Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Peruvian Feast

I can't believe my right running shoe still smells of paprika, even after the washing machine and dryer?  How the hell is that possible? 

Please allow a recap:  I stopped by my friend Gary's birthday party on the way home after a day out on a boat.  That explains the running shoes.  I was the dorkiest dressed (well at least I thought so):  a white hoodie, banana republic jean shorts (the tighty kind that go to your knees), and running shoes (no socks).  I guess my choice to not change before the party sort of backfired as the other guests arrived in cleanly pressed dress shirts, cutey patootie shoes, make-up (imagine that) and blow dried hair.  I had blow dried hair alright, the kind that is naturally messy from the wind and salt water.

Okay, enough said about that.  I was clearly uncomfortable, so proceeded to try each and every fine wine that Gary opened.  I was surprisingly impressed with the Coppola Claret, the kind of wine that one can sip without food.  So impressed that I had a wine epiphany. It may not sound like much of an epiphany but here goes:  there is wine that goes with food and wine that goes alone;  often the wine that goes with food is not very good without food (too acidic), and the wine that goes alone can be overly cloyying, (too much fruit, high alcohol etc.)  But, there is a definitive place for both.  Being in the industry, many of the wine geeks I have the pleasure of knowing (quite a few by the way) don't like those big Napa County Cabernet blends that sometimes have the tendency to hit you over the head with their bold flavor profiles.  The snobs that have been at it for a while look down on the "less refined" nature of these wines, opting for a leaner style, "food friendly" they call it. I can appreciate those too:  A gorgeous Cote du Rhone, a juicy Nebbiolo, a true Burgundy.  However, sometimes there is a need for a wine that stands alone, one that doesn't require a bite of food to enjoy, one that lingers like dried plums, dusty earth, and bittersweet chocolate.  That's how I felt about the Claret:  dusty, dark fruit, coco powder, raisins, balanced goodness.  Like a good Guinness beer, almost a meal in itself.

Oh that's right, I'm supposed to be talking about food here, hence the "Peruvian Feast" title.  And my shoe, what the hell happened there?

Michelle, Gary's adorable half-Peruvian wife, had whipped up a huge batch of Chupa for the birthday celebration, a Peruvian cream based stew of potatoes, onions, hominy, chiles, tons of paprika and fresh shrimp.  Her mother had made the most delicious Papas Rellanas I had ever had:  mashed potatoes folded into a disk and stuffed with a mixture containing hard boiled eggs, ground meat, olives and spices (secret recipe I'm told).  The papas are then topped with vinegared red onions to give them a little zap and zing.  I was so overjoyed with the flavors that I threatened to sing at the top of my lungs (which my tablemates staunchly prohibited).  The shrimp stew was perfectly seasoned and texturally stunning with the crunchy hominy, sweet shrimp and just enough chile to make you want to eat a bite of the papas.  The papas rellanas were crispy on the outside (from the fryer, I imagine), soft on the inside, with that hidden pocket of seasoned meat that would make any mashed potato lover run off to the wilds of Peru forever.   I had a second one, as Michelle's mother had made a load of them.

Due to my weirdness at parties (or at least at this party), I insisted on helping serve the guests, passing around plates of food like the professional that I purport to be.  After I had my fill, I helped with the clean-up, "bussing" everyone's plates into the trash (okay, they were paper and why not, as who wants to be washing dishes for days?).  This is where the shoe fiasco came in.  In my overzealousness, I  had several bowls stacked on my arm at once (just call me "Flo").  I aimed into the trash, and just then the wine must have gone to my head, as I missed the bag and slid the bowls right onto the kitchen floor, and my right shoe. Well, it doesn't take a brain surgeon to imagine remnants of Chupa broth soaking directly into the soft fabric of the Asics.  (I can't believe I was wearing running shoes at a party!)

Instead of tracking Chupa all over the apartment's white carpeting, I decided it best to remove my shoes to the outside.  This final layer of embarrassment and humiliation got the best of me, walking around the party barefoot as if I were hanging on the beach in Maui. I scooted out the door, no regrets for having helped a bit and of course having partaken of this incredibly memorable feast, but vowing to never come to a party without properly coiffing again.

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