Book Club – October 15th, 2009 Edition

This is a guest post by Schuyler Towne. Also attending Book Club that night: Andrew Sempere, Anindita Basu, Shimon Rura, and Sophia Roosth.

It had been a rough week. Beaten up at work, tension with my friends, and a gutting morning of therapy had conspired to alter my food cravings for the worse. Everything came to a head with with strawberry cream cheese, straight from the container. I’m not asking for forgiveness, I am, in fact, absolutely unapologetic about shoving 4oz of sweet sweet strawberry cream cheese straight down my already trepidatious GI tract. I only mention it to offer you my state of mind when I arrived at Jeff’s lovely home. Both I, and my palette, were cold, exhausted and not feeling too adventurous.

Andrew had connected me to this “Book Club” weeks before, but it was only tonight that I finally managed to free myself of other obligations and attend. I had been jabbering on to my friends and coworkers about it for days. Making preposterous statements about what must be in store.

“He’s just retrofitted his oven to cook at 900 degrees. That’s what you have to do to make the /perfect/ pizza, of course.” I quipped condescendingly to anyone who would listen.

“He’s writing a book, you know.” I cooed to my roommates, certain of their jealousy.

“And I’m going to be guest-blogging about the |whole thing!|” I exclaimed via email to dozens of admittedly sub-interested acquaintances.

I had invested a lot of mental energy into fantasizing about how perfect this night would be. Presently, as I stood before his door, I took a deep breath, exhaled through my nose, letting all the stress and drama of the week dissipate into the crisp October air, and rang his buzzer.

Wasn’t his buzzer. His buzzer was broken. I remembered as soon as I hit it. Realized I forgot to write down his phone number, and with grave certainty, understood that everyone was already upstairs, reveling in the retrofitted kitchen, “author talk,” and laughing at the dufus guest-blogger who hadn’t even bothered to show up to dinner!

The door opened. A tolerant, if not downright hospitable woman, stood, foot extended back and to the left to keep her curious lap dog at bay.

“Yes?” She crooked an eyebrow at me, the mohawked creep-o she had never seen before.

“Ah, uh, yes, you see. Sorry, heh, I’m here for…this thing. It’s, I’m, haaaahhhahaha,” Big smile! “Uuhhhh, Jeff Potter?” I stammered.

“Oh,” she backed up, letting me into the foyer, and tried Jeff’s door, “It’s unlocked.” With no great ceremony she gathered up the dog, returned to her own apartment and closed the door firmly behind her.

I pushed Jeff’s door open further, peeking inside only to see a long flight of stairs, and to hear nothing at all. I swallowed, closed the door behind me, and took a determined step forward onto the plush, beautiful runner on the stairs.

“Hello?” Called…someone!

“Ah, Hello!” I replied, cheerful, excited. I was halfway up the stairs at this point, the plane of the 2nd floor just starting to level out with the top step. The lights were off. I couldn’t see anyone.

“Hello!” The call came again, I didn’t recognize the voice, so it wasn’t Andrew, but now I was at the top of the stairs, and all around me were, from what I could tell in the dark, nice rooms and furnishings, but no sign of population, save for the voice.

“Where are you?” I cried, afraid as much for self as for my self-respect.

“Upstairs,” I WAS UPSTAIRS! I thought “Keep going.” He finished. Ah, I saw it then, another set of stairs. Of course, haha, ahhhh, and there went my self respect.

“I’m Schuyler” I hollered, heading to the next long flight of stairs.

“Great!” He replied.

At this point, I thought, I could either run up the stairs to minimized the awkward gap in an already prolonged introduction, but in my current state of fitness arrive out of breath, or say something to fill the silence.

“The runner on your stairs is plush and beautiful!”

“Thank you.” And then I could see him, and his kitchen. This, then, was Jeff Potter. I extended a hand, glad to have made it through the gauntlet, and we got on with the evening.

It turned out I was first, but that was fine, as conversation obviously comes easily to Jeff. We were quickly discussing the locks on his front door, attacks against the first generation of the Simplex pushbutton combination lock and his clever, simple, iterative 7th grade hack of a teacher’s password.

“Fantastic,” I breathed, as everyone began to arrive. Andrew first, then Anindita soon after. I was already forgetting everything that had come before. Andrew, too, made an offhand “what a week!” comment, and the room seemed to agree. We were all ready for good food, fun and friends. Next up the stairs were Sophia and Shimon in close succession. Another round of introductions and we were neck deep in great conversation again.

On the menu this evening was a Chicago style deep dish pizza, to start, followed by slow-cooked short ribs with carrots and finishing with homemade caramel over poached pears and vanilla ice cream.

As everyone was meeting, greeting and catching up, Andrew declared “I’m ready for wine!” and Jeff retrieved the glasses. As Sophia poured, the rest of us commented on her incredible consistency. Not content to rely on anecdotal evidence, Jeff pulled a scale off the shelf and weighed each glass. Our eyes hadn’t deceived us, the difference from lightest to heaviest was only 5 grams. With drinks in hand, we began the first course.

Jeff layered provolone cheese, sausage & sauce inside a tall, thick, moist crust. It was remarkable and remark we did. The crust, we decided, was what elevated the dish. Unlike the greasy, heavy bulwarks we were used to in other deep dish pizzas, this was a clean, delicious compliment to its contents.

Next were the short ribs.

This was a simple recipe with great results. Toss the meat in a crock pot, dump a bottle of BBQ sauce in there and wait 6 hours. Easy, tasty, try it tonight.

Finally, the evening capped with the dish I’ve dubbed most likely to be reproduced by me.

The poached pears in port with caramel. After fussing over the stove for a while, making his caramel out of sugar and cream, plating the pears, etc. Jeff produced some ice cream from the fridge. What followed was a violent battle of epic proportions. In the end, everyone got ice cream, but at what cost?

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