Like, I suspect, most stovebound homebodies, I strongly prefer to stay home on Big Nights. I greeted 2005 warmly with steak and champagne at Andrew’s house. This New Year’s Eve we planned a feast for mine: gougeres, tomatoes stuffed with bitter greens, potato-crusted salmon, chocolate cakes, and caramels. We had been out to dinner the night before at Blue Hill, where, before the crab salad and lamb with chickpeas and roasted pears, he had, as it happens, asked me to marry him. So we were aglow with affection and good fortune as we began preparing the last dinner of the year, trusting Jean-Georges and Mark Bittman to get us through to morning.
I made the gougeres already described and a dish of caramels so sublime they deserve their own post. Andrew spent a long time chopping vegetables for the stuffed tomatoes.
When he declared his weariness, I smoothed his hair and said I loved him and told him to devote himself to the 24 marathon on TV. I grated potatoes to coat the fish as Andrew boned the salmon without removing his eyes from Kiefer Sutherland’s plight. Feeling unwell, he left cooking the fish to me.
Meantime, the oil around the baking tomatoes had begun filling my apartment with acrid smoke, and the dish had to be removed from the oven halfway through the prescribed cooking time. I tried to cook the first batch of fish in a pan too flimsy and too hot. My frustration mounting as I inhaled the insalubrious fumes from oily tomato-baking and fish-burning, I had, I’m afraid, a bit of a fit. Andrew smoothed my hair and told me we were getting married and said dinner would be wonderful no matter what. I had to take a deep breath and agree. I finished up the fish, which worked fine once I switched to a cast-iron skillet: fish coated with hash browns, right at your own kitchen table! Brilliant. Just pat shredded potatoes onto a half-inch-thick filet and fry in a generous amount of fat.
After making a completely forgettable sauce, I plated the food
(still not my forte) and tore Andrew from the sofa, where he had been growing quieter and quieter and less involved. Flinching a bit at the sight of his plate, he bravely took a bite of salmon. “Mmm,” he said unconvincingly, “This is good. It has a nice texture.” Mine was overcooked and far too firm, and I said so. “I think I’m going to throw up,” Andrew said. I thought that was a bit drastic, but before I could answer, he was off to the bathroom, where he stayed for the next 8 hours. Some awful bug had chosen to ring in the new year in his stomach, poor thing. Either that, or his body was violently rejecting the idea of marriage, you know, one or the other.
I plowed through as much of the ridiculous mountain of leftovers as I could over the next few days, eating surreptitiously because Andrew couldn’t manage anything but ginger ale, Gatorade, saltines, and chicken broth (and barely even that). I think it will be a while before we take on another marathon cooking challenge.