The (non) Maillard Reaction

I’m talking to my friend Lara at work and we’re ‘behind the mountain’, the mountain being the Penguin Encounter’s central geography, where the wind is recycled and where it’s colder than the requisite 25 degrees. We’re tending to a penguin and we say ‘What!?’ a lot because there’s a lot of white noise with the air handlers recirculating, but also because I mumble.

We decided a while back that the ‘what’s’ are not accusatory: we just talk in frequencies that our respective ears don’t exactly register, so it’s “What?” “What?” a lot when we converse. I like Lara.

I mumble. My grandma has always said so.

I mention how unfortunate it is to sometimes know, upon awakening, how every minute of the day will transpire–sunrise to sunset–and how that’s a bit of an anchor. We agree this is true. She has a long drive home (mine is relatively short) and you just know you have time that’s gonna be spent in unwanted ways–that time is time–and wouldn’t you rather have it not relegated to something, and something all the time.

(Spontaneity is a word where I get the vowels all switched up, and I’m fairly ungood at it).

I have this meeting I’m supposed to attend after work. I want to go, but I wish 7 o’clock could just be 7 o’clock somedays and without obligation.

I go to the meeting, which is at a steakhouse. And, from the parking lot, you can smell the grill marks on whatever three-finger cut of meat it is that Bully’s Tavern is tossing beneath the salamander. I’m with my buddy Dan; we agree that steak is most likely what we do not want although there’s that Maillard reaction thing that smells delicious. We’re here to talk about our kids, and with other dads.

The inside of the tavern is leather and low-light, jerseys and posters on the wall. You may as well just slap aftershave on the wood-panelling. I have on a beard and a riding cap whose brim thankfully shields me from the big-screen UFC that’s broadcasting from one of the three televisions above our table. I have no interest in well-planted elbows or pained, bloody faces. Sports fail to interest me. This is the 7-8:30 bloc of time I have allotted to 7-8:30, and ultimate fighting is not part of the plan.

But there’s a framed portrait of a girl on the table and she has Down Syndrome. She belongs to the guy who shrugs some opening words, the leader of this meeting. The girl is lovely to me in that she shares a face with my child in much the way I don’t share a thing with the hockey game playing on the second screen, nor the P—- jersey encased in a shadow box above the foyer. This is a charter group so we go around the table and introduce ourselves. We are interrupted only by drink orders and the call for food (in which Dan and I keep to our word and order the fish).

We talk. This is time for talk. And it’s eight disparate dads getting together and sharing a combined something. 38 minutes beyond the expected time that I have allotted to this portion of the evening’s festivities, the bill is finally paid. It’s also been eighteen hours since I knew exactly how the day was supposed to go.

It’s nice going home, me and Dan riding in the car.The ahi was a good grade and for all of nine bucks, even.

Dan and I both have kids with too many chromosomes and we both liked the fact that the fish-plate was something complete though labelled as appetizer. I dropped a chopstick on the floor while navigating the dish and had to eat my field greens and sashimi with a fork. The wasabi was something experientially less because tines were involved. But you make do.

I have no idea who won the hockey game, or whose temple got the elbow in whatever chain-linked death-match. There was that self-admittedly ornery guy at the table, though, who said his thirteen year-old kid had just voiced his first crystal-clear word TODAY; I heard this as assuredly as he heard his son utter those first stitched-together and magic syllables.

Ornery Guy was having a gin and tonic and I was supping a beer. I’m assuming the UFC match was dwindling to a slow choreography of poorly-landed punches, and while in the meantime the kitchen was cranking out perfectly browned rib-eyes. It remains that the Maillard Reaction is a chemical event involving matrices upon matrices of aminos and sugars, of disintegrative and re-integrative flavor compounds. Time and temperature are important factors, and time being as it is, the Maillard is tricky to master. I opted for the raw fish, which goes to show we don’t know how the day is supposed to end after all, do we.

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