Learned types have tested me. They proclaim me “pretty smart.” Dang, once I even tested genius level on an IQ test, which would be really cool if it meant anything. But it doesn’t. I’m what they call “book smart” but “street stupid.”
Take, for example, my book release party for Saving Grace. Eric insisted we go all out since you only launch a first novel once. I was smart enough to understand his logic, although I questioned his math when the cost of the soiree started adding up.
“You’re worth it,” he said.
“This is supposed to be a career move,” I replied. “And if we spend all the proceeds on big parties, then it will be a pretty lousy career move.”
“Long run, Pamela, long run,” he insisted.
So we booked a steel pan band under a big tent. We flew in the real-life “Ava” from St. Croix. We invited everyone we know in Houston and beyond. And we hired our oldest daughter Marie to cater.
Marie loves to cook and many times she’s expressed a desire to cook professionally. She’s also expressed a desire to be an attorney, a fashion designer, and a champion of education for the underprivileged on our great globe, and meanwhile she was working in marketing for a cancer research and education nonprofit. So the cooking thing was in its infancy. And she lived in Florida.
You’re probably thinking it wasn’t the smartest decision ever to hire an out-of-state fledgling caterer, and one in the family at that. Normally, I’d agree with you, but Marie is like Wonder Woman, and we knew that the island-girl could rock a Caribbean menu — our theme, of course, a la the setting of Saving Grace — like no one else in Houston could. No, Marie wasn’t our problem at all.
However, that’s not to say that the cooking/catering gig went easily for her. She was preparing a completely separate menu for two events in one day with 50 people at each with only her teenage brother and sister slated to assist, in my kitchen. And I ain’t no Paula Deen, y’all, which meant she was encountering some supply and equipment challenges. Luckily our Ava is an earthen goddess and she lent her hands to the project. Marie, Ava, and, occasionally, Clark Kent and Susanne chopped and sauteed and stirred until our whole block was redolent with spice: fried plaintains, jalapeno-mango-chicken skewers, Cruzan beef “tacos,” rice and pigeon peas, Johnny cakes and sweet potato tarts, oh heavenly sweet potato tarts.
It came time to send the first wave of food to the book store, and Marie was still elbow deep in preparations. She’d planned for just the right amount of food for the launch, with not a morsel to spare. We decided she and her “helpers” would follow in 45 minutes with the last batch of goodies.
This is where the problem came in. Marie made a fatal error. She trusted me to deliver her treasures. I hefted the two and only two platters of sweet potato tarts aloft. How beautiful they were — golden pastry and fluffy spiced sweet potatoes crowned with one mini-marshmallow each. They were perfect. And lighter than I’d expected. Less tethered to their platter than I’d imagined. More prone to flight than I’d ever dreamed.
I executed a heel pivot and the platters swung through the air with me. I kept a tight grip on them, but as I reversed course in my strappy black heels, one of my ankles buckled ever so slightly, and I pitched forward.
The tarts had already picked up a little G-force in our turn. When the jolt of my forward and downward plunge caught them, they shot off the first platter like clay pigeons from a skeet thrower. Beautiful, delicate, orange and fluffy clay pigeons with tiny marshmallows on top. Almost like a flock of clay pigeons, really, as 24 tarts reached the apex of their trajectory and began their descent in a double-V formation.
And then, as they descended, their graceful flight turned to a horror show, and they tumbled, tumbled, tumbled to the kitchen tile.
“No,” I screamed.
“No,” Marie gasped.
“No,” Ava moaned.
Splat. Splat, splat, splat, splat, splat. Splat times 24 tarts hit the floor, ass akimbo.
Somehow I had managed to land the second platter on the ground beside me tarts unscathed as I watched the others in flight. I extricated myself from my tangle and crawled frantically to the upended tarts. I picked the first one up carefully and turned it over.
By now I’d attracted a crowd. My friend Stephanie helped Ava and me as we flipped all the tarts over. Marie stayed glued to the stove, and if she was cursing me, she did it very quietly.
“They don’t look so bad,” I said. I kept my eyes averted from the floor and the orange skid marks pockmarked with mini-marshmallows. I picked another tart up and blew on it. I patted the sticky filling back into place. Really, the pastry was almost intact, thanks to their upside down landings.
Stephanie leaned over to inspect a tart. “Is that dog hair?”
We craned over it with her. “Maybe just a little,” I said. “Miraculous really, when you think about how much dog lives here. And cat.” Two hundred pounds, give or take a few. “Thank God we mopped yesterday. We’ll just have to pick out the hairs. We don’t have any extra. No one will ever know.”
“Quick,” Ava said. “The marshmallows. Let’s put two marshmallow on the hairy ones since there’s only one on top of all the good ones.”
“Good idea,” Stephanie said. “Then at least we’ll know which ones not to eat.”
“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear any of this,” Marie called out.
And that is how it came to pass that Marie’s sweet potato tarts came in two different varieties, the ones without dog hair and the twos with. Like I said, that’s what happens when people trust me with the commonsense stuff. No street smarts.
But I was smart enough to remember to count marshmallows before I put any tarts in my mouth. I just couldn’t remember whether it was one or two that had no dog hair . . . The food was amazing, though, all of it, and I think Marie forgave me for desecrating half the tarts.
Now, those of you who said you wished you’d been able to come to the shindig, aren’t you glad you didn’t?
p.s. I made all this up. I would NEVER feed my guests dog hair.
p.p.s. I cannot tell a lie. This is all totally true. Except that, if you look closely at the picture above, it was really two and three marshmallows. I just liked the story better with one and two.
p.p.p.s. And don’t worry. We’re 99% sure no one who came to the party got sick. Except Meghan, but she was already sick before she ate the tarts. I think.
WITH THANKS FOR THE RETITLED TITLE TO KATHY FARRIS