Although it was a Bank Holiday in England, we were back at work on Monday and the weekend was nothing more than a good memory.
I was dressed for rain as we had been promised a wet day, but it did not happen. It was not very busy, and we enjoyed the respite. It was going to get a lot busier, although not necessarily at the office. My neighbours who usually host our monthly soiree, were unable to entertain the troops, as the husband was unfortunately taken ill last weekend. Asking if there was anything I could do, my neighbour wondered if I could find someone to take on the task. I said I would email around and see. However, time marched on and I had failed in the communication department. Not wanting to let down my neighbour, or indeed neighbours, I asked Dana if he would object to us taking on the task. He seemed quite happy with the idea, and asked if I would have time to get everything together. I was quite sure that if I could have a couple of hours off, one on Wednesday morning, and another on Thursday, then I would be good to go! I found myself humming the theme tune to an Australian soap opera, which first hit our television in 1985, called, 'Neighbours'. The last line of the song is, 'That's when good neighbour's become good friends'.
The tradition has been that my neighbour makes a large pot of soup, and I bring a dessert. There is no hard and fast rule, other than the one I make upon myself, but I will not turn up without a pudding. Dana did expect dessert, one dessert, but he then asked me what soup was I making. Soup? I am not renowned for my soup. Although I have made a few in the past, they are no longer on my menu. I bought a super-duper pressure cooker come slow cooker, come anything else maker a few months ago, but it is still sitting in its box waiting for me to read the instructions, (which I will not read, until I have attempted to fathom the workings of the appliance, and once I have found that it does not 'go' as I have expected it to, then, and only then, will I relent and read the instructions!) However, I digress. I had decided to take on 'Neighbour's night', and I sent out the emails to the 'usual suspects', and asked them to pass the invitation to others.
I rose early on Tuesday and decided to start on the desserts. I was expecting, so far, a total of three people, including Dana and myself. The third was my good neighbour whom had become good friend, Cathleen. I would start slow and build up, depending upon how many replies were received before the big night. The best thing about a chocolate mousse bombe, is that it has to be frozen in order to decorate, so it can be prepared in advance. At least that was my hope, as the recipe suggests freezing for a few hours!
Tuesday was not as quiet as Monday, and the humidity took its toll at lunchtime, when we walked around to the supermarket. I needed some more cream, and Samantha needed some items for Edwards surprise party, which was to take place on Saturday night. His birthday was on Friday, and he was working out of town from Tuesday until Friday, so she had decided that it might be nice to arrange something upon his return. However, although he was due to leave earlier in the day, he sent her a message to say that he was going to leave from their house, around four, and would she be able to get home to say 'cheerio'. Dana could not resist 'loves young dream', and allowed her to leave early to bid her husband farewell! So as not to arouse suspicion, the items that she purchased remained in the office fridge overnight, just below the chocolate mousse which sat in the freezer above!
I had prepared dinner for Tuesday, and it just needed reheating when I got home. I had received three more 'yes' responses, and so it was 'game on'. I would be able to prepare some more desserts in the morning, but in the meantime, I was going to have to clear the rubble from my morning effort! However, although I had warned Dana as to the slight mess in the kitchen, I had not prepared him enough, as he walked into a shambles. He looked helplessly at the mess and wanted to help, but knew not where to begin. I sent him packing, assuring him that I could manage, and it was a case of 'too many cooks' in my small kitchen, would 'spoil the broth' that he had assumed I was making. I told him that by the time the spaghetti was al dente, all would be washed up and put away.
An early start was essential on Wednesday, as I had another 'dinner party' to prepare for that evening. There would only be three of us, and the menu was simple. I was going to poach some salmon and roast some potatoes. Nothing too complicated. However, as my fridge was going to be full of creamy desserts, there would be no room for beverages and although I am not particular as to the temperature at which I drink my sparkling water, I am aware that there is a protocol in this arena! I would fill my 'ice chest' cooler with ice, and use it as a portable fridge. However, the cooler was in my neatly arranged cupboard, at the back, under my cake tins. Of course, the most efficient way of retrieving the cooler, was not the quickest, and after pushing things out of the way and struggling to lift the cooler by the handle, with the box of cake tins still partially covering it, without any leverage, as I was standing on Dana's tool box, which was at the front of the cupboard, which was in front of a pack of kitchen towel rolls, I decided to go to 'plan b'; the efficient way. Of course, the most efficient way of retrieving the cooler, was not the quickest, and my version of efficiency was still to attempt to remove the item without removing everything that was in front of it, and by the time I had managed to maneuver the box from its resting place, I had emptied most of the cake pans on to the floor, and had dislodged enough of the other contents so that they came crashing down on top of the dishes that I would need to retrieve for the 'main courses', that were far from soup!
