Monday, June 13, 2011

Saturday: "Hurry Up and Wait" for Celebrations and Assembly Lines

Saturday's dinner proves a new challenge: the kitchen on a wedding schedule. We're not going to be so focused on anticipating orders as we are with plowing through them. I wander through the property before my run to town, and the ceremony and reception tent are already in place. The dining room is decked out in all the colors of an Indian wedding, red and gold and saffron orange, and huge loops of jasmine flowers hang over each window.
My hike Saturday morning is strenuous, but I'm sweating more out of anxiety over the night to come. Will the wedding requests prove more difficult than an average dinner? Or will I get just as overwhelmed when we've got 80 orders to rapidly put together and send out? And there's a nagging thought at the back of my brain: does anyone even care, besides me? I've been aiming to post every day--because there is something happening every day--but not a single comment. Are you even out there, dear readers I've so longed for?

It's nice to hear that I've got at least one reader for this project: I finally reach Mom as I'm going through the Island Market for soap to fix my dry skin. "I sent it to all my friends," she says. "It is so great that you got to do this--to try out a new career while still getting paid by your old one!

"Yes, Mom, it's great," I say, though I'm wondering how much of a career I could make out of this if I get so stressed out by a few tickets.

"I just gotta tell you that your blog is such a joy, and so must has suddenly gone viral because I've sent out the URL to everyone I know, and everyone is reading it and saying how great it is." I love how confident she is--and though in certain circles she could be the Kevin Bacon of Boston, what I'm really hoping is that the food writing world is reading it. Where are you, my twitter friends at food52? At The Kitchn? I need your support...

"I certainly hope you're right...otherwise I'd probably be better off spending my time reading while here."

"Just keep at it--you make it so vivid, it's like we're there. This may be the very best thing you could've done. What a great eye-opening experience, and what a little mini-sabbatical."

She's right about that--I'm seeing things a bit more calmly, less neurotically since I've arrived here. I can feel it in my bones, the relaxation that comes with finally being away from the city: I'm walking straighter and with less pain, a product of spending my entire 8-hour work shift on my feet, and my hair is growing faster than it ever has in the city. Is it the three square meals a day? The hour-long walks to and from town? Is the kitchen's conspiracy to fatten me up actually a good thing?
I can't argue with the virtues of my breakfast...I'd wandered by the "Farm Stand" sign several days in a row, and finally walked in to buy some eggs, fresh from the chickens squawking in their backyard. The whole shed runs on an honor system--a list of prices, an unlocked cabinet, and a cash box. I write in my purchase on a clipboard and walk home with my gorgeous eggs.
 Their yolks are bright orange and wildly flavorful, especially when scrambled up and eaten with my radishes on toast. They're more chicken-y than I expected, and give me a bit more energy and confidence. Wedding guests are starting to wander across our porch as I scramble up the eggs and savor every bite.

