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Feasting at Norma’s Table

by on December 16, 2012
 
At Norma’s Mesa, there is love and friendship and absolutely gorgeous food at Norma’s table.
At Norma’s table, the lights of Manhattan twinkle and twinkle, stunning guests, at Norma’s table.
At Norma’s table, there’s laughter, lots and lots of it. There’s wit too, the reason for the laughter, at Norma’s Mesa.

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I burst out laughing, shortly after touchdown at John F. Kennedy airport. It had been a long flight. I’d slept well though and awoken refreshed. At the gate, I turned on my telephone to an email from Norma of Platanos, Mangoes and Me – the reason for the laughter.

My french neighbour on the flight, the foodie looked at me, eyebrows raised. I knew he would totally ‘get’ it, because we’d talked about how we liked to feast with friends. And so I read it to him:

‘I know that you arrive today and I am so excited.  I will have my phone or will be by my computer checking on your emails ……. I am dying to make a leg of  lamb and you are my excuse. Kisses… Norma’

I was tickled pink because I knew just what Norma meant. A reason to share your love and warmth and to feed people. I was game.

On the Wednesday we’ve planned to have dinner, I leave Kalustyan’s with a small(ish) bag. Which bulges bigger after minutes at Housing Work’s Gramecy’s Thrift store.

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Its 4pm. And I’m in Manhattan. I however, cannot find a taxi and have no idea where the nearest subway station is.

I see taxis whizzing past, lights on and the OFF-DUTY signs glowing – its not happy hour in my New York!

Standing next to me, also waiting for a taxi is a dark-haired lady,  a home-grown New Yorker. She’s hurt her leg, wields a cane and says she has no idea there are no cabs after 4pm as she rarely takes them and has never noticed it! She goes mobile and googles it. Yep, 4-5pm. No taxis as its changeover time from one shift to another.

On the Evening (4 PM To 6 PM):Off Duty Taxis: These cabs are likely going back to Garages for shift switch. Taxi drivers do face stiff fines for been late on return time. These cabs might pick up a passenger if going in the same direction as the taxi driver. The taxi driver must close his windows and lock his doors for protection.

How to deal with an off duty cab: The passenger should look at this positively, It is a win win situation between the driver and the passenger, the driver can add up a few dollars while heading home. On the other hand, the passenger does get a ride when there are no cabs out there. It is recommended for the passenger to be cooperative with the driver and not to feel offended for refusal to pick up. The driver usually asks the passenger destination before unlocking the doors.

The lady New Yorker suggests waving 20 dollars while flagging the taxi down. She then leaves and I’m left to try it out. It works – a taxi drops off passengers right on the corner where I’m standing. He’s not at all interested in taking me anywhere and then he sees the $20 bill and his eyes widen in shock at the tip he is to have. I make my speech and hand him the money and he asks ‘Really, you’ll give me $20?’ And I say ‘Yes.’ He asks me to hold on to the money till we reach our destination. He takes me right to the corner of  Bleeker street and LaGuardia and I’m on time for dinner. For the feast at Norma’s table.

Norma opens the door and we hug each other. She’s almost done with dinner which from all indications is a veritable feast of many delights.

The star of the show is of course, the leg of lamb that caused much laughter at touchdown.

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Norma’s notes: Leg of lamb seasoned with mint, oregano, thyme, rosemary, garlic, olive oil which was pulsed into a paste…then roasted with apples and fennel.  Served with gravy using cooked apples and pan drippings.

The Lamb was delicious, moist, juicy and perfect with bright green mint jelly.

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Served with the most delicious mint sauce ever,…

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The whole shebang, from centre: sauteéd spinach, white rice, red-culantro flavoured puerto-rican beans, mint jelly, roasted lamb, orzo with lemon, mushrooms and asparagus

…which matched the lights shining brightly on the Empire State Building. The almost cobalt blue skies matched lots of other cobalt things at Norma’s. Her house is rife with cobalt in the most elegant of fashions:

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See cheesy toasts on Cobalt;

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And whole nuts in Cobalt.

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Isn’t her Christmas tree cute, with Homer starring as Father Christmas?

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On the menu too was Orzo with herbs, lemon juice and grated lemon rind + asparagus tips (because her husband wanted it) – it was delicious too.

Norma wowed me with her tip for citrus fruits, illustrated with a frozen lemon.

She freezes lemons!

This means that they can be grated, like parmesan, using a microplane into salads and sauce, and using the whole fruit. This is such a NIFTY trick, I was and still am thrilled to no end. I do so love to learn about food and new techniques and this is one I am definitely taking back to my kitchen.

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We had some white rice with delicious Puerto-Rican red kidney beans, which had culantro, a cousin to cilantro, which I’d never heard of before. I loved the taste.

Next was Dolores’s brokenhearted chicken, from the December 2012 issue of Saveur. I loved Alexander Lobrano’s story of his time in the ancient Spanish port of Cádiz, nursing heartbreak, finding friendships and coming back to honour and relive memories. This dish with caramelized garlic and dry sherry results in tasty braised chicken.

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For sides, we had some gorgeous sauteéd spinach with garlic shiitake mushrooms and left-over baby potatoes, drizzled with some truffle oil.
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While all this food was making its way to the table, I got to meet one of her wonderful friends – Ines. And drink a glass of Sauvingnon Blanc.

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Ines is a star – she took me on my very first New York Subway ride, on our way home. It reminded me somewhat of the London Underground. I was fascinated by the pillars peppering the tracks and was about to pull my Nikon camera out when she said ‘put it back’. I understood. Street Smarts. A lesson to learn.

Knowing I love to eat my alcohol, Norma made this wonderfully bright fruit salad with fresh berries, green kiwi, pomegranate seeds and shredded mint, some of which went home with me. It was liberally doused in Chambord, a raspberry liqueur. I even got to keep the gorgeous liqueur bottle which was otherwise destined for the bin. Norma gifted it to me, amongst other things like the afore-mentioned Saveur December 2012 edition.

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And to absolutely round off the evening, we got to visually feast and mouth-taste the gorgeous cookies. All handmade of course (wink, wink)!

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We didn’t knock down the gingerbread house – we were all far too full, stuffed…thought it was gorgeous to look at. I still have to make one before the year ends….to fulfill my 2012 new year’s resolutions.

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Thank you Norma for an excellent meal and leaving me with lasting memories – you are a most amazing hostess. All of the food was beautifully laid out, the place settings were elegant and the company was truly excellent.

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I left with 2 wraps of Puerto-Rican Christmas Pasteles, which I hope to enjoy once we leave the hospital.

God bless you Norma, lots of love.