A batch of pastry was resting peacefully in my fridge whilst all this was taking place, and the lime mixture that was to fill it, was sitting on my kitchen table, cooling to a temperature that would be acceptable to add the whipped cream, in order to make it 'light and fluffy' as the recipe suggested. This was critical, as I was going to borrow half a dozen pastry cases and fill them with lime 'light and fluffy' for that evening's dessert!
Arriving at work a little after nine, no one would have suspected the mess that had gained ground, once again, in my house, having spread from the kitchen to the dining room! I worked feverishly all day, with a break in the middle to pick up some salad, and ingredients for the vegetarian dish that I was going to make for my good neighbour/friend, the vegetarian! I had only made ratatouille a couple of times before, but decided that a recipe was unnecessary. We traveled back to the office with a bag full of groceries for a neighbour's soiree and a surprise party!
My Wednesday evening was very busy. I arrived home a little after five, and saw another neighbour, whom apparently had not received my email. I realised that as I was not in regular communication with most of my neighbours via email, my message may have been sent directly to their 'junk' folder. "I will tell everyone", offered my good neighbour/friend, with enthusiasm. I was grateful, and then started to panic. Who was 'everyone'? My next door neighbour was blowing leaves out of his patio area, and I extended the invite to him and his wife. "Oh thank you. Is that this week? Okay, we will try and make it". I went inside my condo, and made a list! My catering would have to be enough for between six and possibly thirty, although twenty would be more realistic. I had twenty four hours to create a feast!
I peeled potatoes and carrots, ready to be boiled the following morning, and cut up vegetables for the French vegetable stew. Pieces of chicken were arranged on a bed of spinach for the other main course. I just had enough time to poach my salmon and lay the table before my Wednesday evening guest arrived. I had managed to rearrange the cupboard which had housed the cooler and it was stacked in a way that allowed the door to shut and therefore hid the explosion from vision.
Dana announced that he would have to be in the office bright and early Thursday morning, especially if I required him to play host by seven that evening. I was about to argue! I rose early and headed down to the kitchen, where the preparations began again. Potatoes were boiling and meat was cooking. The Shepherds Pie was 'on the go'. (Technically it was a cottage pie, but I decided that unless anyone specifically asked, I would not venture to give a lesson!) I proceeded to make choux pastry, and whip some more cream. It was going to be a cholesterol nightmare!
It was time to return to the cupboard, and retrieve the tins for the Shepherd's pies. Yes, pies. Samantha arrived as I was suspended in mid air, having once again gone every other route except that of efficiency. I had caught my hair in a metal frame, right at the back of the cupboard, and my legs were kicking in the hope that my feet would hit terra ferma at some point. She had brought in two cake tins, in the hope that one of them would be eight inches, and sufficient for my meringue mixture, which I had yet to make. Neither were, but her help was needed in a different area now. I managed to disentangle myself and regain vertical positioning amid howls of laughter coming from the other room. However, as always, my daughter came to the rescue in a very practical sense. She mashed the potato mixture, poured the minced beef into the tins (that I had managed to retrieve before standing upright) and created a masterpiece that looked as if it had been purchased from the 'ready made' food section of a 'high end' supermarket!
Before I left the house, at a little before nine, I had two pies ready to go in the oven, choux buns ready to be filled, a hazelnut meringue awaiting cream, and a giant ratatouille simmering in the crock pot. I wasn't quite half way there, but I was 'living on a prayer'! Once at the office, I removed the frozen bombe from the freezer, and covered it with cream whipped cream.
The supermarket stop was essential, again, at lunchtime, as I had whipped all the cream in my fridge, and I needed some more for the chicken! I returned to the office and saw that I had received an email from my vegetarian neighbour. She and her husband were going to have to decline my offer of dinner, as their daughter was in desperate need of a baby sitter, and they were going to have to oblige. I replied that 'grandma duties' must come first, and we would catch up at a later date. I was still unsure as to the amount of people for whom I would be catering, but I was convinced I would have enough food.
Arriving home a little before five, as I had asked the boss if it would be convenient for me to leave work just a little early, as my guests were also his guests, and any shortcoming would reflect on both of us, (Dana was unmoved by my threats,) I set to with a vengeance. I had written a detailed list of 'things to do', which included 'put out napkins; put away shoes; put out cutlery' and other things that although appeared to be obvious, were going to be forgotten in the mix! I filled the meringue with cream and strawberries, and filled the choux buns with cream and topped them with chocolate. The pastry cases were filled with lime 'light and fluffy', and the bombe was put on a plate! A mixture of cream, Parmesan cheese, tomatoes, chicken stock and mushrooms were poured over the chicken and it joined the pies in the oven. Rice was set to cook in the rice cooker!
