My friend Shannon, who hates shopping, thought it would be a grand idea to ask along the one gay man in her universe that loathes the activity even more than she. I warned her that she was sorely testing the strength of our friendship, but I obliged because, after 35 years of trying, I find that resistance is futile. I nearly always bend to her will.
Fortunately, she's a pro at rewarding good behavior, so she dangled two carrots in front of me: 1) She told me that our friend Susan was coming and 2) I was promised a cocktail. The prospect of sitting down for a drink with both Shannon and Susan seemed worth the pain of having to stand around for hours pretending to be interested in jewel-toned gowns.
Fortunately, the hours of shopping were whittled down to about 30 minutes, thanks to Susan's laser vision and Shannon's desire to get the errand over with; the whole exercise was mercifully painless.
As the girls busied themselves with the seamstress in the dressing room, I occupied my time by snapping photos of particularly ugly evening dresses and then collapsed into an empty seat, giving my weariest look to the gentleman who occupied the next chair.
"She promised me a drink for putting me through this," I said, half pretending I was a much put-upon husband.
"Just the one?" the man replied, "I think you're selling yourself short." I smiled and thought to myself how easy I had it compared to him. His wife had tried on at least four dresses since I'd been there and he had dutifully complimented her in each. I felt as though I should be buying him a drink.
With the shopping done, Susan, Shannon, and made our way to the nearest bar, which was conveniently located on the very same floor as the evening gowns.
We settled into our banquette at The Rotunda, ordered our respective drinks and got down to the business of catching up on each others' lives. I'd had a difficult week of working and general soul-searching, but when I listened to the goings on of my friends, I suddenly felt as if I'd spent the past several days at a holiday camp eating ice cream by comparison. Both were sucked into things they were more or less powerless to control, but their conversation was buoyed by so much good humor that we found ourselves able to relax and truly enjoy our surroundings and, naturally each other.
As we waited for our much-needed drinks to arrive, a server stopped by to present us each with a warm popover and a little ramekin of strawberry butter-- a fine Neiman Marcus tradition which is perhaps my favorite, since it has absolutely nothing to do with shopping. We three regarded each popover, noting which was the most attractive, which looked like horribly deformed genitalia. The drinks arrived and Shannon commented on how generous their pours were. Susan added that there was nothing especially generous about it; that the idea was to get people as buzzed as possible before sending them back out into the store-- kind of like Las Vegas casinos but without crap tables, just tables full of crap.
We sipped our cocktails, exhaled contented sighs-- for the pleasant dulling effect of the alcohol and ending of an unpleasant week-- and reached for our rolls that had cooled on our bread plates.
"Mmmm... popovers," Shannon moaned. She was referencing an old Warner Bros cartoon, but the sound she made was more Homer Simpson that Mel Blanc. All of us remembered the line, but none of us could recall from which particular cartoon it came nor who said it. It bothered me throughout the meal that followed, but not much. I was much too contented spending a precious, stress-free hour with my friends in the rarified air of a restaurant perched atop a department store I could never afford to shop in to really care. But I'll admit that, as I slowly sipped at my drink as we talked and tore at my bready free gift-with-purchase, I kept repeating to myself all the while, "Mmmm... popovers."
Porky Popovers and Blueberry Butter *
The cartoon in question is entitled Bye Bye Bluebeard, a wonderfully morbid little Porky Pig featurette from 1949 that includes such wonders as a ravenous mouse, a serial killer Russian Wolfhound (Bluebeard), and a guillotine. Most importantly, however, popovers-- or little bombs that look nothing like popovers yet are oddly mistaken as such-- save the day.
I should state clearly that these are not Neiman Marcus popovers. Since it was a Porky Pig cartoon that lead me to this post, I've decided to make them, well, porky-- butter has been replaced by bacon grease and the addition of chopped bacon to the tops not only gives a bit of added oomph but, like a Western Diamondback's rattle, serves to warn away unsuspecting vegetarian grazers. If I need to explain why I've made blueberry butter instead of strawberry, I might suggest you stop and think about it a little longer. And then go make yourselves some popovers.
Makes six pork-studded popovers and enough blueberry butter with which to lash them
For the Popovers:
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 tablespoons melted bacon grease
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 slices of bacon, cooked, drained, and finely chopped
For the Blueberry Butter:
6 tablespoons softened butter, either salted or unsalted
1 tablespoon blueberry jam
1. Pre-heat oven to 450ºF.
2. Grease your popover tin (it may be worth it to buy one simply to be able to say you own one) with either bacon grease, butter, cooking spray, or other fat of choice.
3. Combine the softened butter with the blueberry jam until uniform in color. Transfer to a ramekin and refrigerate.
4. Beat together milk, bacon grease, flour, and salt until smooth. Then add the eggs, approximately one at a time (since they're already slightly beaten , this might not be entirely obvious to some-- just take it slow. And do not over beat).
5. Fill the popover cups 3/4 full, sprinkle the surface of each with chopped bacon, and bake immediately.
6. After 15 minutes of baking, lower heat to 350ºF and bake for another 20 minutes. If you are especially worried that your popovers will collapse when cool, you may not want to make popovers, because that's pretty much what popovers do. However, if you'd like to avoid this, I might suggest that you gently insert the tip of a sharp knife into each popover to allow steam to escape, then turn off the oven and let your little puffy friends dry out for another few minutes until you have summoned up the courage to remove them. Personally, I wouldn't bother because I love a dramatic collapse.
7. Eat them warm and slathered with the blueberry butter you've had the good sense to remove from your refrigerator. Consume with delightful friends over tea or hard liquor, depending upon the sort of day you've had.
* By the way, this will be my last regular posting for KQED's Bay Area Bites. I've enjoyed posting here every Friday but, after nearly four years, it's time for me to move on. I will, however, um, pop over here from time to time, just to keep my hand in. In the mean time, you can always find me at my own site: Food for the Thoughtless.
Cheers, and thank you very much for reading,