Although this week is extremely busy—the Hemingway Festival and getting ready for a week-long trip to Oregon on top of my usual day job and grad work—this morning I am happy. The sun is warm and bright; I pick tomatoes; I reserve a campsite on the Pacific Ocean for Saturday night; and I make myself a delicious breakfast. I start with banana mousse I made a few days ago, a vegan sugar-free recipe I'm working on. Then coffee, strong, with just a hint of oat milk. And what my gentleman friend calls a college omelette—vegetables scrambled in with the eggs. Eggs, lemon zest, small sweet orange tomatoes from my garden, parsley, kalamata olives, local goat-milk feta.
As I eat my omelette, in turns light and citrusy, tangy, creamy, I think over the Hemingway Feast I waited tables at last night. My grad program puts on the Hemingway Festival every year. I've served at the last three feasts—one of the festival events—each eight courses of incredible food. I love being in the kitchen watching the chefs—Nick from the Black Cypress or Eric from Gnosh—watching as the chop and garnish, smiling to myself as they yell and swear in the heat and stress of the night, sometimes asking about ingredients or helping add a garnish, planning to try my hand at the food when I get home. As I sip my coffee this morning, I think about Eric's butternut squash mousse on plantain chips from last year's. I compare last's year's quail with this year. I remember last year's cigar-infused custard for dessert, then this year's citrus snow with blackberries and elderberries, just the right amount of sweet and tart, the perfect light dessert after such a large rich meal.
I try to remember what we had at my first feast in 2010, but all I remember is the cinnamon-maple-cayenne yams which I've since made at home many times, and how I snuck a bite of bone marrow off the plate of the festival director in order to satisfy my life goal of literally sucking the marrow out of life.
The theme of this year's feast was scavenging in the wilderness, a hunting trip a la Hemingway. You stumble upon an orchard, and so the first course is wild plums with edible flowers and a coarse-mustard vinaigrette. You fish in the river and catch a salmon. You shoot a quail, and so one of the courses is quail stuffed with farroto, a risotto made from the local red wheat berry farro. We started each coarse by dropping a scroll on a table, with a quote from Hemingway that hinted at the food to come. I remember how excited everyone was when we dropped a scroll with the famous quote from "Big Two-Hearted River", where the main character eats spaghetti mixed with a can of beans, and then we brought out bowls of pasta fagioli.
I think of how for the final course last night we dropped platter after platter of buffalo on the tables—onion-braised buffalo shank, bone marrow, ribs, buffalo tartar with pickled chive blossoms. I think of how I leaned toward a table of guests and said, "Imagine you're Hemingway, and you've just shot a buffalo, hit the jackpot, and now you've got this entire buffalo to eat, bones and meat and all." I remember standing around the counter in the kitchen, all us servers and cooks eating buffalo with our fingers, picking caramelized onions out of a pan. I remember how we all toasted to a successful night by drinking tequila out of silver egg cups and gravy bowls.