By six fifty, I was ready to receive my guests. Dana arrived home at five minutes to the hour, ran upstairs to freshen up, and was back down on the stroke of seven. We waited. I had opened my back gate, so that people could just walk through. The front door was also unlocked. The clock ticked round a minute, and then two. We sighed. Then, just as I was about to throw in the towel, the door bell rang, and I heard my back gate creek. "Are we early", asked Dorothy, my good neighbour/friend, who lives next door the swimming pool. "No, right on time", said Dana, as I pulled back the patio door to invite Diane in.
I went into the kitchen and took the pies, and the chicken from the oven, just as Cathleen and another neighbour appeared on my patio.
My husband was unaware of all that had been prepared, and was looking for the soup. However, he soon forgot the yearning for broth, and tucked into the other dishes that were on offer, as did everyone else. Two more neighbour's arrived. They had not replied as they had been out of town and were not sure what time they would return, and having eaten on the way home, they were not going to have any dinner. They were not going to have any dinner until they saw that Shepherd's pie was on the menu!
"I didn't think I liked Shepherd's pie", announced my neighbour from two doors along. After we discussed how it was made and what was actually in a real Shepherd's pie, the lesson given that I promised myself I would only give if asked, I told him that many versions were rather too lavish, and added ingredients, rather than enhance, actually spoiled. It is also normally quite expensive, which is not acceptable for what was originally 'leftovers'. He was converted with the traditional 'English' version!
"Desserts are in the lounge", I said, as the main courses were being devoured, much to my satisfaction. "Plural", said David, my 'love Shepherd's pie made-the-traditional-way' neighbour. "You made more than one?" I shrugged. "It's a fatal flaw", I announced. As the first guest cut into the meringue, the doorbell rang, and Dana was delighted to see that my next door neighbours had arrived. We all managed to arrange ourselves around my kitchen table, and I felt as if I had achieved a great goal. The interesting thing was that each one of my neighbours has a talent of their own, either academic or practical, and as each one was complimentary of my effort, I was aware that I was, in some way, envious of their talents too. I accepted the compliment and was grateful that I could prepare a two course meal, with a choice, on a 'school night'. It was great fun! Everyone had departed by nine thirty, as most of us had work the following day, and all were suitably fed!
"We had a dinner party", said Dana, once we had cleared away the food from the table, and placed the leftovers into smaller containers. "Yes, we did", I replied, noticing that he actually enjoyed the socialising! I waited for another comment, which took a while to arrive. "How did you make so much, in so little time!" Although I do not give away my trade secrets to all, I told him that the best dishes, or at least my best dishes, are really rather simple to prepare and cook.
I went into work on Friday on time. I left work on Friday night at a little before eight. I told the boss that I would probably make up the time at the end of the week, and I did just that!
Saturday morning saw Samantha and I maintain our usual routine. She had to shop for some things for the 'surprise' party, and her good neighbour/friend, was going to prepare anything that needed preparing in her kitchen, and bring it over to Samantha later. I felt rather lost, as I had nothing to do! Having spent the first part of the week in a state of 'overdrive', I was sure I was missing something!
The surprise party went down well, and I was pleased to have a quiet evening. We visited my good neighbour/friend on Sunday morning. He is in a nursing facility, and his wife was pleased to see us, and glad that all went well.
I felt somewhat satisfied with the 'event', on many different levels. It was not only good to 'cater' for a large group, once again, as I had done so many times when I lived in England, but I realised that most of my 'safe - staple' recipes could be adapted (as the ingredients, if available, are not always of the same consistency, or more often than not, not named the same) and those recipes that I had not attempted in England (due to the fact they were too prohibitively expensive to be experiments) were made for the first time with ingredients from here, so there was no need to adapt.
The most amusing part of the whole week was that I made my good neighbour/friend, who is in the nursing facility, a batch of chocolate chip cookies! I made cookies! Was I finally giving up, and becoming the 'all American' cook. I think not, a cookie here and there does not an American make!
I have no idea what is in store on the culinary front next week, but I do have a freezer full of food that can just be thawed and reheated. Despite a large dent in the meals, I did over cater just a little bit. Dana thinks I had enough to feed our whole community twice. I think he is exaggerating slightly, although only slightly. I look forward to redoing this week, at some point, in ......... another story!