And I need it, because while the wedding reception doesn't start until 5:30, we've got plenty to do. I spend the morning sawing away at the slicer, cutting stale bread for croutons and hors d'oeuvres, which I then assemble with Geddes leading me--spreading chicken liver, cornichons, and pickled fennel onto crackers, and sprinkling chive flowers onto smoked salmon. We set up a station outside by the walk-in so we can load up trays as quickly as possible.
Everyone's doing something to ready themselves for the later rush--Angela and Chris are making huge batches of risotto and mashed potatoes, and Annie and Wally make rounds of herbed goat cheese to top the salad croutons.
But then it becomes a waiting game--or as Annie says, as she has all of us crowded around her while she prepares flatbreads, it's time to "hurry up and wait". We wander in and out of the kitchen garden as the ceremony's a Hindi ceremony, so everything is said and then translated, making it much longer than we'd anticipated. Chris and I eavesdrop in the garden, and I snap lots of photos of the gigantic sage leaves in the yard.
The rest of the staff are pacing, dying for tasks to take on. Wally whips up a giant batch of granola for the guests the next morning. As many of them are New Yorkers, I secretly wonder how many of them will be nursing giant hangovers from the party tonight. Later I find out they drank about 50 bottles of wine--almost 1 bottle per guest, not too shabby.
It seems to take hours for the ceremony to end, but then suddenly we hear them coming into the bar area. And we spring into action--Geddes and I stand by the walk-in and throw together silver platters of hors d'oeuvres for the waitstaff to pass: smoked salmon and cream cheese, cucumber with avocado mousse and Piment d'Espelette, chicken liver, and spicy mussels with green garlic aioli for the waitstaff to take away. We have more vegetarians than we'd anticipated, so Geddes starts pulling flatbread pizzas from the oven, adored with fresh asparagus and herbs from the garden. Winfred and Molly start coming back from the reception with trays of empty oyster shells--one guest said that they were the best oysters he'd ever eaten in his life. I'm not surprised at all, and make a note to myself to make a day trip to Buck Bay, where we get our oysters, as soon as possible.
And then it's barely a half-hour before we set to work at the salad station: Annie sends bowls of dressed greens down to me. I scatter slices of shaved fennel on top, and send it down the line. Wally adds slivers of raw and boiled beets on top, and Chris adorns each salad with a goat cheese crouton. We plate almost 80 salads in 10 minutes. It's like going on a 100-yard dash, but somehow I do it without freaking out once. In a series of stress-inducing days, this feels like a major milestone.
Then we're up for entrees: we all move to the entree station, as Geddes, Chris, and Angela get ready to pull slabs of halibut and chicken from the oven. Geddes returns the fish to the oven three times before he's happy with its doneness, and then starts plating like mad: Wally scoops out some black japonica rice and roasted vegetables, Geddes slices the fish on top, and Angela adds a scoop of salad and drizzles aioli around the dish. Then they pass the plate up to me. I dollop some herbal emulsion on top of the aioli and scatter chive blossoms over the top, wiping the rim of the plate with a clean towel. The plate goes to Annie for a final check, and then out to the dining room. We repeat this with chicken breast and mashed potatoes, and with a creamy Parmesan-citrus risotto and raw vegetables. This course doesn't run as smoothly as the first one, mainly because people start changing their orders at the last second. We're watching for problem ingredients along the way--too soft potatoes, too juicy tomatoes--but somehow every dish goes out. And it leaves us with great stuff for family meal--tons of rice and risotto; juicy, buttery chicken; and lots of roasted asparagus and carrots.

And finally, the dessert is ordered up. Annie's made a special version of the cake, adored with wildflowers, for photographs, but we still need to slice up an enormous sheet cake, a sweet gingery pound cake with vanilla cream and rhubarb between the layers. On one side of the cold station, Wally and Chris drizzle rhubarb sauce and ginger-chamomile syrup onto the plate, and pass it to me to place three borage flowers around the plate. Geddes scoops out ice cream studded with candied ginger, and it goes out the door. We clean up in a frenzy, mainly so we can dive into the leftovers, and finally exhale.
It's still fairly early--9pm--so Chris breaks open an excellent bottle of wine for the sharing. It's a perfect white, crisp and subtly floral, and as I sip my second glass, I'm seized by an urge to linger and celebrate with the wedding party. I run home post-clean-up and change into my one semi-formal summer dress and sandals. Refilling my glass with a red from the cupboard, I stand outside the reception room, which is pumping up the Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga. The guests are dancing like crazy, and the bride and groom are out of their formal clothes and into more comfortable dancewear. A few guests eye me in the doorway, and one of them start to ask me about my time on Orcas. Am I starting to look like a local? Or can they tell that I'm an eavesdropper like them?

Melissa and Chris are chatting on our porch, sharing some wine and laughing at the guests who are clearly on their fourth (or fifth) drinks, and smoking something sweet and woody on the lawn. Some of the guests dining in the restaurant last night were asking for a weed connection on the island, but I'm fairly certain we all demurred to provide an answer. Nevertheless, they seem to have found a source, and one guest stumbles out onto the porch of the reception room and does a full faceplant into the grass. He stands, laughs, and stumbles back into the hall to rock out to the Indian music. It's as though the Inn has become a private playground for the night, and I'm having a good time watching the show. Molly, who's on waitstaff for the dance party, fills my empty wine glass with a bit of prosecco. I salute her, and the guests, for a good night.

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