables for two range from home-grown snails in home-grown butter to pompano flown in from the Gulf with slivered macadamias from Maui. I found that most bachelors like exotics, at least culinarily speaking: they would rather fuss around with a complex recipe for le hochepot de queue de boeuf than one called “stewed oxtail,” even if both come from André Simon's Concise Encyclopaedia of Gastronomy.

They are snobs, in that they prefer to keep Escoffier on the front of the shelf and hide the Settlement Cook Book tucked in behind.

Most of all, they are experts at the casual: they may quit the office early and sacrifice murderous hours of pay, but when you arrive, the apartment is only pleasantly odorous, glasses and a perfectly frosted shaker or bottle await you, and your host looks not even faintly harried or stovebound; instead his upper lip is unbedewed and his eye is flatteringly wolfish.

Tact and honest common sense forbid any woman's penetrating with mistaken kindliness into the kitchen: motherliness is unthinkable in such a situation, and romance would wither on the culinary threshold and be buried forever beneath its confusion of used pots and spoons.

Instead, the time has come, and of course in proper proportions, for ancient and always interesting blandishments. The Bachelor Spirit unfolds like a hungry sea anemone. The object of his possible affections feels cozily desired. The drink is good. He pops discreetly in and out of his gastronomical workshop where he brews his sly receipts, his digestive attacks upon the fortress of her virtue. She represses her natural curiosity, and if she is at all experienced in such wars, she knows pretty well that she will have a patterned meal which has already been indicated by his restaurant-ordering. More often than not, it will be some kind of chicken, elaborately disguised with everything from Australian pine nuts to herbs grown by the landlady's daughter.

One highly expert bachelor-cook in my immediate circle swears by a recipe for breasts of young chicken, broiled that morning or the night before, and covered with a dramatic and very lemony sauce made at the last minute over a chafing-dish flame. This combines all the tricks of seeming nonchalance, carefully casual presentation, and, above all, attention-getting.

With it he has chilled asparagus tips in his own version of vinaigrette sauce, and little hot rolls. Then for dessert he has what is also his own version of riz à l'Impératrice, which he is convinced all women love because he himself secretly dotes on it … and it can be made the day before (not too successfully).

This meal lends itself almost treacherously to the wiles of alcohol: anything from a light lager to a Moët et Chandon of great year is beautiful with it, and can be well bolstered with the preprandial drinks which any bachelor doles out with at least one ear bent toward the Shakespearian dictum that they may double desire and halve the pursuit thereof.

The most successful dinner I was ever plied with, or perhaps it would be more genteel to say served, was also thoroughly horrible.

Everything was carried out, as well as in, by a real expert, a man then married for the fifth time who had interspersed his connubial adventures with rich periods of technical celibacy. The cocktails were delicately suited to my own tastes rather than his, and I sipped a glass of Tio Pepe, properly chilly. The table, in a candlelit patio, was laid in the best sense of the word “nicely,” with silver and china and Swedish glass which I had long admired. The wine was a last bottle of Chianti, stra vecchio.

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