Saturday, November 28, 2009

Florida and chocolate

Arriving at Cherry’s house late and exhausted we started to become transfixed by the whole issue of the random and inexplicable Swedes. Two or three silent people nodded gravely at us as we fell in through the door bearing mountains of cake-related impedimenta.
‘Who are they?’
‘They must be the Swedes.’
‘What Swedes?’
‘Cherry said she had Swedes.’
‘Are they here for the wedding?’
‘No, they’re going home tomorrow.’
‘Well, why are they here?’
‘I don’t know.’
Tired as we were, it was perplexing and we wanted to know about the Swedes. We couldn’t ask of course, not until the following day... it would have been rude. ‘What’s with these Swedes already?’ became the number one topic of conversation, eclipsing both the trip and the cake. They were silently there in the morning, the inscrutable Swedes. One of them spoke to me briefly while I was hunting for coffee. ‘It is finished. We forget more.’ Fortunately I had brought an emergency supply of Blend 37 in my huge box of emergency supplies, so was marginally less irritated by the silent, coffee drinking Swedes than I might have been otherwise.

As soon as they left to go home, we burst with ‘what’s with the Swedes?’ and Cherry began the tale. Old friends who were lovely people but rather demanding houseguests, they had arrived to stay in the magnificent new house almost as soon as Cherry and Ron had bought it. They had seemed oblivious to the fact that visiting during the alarmingly short gap between moving in and getting married might be sort of inconvenient, due to there being a lot to do. The tale was a little disjointed as the phone kept ringing...lost Swedes, driving around in Downtown Kissimmee trying to find the road to the airport. (I am now of the opinion that Kissimmee, like Guelph, Ontario, is a vehicular black hole. You can drive in but are doomed never to leave.) Randy and I resolved to be independent houseguests, looking after ourselves and trying very hard not to be in the way, underfoot or in any other way difficult .

The rest of the week passed in a flurry of people arriving and leaving, the gathering of more houseguests, the popping in and out of friendly local people and the charmingly understanding way in which all and sundry left me to my own devices in Cherry’s kitchen to garrotte cakes, blend raspberries and cream, stir ganache and generally do what I do. An occasional person would stick a finger in a bowl and declare the contents good. I overheard phone conversations with regard to the cakiness of the kitchen and the promise of good things to come. But mainly, I was in the zone and everyone left me there. It was considerate, helpful and kind and contributed greatly to my sanity while faffing about in an unfamiliar kitchen. I only lost it once, and that was with poor Ron. Who thinks 82F is cool. I was struggling personfully at the time with red moulding chocolate, attempting to roll it out and make things with it. I was covered in oily red gloop and near to tears when Ron said that people got used to the Florida heat and humidity eventually.  I felt obliged to point out, a spot more tersely than is appropriate for a guest, that people might but chocolate wouldn’t. We compromised, for the sake of the chocolate.

Suddenly the finished cakes were all back in the freezer and it was the big day. Somehow, while my perception had been elsewhere, it had all been organised. There were chairs and tables in the extension, flowers and drinks in the lanai, everything looked gorgeous. Ladies appeared to take charge of the food, chaps appeared to go and fetch last minute items, there were dresses and hair and family, and, surprisingly enough, there was a tolerably decent wedding cake. My cunning plan was to take each tier out of the freezer in turn, timing the thawing depending on size, and finishing the whole edifice off in situ an hour before the wedding. It would have been a stroke of genius without the Florida humidity. Every 20 minutes, for the hours each tier took to thaw, the damned thing had to have its brow mopped; as condensation developed, leeched the red chocolate of its colour and dripped onto the tier below. I hid a roll of kitchen paper under the table and dabbed fretfully at it whenever nobody was looking. But nobody was looking anyway of course, Cherry was far too gorgeous for anyone to look elsewhere.

  It was, as all weddings are, over in the blink of an eye and the eating and drinking and music took over. Ron’s band are terrific by the way, if you go and visit, make sure to hear them play. The cake tasted fine, it fed enough people with tiers to spare. The truffles were so good, and survived their transportation so well, that I am minded to go into business sending hand-made truffles round the world through a website. There was time to dream at last because as soon as the knife went into the cake, I was really and properly on holiday.

We made loads of plans to do things; head down to Miami and drive the Keys, get an airboat in ‘gator country and have pictures taken doing Horatio impressions with sunglasses. But, tiredness took hold and everyone was so friendly that most of the time was spent visiting with nice people, catching up with conversations that hadn’t had a chance to happen at the wedding. We had a taste of old-fashioned Southern hospitality and declared it good. Next time we will fly to Miami, hire a car and do the touristy stuff, but pop up to Kissimee to see old and new friends. To think that way about people in a week is to feel good about life. Ron’s parents are utterly charming, Cherry’s pal Ivette has to be met to be believed and Jo-Marie seems quite happy to assist with the Florida marketing of my burgeoning chocolate empire. The band must be heard again, and for a little longer next time. It seemed a bit mean to expect Ron to play all night at his own wedding but I for one was left wanting more.

