MY IDEA of a delightful companion is an only slightly less larcenous version of Sidney Greenstreet in "The Maltese Falcon."
"By Gad, sir!" he booms as he slips Humphrey Bogart a mickey. "I like a man who drinks."
He means it, too: this great heavy childish thief in an ice-cream suit with the pleasures of the flesh hanging off him in folds. Bogey himself is something of a disappointment -- purely in the social way, of course -- drinking more but seemingly enjoying it less than almost any actor on the screen.
For all the resurgence of white linen suits and ceiling fans, there are too few people who appreciate, much less practice, the fine art of enjoyment. If we weren't meant to indulge ourselves, we'd be born without taste buds or nerve endings.
Inhibition is the bane of a fulfilled palate, and the gift of surprise is among the greatest. So take those pigeon-holed friends of yours -- the ones whose universities can be deduced from their suit style and political pronouncements -- and cook against the grain.
Example A: The Hillie. In his pre-Harvard/Yale/Columbia days, he wore cuffed too-short pants with flat, heavy hooks at the waistband, and still wears them to wash the car on Sunday. He owns at least one book on the history of campus unrest, and is a thinking, if not practicing, liberal. He knows how to use chopsticks. He likes jazz and classical music, but not too abstract. He drinks scotch in the winter and gin-and-tonic in the summer, likes wine but doesn't know too much about it. He likes imported cheese (not the strongest varieties) and plain crackers. He cooks a little -- beef Stroganof and stuffed pork chops -- makes a good vinagrette and prefers pilaf to potatoes.
This guy gets the light, bright and tight menu: bluefish Benchley, a dish created by the natty Nathaniel when he was down to his uppers -- gin and tonic. Serve it with fresh green beans, sauteed quickly in butter and somthered in garlic powder, and macaroni in parmesan cheese or steamed tiny red-jacketed potatoes.
Example 2: The Writer. She was going to be a prodigious success at an early age, but has decided to settle for the long, strong route to immortality. She went to a good school, although she only played at it, and has read an enormous number of beautiful rather than practical books. She wears clothes well, and with a charming lack of concern. She is well-liked, although she has her moody side, and has a knack for the effective metaphor which is widely admired. She eats at irregular hours, and mostly at restaurants.
Tantalize her with a little bit of a lot. Set up a series of courses which require her full attention: Indonesian sates on long toothpicks to dip into cashew sauce, little squares of toast with caviar, chocolate fondue. Serve these with tiny shots of the real aromatics: vodka infused with orange peel, ouzo. Tia Maria. The most important element here is an air of insouciance ravelled by adoration. Let your sentences trail off every once in a while. She'll love you for it.
Example 3: The Political Animal. This is where Potomac Fever meets the Bee Gees. This guy is a hustler, flying by the seat of his pants in through the back door. He has great personal charm, and he's not afraid to use it. He's great fun at fundraisers, but he tends to the organizational end, not the financial. He drives a Prosche or a Datsun 0zx. His suits are expensive but unremarkable, always double-vented, and his ties are busy. His favorite song is "Stayin' Alive," and he has had a sauna built into his house. He used to have a piano in the living room, but now the Betamax is the focal point.
Since catered curry is usually chicken, and lacks any real spirit, grab this guy's itinerant attention with the fine bite of a shrimp curry. Shock his beef-and-red wine sensibilities: introduce him to Pim's and tonic and throw diced sharp apples into the shrimp. Serve with homemade chutney and something very light and slick -- creme caramel, perhaps, or cheese -- for dessert. He'll never know what hit him.
Example 4: Jack of All Trades. Independent, resilient, free-spirited; managerial material but talent all the way.She's anti-fashion, having at long last found her own style, so that she seems to outclass every other woman in the room. She's a Scorpio -- mercurial, demanding, the woman not his wife -- and she rather likes that. She's a hell of a friend, and a hell of an enemy.
This lady has the eye of a tiger and a sharp palate, so presentation and texture are the key. Take a lesson from the Japanese and design the plate; in fact, if she likes sashimi, that would be a good place to start. Or big sea scallops, sliced horizontally through the middle and served cold with a green sauce and garnished with bell pepper rings. If you're daring, try a Grand Marnier souffle for dessert with espresso. And take special care setting the table, since she'll have decided about you by the end of the meal. BLUEFISH BENCHLEY 1 large bluefish fillet (a pound or so) Juice of 2 large limes 1 teaspoon dehydrated minced onion, or a tablespoon grated raw onion Freshly ground pepper 6 tablespoons butter, melted 4 ounces gin
Half an hour before cooking, lay fillet skin side down in a heatproof dish. Pour juice of one lime over fish, sprinkle on onion and pepper and cover with about 3/4 of the melted butter.
Heat broiler. Place fish three inches from the flame and cook until top begins to brown. Bring gin, remaining butter and lime juice to boil in saucepan, pour over fish and return to broiler. Liquid will ignite. Baste once after flame has died and cook a few minutes more until fish is just firm. SATES WITH CASHEW SAUCE
Marinate chicken strips, thin-sliced steak or shrimp in a teriyaki sauce or soy sauce with a little molasses for at least three hours, then thread on thin wooden picks and grill or broil quickly.
For sauce, grind 1/2 cup raw cashews in blender or food processor into very fine bits, almost powder. Saute with 2 tablespoons minced leeks or shallots for 5 minutes in a little melted butter and cooking wine, then stir in a tablespoon or more honey to taste. Season with ginger and garlic. Thin, if desired, with a splash of coconut milk. SOUFFLE AU GRAND MARNIER 3 tablespoons butter 3 tablespoons flour 3/4 cup milk 3 tablespoons orange marmalade 4 egg yolks, lightly beaten 1/4 cup Grand Marnier 6 egg whites
Preheat oven to 375.
Melt the butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour. Add milk gradually, stirring with a wire whisk, and cook over low heat until mixture thickens. Stir in marmalade and egg yolks. Add the Grand Marnier.
Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold them into the souffle mixture. Butter a 1 1/2-quart souffle dish and sprinkle the bottom and sides with sugar. Pour the souffle mixture into dish and bake until puffed and golden brown, 30-45 minutes.