ONE thing about being married to an eccentric thousandaire – there’s never a dull moment.
My husband Stanley’s latest escapade started innocently enough. A couple of his colleagues were coming to town from Texas, stopping over for a night in Vancouver before proceeding to Whistler.
Stanley was excited. These people had once put him up for days in Houston just because they belong to the same business association and a friend had given him the thumbs up. He wanted to return their splendid hospitality with an excellent dinner party, also inviting mutual friends.
Frankly, I’m not good at winging it for special dinners. Stanley cares nothing for table settings, lighting, desserts or vegetables – he’s totally comfortable with impromptu entertaining, as long as lots of bloody slaughter has taken place. But I have to plan well ahead. My countless failures include the time I boiled up a bunch of corncobs in water, pureed the kernels, threw in some salt and pepper and served this tasteless, pale gruel as “soup.” (Thanks, Gourmet magazine.) I’m now well aware that the time to try something new is not while a horde of hungry guests is in your living-room, wondering why the drunken hosts haven’t served anything before 11 p.m.
These days, I like to cook recipes that have already proved successful, and I need to visualize my own tasks. I routinely set the table many hours in advance, occasionally re-setting it if it fails to achieve whatever tone I’m trying for. In this case, I really wanted everything to be perfect -- always my fatal mistake. Anyway, what’s the saying? If you’re hosting Texans, go big or get executed.
So, weeks ahead, we settled on what I thought was an elegant Canadian menu, featuring fish, West Coast mussels, and venison. I went on a trip, confident that when I got back, we could just proceed as planned.
You’re right, regular readers of this column – I am a fool. As soon as I returned, Stanley (a cookbook author) informed me that he had agreed to be a demonstration cook at something called The Man Show later in the month, and that he’d been asked by the sponsors to focus his demos on exotic meats. Stanley figured that the dinner party we had planned was his only chance to test out the recipes he’d be serving up at his big event, and from his perspective, this would be fabulous fun.
So instead of seafood and venison dishes he had cooked before, he proposed that we serve five forms of protein that he’d never even tasted -- crocodile, camel, ostrich, and kangaroo, winding up with rack of muskox. In a dubious effort to keep it real, he’d throw in some Canadian venison.
He claims I started to cry when he told me about the changed plan. I claim I just had something in my eye (tears, I think they’re called) and a concurrent need to heave drily. At any rate, as usual, he won and the menu transformed from potentially delicious and appropriately Canadian to completely mysterious and randomly Australian.
I did manage to nix the muskox. And, to preserve my sanity, I made Stanley write down the menu. Certainly, it was about as far as was humanly possible from the 100 Mile Diet we’re all supposed to be adopting to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, nourish ourselves, and support our local farmers and producers. Stanley’s list began with “camel brisket,” proceeding to “crocodile skewers marinated with Dijon, white balsamic vinegar, garlic, fresh rosemary and chile flakes.” Next, I noted that he had listed “escalopes of Quebec venison in red wine, truffle oil reduction and Vancouver Island sea salt.”
“Well, thank God for the Vancouver Island salt,” I said. “I guess we’re using that in our 8,000 Mile Dinner because of our deep concern for the environment.”
He just chuckled and started thawing the camel.
Fortunately, our visitors were intrepid sorts, and not a bit snobbish. I recently read in a Globe and Mail Entertaining Q & A about a guest turning a nose up at a chicken entrée served in somebody’s home because it was not organic. Our friends expressed no concern about whether the camel had once frolicked freely, or the croc had enjoyed sufficient basking time. They didn’t even care how the Vancouver Island sea salt had been harvested, whether individually, by hand, or with a giant scythe that had accidentally beheaded the larger crystals. We were able to discuss other things over dinner than the provenance of our ingredients.
And, honestly, the exotic meats were delicious. Stanley felt the camel could have used a few more hours on the smoker to tenderize it. Everybody loved the ostrich. The skewered croc tasted enough like juicy chicken that our usually picky 16-year-old blithely made himself a crocodile sandwich later. The roo loin, served rare, won raves.
Ain’t it always the way that the adventurer triumphs? Ultimately, our guests were flattering about my efforts, but they won’t remember my tried-and-true carrot-squash puree. Meanwhile, their night of Aussie madness with Crocodile Stan-lee might well become legend.