The Perfect Dish
Measuring the sauce by eye, I painted over each ghostly trail as an artist corrected imperfections on the canvas. Under appreciated as it was, cooking was still as much an art form as sculpting marble, or painting the ceiling of a chapel. The patience, skill, dedication, and raw talent necessary to combine the ingredients that inspired me into masterpieces of cuisine were no less than those of any Renaissance master applying themselves to their art. And if cooking was an art, then I was, without question, the Michelangelo of cuisine!
Tonight had been years in the making. The recipe was elegant in its simplicity, but the ingredients to do my masterpiece justice had taken time to procure and prepare. Shopping for the meat had been the hardest part. Nothing found in a supermarket would do, and though the farmer’s market had more organic options, it was often too crowded to judge the quality. I had a sixth sense when it came to knowing which animal would prove worthy of my efforts.
It was all in the eyes. A glance at the right eyes and electricity would hum through every nerve, arousing all my senses at once; it was all I needed to know I had found what I was searching for, and not two months back I had finally found Them.
I had felt the blood quicken in my veins when I spied her alone. The distended girth of her belly had filled me with awe and a tentative joy, but it was when I had discovered that she was but one half of a bonded (and obviously breeding) pair that my considerable, though already quivering self-control was pushed to its limits.
It had been a difficult acquisition, but they were mine now; my own little budding family.
I had never had a family before, and though I found myself enjoying the changes inherent in raising my new stock with affection, I quickly discovered it made the matter of selecting parts to harvest delicate. Now, I’m no fan of slaughter, so if I can harvest without killing, I will do so, and normally the selection process allows for a variety of cuts to be had without killing the stock. However, my beautiful pair were fickle. It seemed few of the available cuts would leave them in a state still willing to breed together. I was gentle in my treatment of them, but firm, and eventually I had settled on a portion of leg from each.
You may think me callus in this venture — harvesting without slaughtering, taking the meat and organs, yet keeping them alive — but I assure you, I hold my stock in the highest regard and tend to their every need, personally. Their quality of life does not lack for the parts I take, and I cherish them dearly, even after they have finally contributed their last.
Happily, my careful selection meant many more to come, and I rewarded them generously for their sacrifices.
Shortly after I had procured the leg cuts — fatty from him, and lean from her — I had cubed and ground both cuts to the dulcet strains of Mozart’s La Ci Darem La Mano, occasionally humming along with Don Giovanni as the marbled pink tendrils slithered from the grinder’s narrow slots, and blended it by hand into a mixture of cracked anise, sea salt, wine, paprika, a dash of sugar, and, of course, pepper; black and cayenne. After the spices had a chance to really saturate the meat, I passed them through the grinder again, bloating the taught casing gathered at the end of the hole plate until several links of glistening sausage were laid out before me.
Eight agonizing weeks later, the meat was cured enough to be painstakingly sliced into the rich burgundy medallions that would adorn my masterpiece. They smelled of the wine, fennel, and garlic I had used to season them, but there was a more subtle scent beneath the spice, a scent that was unique to my little family, a scent that made my mouth water in anticipation of the flavors that would unfurl upon my eager tongue.
On a blanket of fresh mozzarella made from the female’s own milk — made not an hour before I set about building my masterpiece for the freshest possible taste — I arranged the medallions of pepperoni in concentric rings. I finished with a garnish of more cheese, grating it directly onto my creation, and felt burning anticipation rake its hungry nails down my back. With a delicious shiver, as well as delicacy and deliberation, I slid my masterpiece into the simple brick oven built into the kitchen’s southernmost wall, to be lovingly toasted by a fragrant applewood fire.
Hands washed and apron retired upon the glinting stainless steel of a meat hook by the door, I joined the only member of my new family willing to behave at the dining table. Standing beside my seat, I gently enfolded the wine glass within slender, delicate fingers — the fingers of an artist — and smiled a dreamy smile. I hoped the pleasure welling within me might infect her and help to ease the admittedly rocky transition she’d so far experienced in her new home.
“You’re going to love this,” I said, leaning over to pour wine into her waiting glass, and sweeping a hand down my chest to keep the plum silk of my tie from falling into my own. I gave the bottle a little twist to stop the crimson flow, and set it on the table with a dismayed “cluck” of the tongue as I finally saw the state of her. I had been so careful when applying her makeup, and was not pleased to see tears staining her beautiful cheeks with dark streaks of ruined mascara. All smiles forgotten, I moved to her side and opened the carefully folded napkin from her plate with careless flourish and a loud snap.
“Really, Samantha,” I said, dabbing at her cheeks like a mother hen. “If you’re not going to keep yourself presentable for the dinner table, then you’ll spend the evening in the pen with your husband.”
Those bright blue eyes — those special, electric blue eyes I loved so much — widened in fear at the mere mention of the pen, and I gave a quiet “hm” of affirmation. Gripping her chin, I turned her head this way and that, looking for any blemishes I might have missed. When I was finally satisfied she was finished with her unsightly tears, I returned to the kitchen to fetch her a new napkin.
The kitchen was redolent with the scent of cooking flesh and baking dough.
