Eating out. Made in Kitchen.
J. was late. I had expected this, and was reading Lucifer Unemployed, by Alexander Wat, when my doorman rang to say that he was here. What I had not expected, or perhaps I should have, is that once J. is in front of a wall of books - approximately two-thirds of my library spread across twenty-four shelves that run along an entire wall of my bedroom - it is nearly impossible to budge him, particularly when he begins taking things down from the shelves and opening them at random. We were very nearly late to dinner. My boss had arranged this dinner for some thirty people at Made in Kitchen, a late New Year gathering instead of our usual Christmas holiday party held at our lab.
That morning I had heard K. say there would be four appetizers, nine courses, and three desserts, and I had taken her seriously, eating a light lunch and resolving to pace myself accordingly during dinner. But after we sat down and ordered drinks for everyone and the appetizers began arriving, it was difficult to exercise restraint when confronted with skewers of chicken satay and shrimp wrapped around sticks of sugar cane. There were crisp fried spring rolls and a beef salad (which M. eyed suspiciously until someone pointed out that those were slices of beef draped across the lettuce). Some of us were beginning to falter, full of chicken satay and sugar-cane shrimp and spring rolls. And then main courses began arriving.
K. was joking when she said nine courses, right? People kept asking me, and I kept telling them that they should know by now that the boss never jokes when it comes to food. She is not one to eat a large meal, but her generosity towards others at mealtimes knows no bounds. Christmas parties center around an entire roast pig; birthdays and holidays are celebrated with long lunches where the lazy Susan on our dining table creaks and groans with every turn. This dinner is no exception. It is all a blur.
There is lemongrass chicken and stir-fried chunks of beef and vegetables and cubes of tofu deep-fried and dusted with what appears to be flakes of dried seaweed. There are crunchy fried noodles with seafood and perfectly broiled black cod, the most memorable dish of the evening. The conversation flows from one end of the table to the other; seated as I am in the middle I find myself with the people on either side talking to me at the same time without realizing that I am not listening to either of them, because this simultaneous assault on my ears leaves me dizzy.
But it is good to be with my colleagues, those I work with every day, and those I talk to every day but see rarely. It feels different to be around people whose voices you know almost as well as your own but whom you only see at work-related parties, to talk about our lives as we share coconut sticky-rice and flan and a sort of shaved-ice dessert that involves some kind of weird jello and sweet red beans. We linger over tea and the last bites of melting ice and say our goodbyes over and over. Until next year.