We did do a little gentle shopping though. Randy, Julian and I. We all wanted different things but a trip to Target seemed to encompass all our requirements; so we set off on a bit of a local adventure to find the shops while Cherry and Ron were otherwise tied up with errands. We found the plaza easily enough and bought our bits and bobs, then feeling a bit lunchish, we began to search for somewhere to eat. There had been much fried chicken and many burgers over the last few days and we fancied something a bit less All-American, so when we spotted a British Pub on the way home it seemed the obvious choice. Now, the US and Canada are full of ‘British Pubs’ which have nothing in common with the real thing at all, except for a couple of decent draft beers. And of course ‘Irish Pubs’ which have a couple of decent draft beers and Guinness. Sometimes there is fish’nchips, or bangers’nmash. The authenticity generally ends there, since there will be table service, decent food, polite, smiley people who like serving you and a generally squeaky clean feel. As soon as we walked in to this one though, we realised we had found that rarest of things, a real British Pub in the middle of Florida. It smelt nasty. That tang of old beer, old smoke, old carpet and old people that you just don’t get anywhere else. There were two customers, scowling at opposite end of the bar. The barmaid scowled too. This in itself was odd. Americans smile, they show off their dentition, Florida just isn’t a scowly sort of place.

We did get table service though. Randy and I ordered some sort of chicken wrap that looked as though it might have some greenery in. Julian plumped for the BLT. We were just giggling about how very British a pub it was when the unsmiling barmaid came back looking a little sheepish. Guess what? No bacon! We dissolved on the spot. Not only dark, smelly, a bit dirty and a bit unfriendly but Bacon Was Orff. Julian told her that ham would be fine and she melted a little at our evident happiness. By the time we left she was actually sort of smiley. Maybe thinking that other people are bonkers cheers her up of a day shift.

Giggling all the way back to Cherry’s house we arrived in high spirits at our adventures to discover that our errands had taken less time to complete than Cherry and Ron’s. And that the house was locked. We wandered about a bit looking for an open back gate or door or something and found our way into the back garden, and thence into the lanai, which is a sort of screened-in outdoorsy bit with a splash pool in. This was fine, we could sit by the pool for a while. We took off shoes and popped our feet in the water. It was a lovely day, we could splash to our heart’s content and chat about British pubs. I found a plastic duck to play with. Time passed and we started to get a bit in need of comforts such as bathrooms and cold drinks, so the conversation turned to maybe calling Cherry or Ron to see how much longer they might be out. I discovered that I had their cellphone numbers in my phone, from the hapless ‘getting lost in Kissimee’ drama on our way down, so I was detailed to make the call. I tried Cherry’s number first, and we all grinned wistfully as we heard the ringing from the kitchen counter on the inside of the house. Then I tried Ron’s phone and he answered. Here began a telephone call that encapsulates, as no other experience I have had on this side of the Pond, the difference between English communication and the rest of the world.

We Brits never do quite say what we mean, do we? I didn’t want to emulate the Swedes and be a nuisance if he was busy, so I began to beat about the bush with ‘oh hi, we’re back, just wondered where you had got to...’ and he told me they were at the Realtor’s and would be home soon. As I ended the call I realised that I had been talking to an American and it might have been wise to state unambiguously ‘we’re locked out’, but I didn’t. And it was too late now. I couldn’t ring back, way too Swedish.

As Ron put his phone away he wondered why I had called. It seemed a bit odd. Cherry asked who it was and he told her. Now Cherry is English, she knew there was a subtext but not what it was. Maybe we were getting hungry, she thought, and wondered if they were coming home for lunch but were too polite to say so. She decided it would be best to stop off for some groceries on the way back just in case. We variously got hotter, thirstier and more in need of bathroom facilities as the time wore on. We discussed calling again, maybe one of the chaps would be able to actually say what they meant better than me. As the only non-Brit, we were about to charge Randy with the ticklish task when Ron and Cherry finally appeared, with the lunch we didn’t need and found us, a bit bedraggled, in the lanai. Ron looked at me.
‘Why didn’t you tell me you were locked out?’
‘I’m English.’
Cherry got it in one and collapsed in a heap of giggles.

1 comment:

  1. Rocky, I'll remember that "I'm English" forever!

    And when you visit me, I'll keep reminding you that I'm a Californian and I don't "get" hints, tell me what you want, and you've got it. Otherwise, I'll keep asking you what I can get you/do for you.