My smile returned.
I made quick work of turning a clean square of starched white cloth into the remarkable likeness of a swan before I strolled back into the dining room to place it upon her plate with the “swan’s” head facing her. Once I had seated myself across from her, I sipped the dark red wine and closed my eyes in delight. Though tonight’s meal was, without a doubt, my most inspired use of ingredients, devising a way to properly ferment a truly sanguine wine had been my most ingenious; an undertaking of many years, I had finally created a vintage worthy of complementing the masterpieces I crafted in the kitchen.
I opened my eyes, gazing across the short distance between us to appreciate her loveliness, before raising my glass in giddy invitation.
“Drink up, Samantha!” I all but giggled. “Prime your palate, or you won’t be able to truly appreciate the complexities of tonight’s entrée, and I can’t even begin to tell you what a shame that would be.”
Tears shimmered in her eyes, but I was pleased to see they didn’t fall as she lifted a shaking hand to the wine glass before her. I didn’t even mind the rattling her chain made as it slid across the table behind her wrist. I smiled a little more as I tipped my glass in toast.
“To new beginnings, and happy meals!” I winked.
Her hand faltered.
Precious crimson stained the heirloom lace and pristine linen dressing the table.
“Samantha.” I sighed, and shook my head.
Her lip trembled as she fought back the tears.
I rose, reluctantly, and crossed to her with all the silent disapproval of a parent forced to punish their child. I gently wrapped my arm around her torso, lifting her from the chair and releasing the chains securing her in the same fluid motion.
“Please,” she whispered as I set her on her good leg.
“You know the rules, Samantha,” I chided, disapproval darkening my tone. “If I compromise them for you, I’ll have to compromise them for the whole family, and I just can’t have that kind of disrespect at my table.”
A small wail came from upstairs and we both looked up; I with interest, and she, it seemed, with fear.
I paused — listening, thinking — and the baby wailed again.
I supposed there would be no helping it.
“It looks like I’ll be needing you tonight after all,” I said as I led her to the stairs, the stump of her left leg dangling uselessly between us. (Her husband lacked the right, as I am rather fond of symmetry.)
I set her in the chair lift against the wall and leaned back to give her a stern looking-over.
“You see to the baby, Samantha, and you can stay inside tonight.” I tipped her forehead to my lips and placed a parental kiss on her brow just as the timer in the kitchen chimed.
“Pizza’s ready,” I sang, and patted the place where her knee should have been. I pressed the button that would activate the seat’s rail mechanisms and beamed as I watched her slowly ascend.
She was such a perfect creature, truly. Plump in all the places I valued most.
A shiver of unbridled anticipation stole my breath a moment before I turned from her and waltzed to the kitchen to free my creation from the fire that could so easily destroy what it had helped create.
The disappointment I felt at being forced to enjoy alone such a masterpiece as I had labored to bring to life over the last two months was not enough to dampen my mood, however. After all, with such perfect ingredients, this was destined to be the most delectable meal I’d ever made! Nothing could detract from my enjoyment!
Once I had taken my seat at the table, a perfect slice of the perfect meal displayed upon my plate, I swirled the wine still staining my glass, which released the deeper scents trapped within — oak, vanilla, tobacco, the sinfully sharp essence of copper. I inhaled deeply of its heady bouquet before teasing myself with a final, restrained sip.
It was just enough to color my tongue with its rich, sanguine essence.
This was it.
The moment had finally arrived.
I was ready.
“Bon appétit,” I whispered, reverently lifting the pizza to my eager lips as I closed my eyes in anticipation of the delights to come.
An exquisite melange of flavor exploded across my questing tongue. It was everything I had hoped, everything the rich, complex fragrance had promised, and so much more. I sighed around the perfection of that first bite as something in my soul settled into place; like a crooked cog finally clicking into alignment as precision clockwork whirred into motion.
I was made whole with that single, perfect bite.
Too, with that bite, I was finally content. Content in my abilities, content that, at least in this way, Samantha had not disappointed me. And, for the first time in my life, I was content to simply exist in the moment.
This, I thought through a haze of fragrant steam and sensual sapor, is surely what awaits me in Heaven.
I lingered in the experience, high on my ambrosial masterpiece, and free of the burden of thought until long after the dishes were cleared and I found myself in the drawing room, basking in the afterglow of my peerless meal and sipping my favorite dessert brandy (my own mixture, of course). It was here, at last, that I allowed myself to begin mulling over what I could possibly do to top a meal that would have satisfied God, himself.
The floor shifted above me as Samantha, no doubt humming a soothing tune, rocked her babe to sleep, and I smiled a lazy cheshire smile.
Perhaps another Mediterranean dish, I mulled, my thoughts lingering on Samantha and her babe.
Yes. Something Mediterranean, with sweet grapes, and tart vinegar.
Something rich and tender. Something with “lamb”.
The babe gave a brief cry above, but settled quickly in its mother’s loving arms.
Yes, I thought, my appetite and imagination arousing each other in the back of my mind within the sinuous coils of endless possibility.
Lamb sounds just right.
CREDIT: Death By Proxy