The Nevada City Beer Diaries
Many Americans will look upon the weekend of January 21–23 as our first under a brutally stupid and unattractive fascist president. But for me — even though I spent Friday going “Oh, shit, oh shit” and Saturday the 21st at the Women’s March in Sacramento — it will always be the weekend I rediscovered my Cuisinart.
My Cuisinart has been under my sink since Thanksgiving 2015, when I made truffle-cheese scalloped potatoes. They were amazing, and it would have taken a really long time and probably been impossible to slice them as thin and perfectly at the food processor did. But after that, I just decided that the thing was a pain. Every time I saw a recipe with the words “food processor” I would be like, “Ugh, I am not walking all the way over to the cabinet under the sink and bending all the way over and getting that thing out and rinsing that thing with hot water and drying it off.”
Well I am here to tell you that Cuisinarts are not a pain. They are amazing. I will never ignore my Cuisinart again. Actually that is bullshit. I have no doubt that I will at some point in the not-too-distant future decide that my Cuisinart sucks, just the way I was like “pink pussy hats are stupid” and then jumped up and down like a 10-year-old girl when someone gave me one and didn’t take it off for 36 hours, and also the way a few years ago I was like “I will never cook again, cooking is for chumps,” and am now Nevada County’s Premier Dungeons and Dragons Caterer.
Now, I hate fantasy. I hate it to the point where I have never seen The Princess Bride. (“You will love it!!!” — I promise you, I won’t.) As a child, I was beside myself when the Pevensie children left the cozy and delightful confines of their nursery for the nonsense of Narnia. So how did I become a D&D caterer? If you’re starting to suspect it has something to do with a man, all right, guilty as charged! My boyfriend Tor loves D&D. He leads a game almost every Sunday. I tried playing, but as I suspected, it was crushingly boring. I realize not all people find fantasy boring. I am not saying Fantasy Is Boring. It is just Boring To Me. I just can’t picture things that don’t actually exist, and when I try, my mind produces static.
So, I did what any normal person would do if their boyfriend played D&D all day Sunday: I decided to collect enough money to cover the cost of the food and cook and clean while listening to classics in realist fiction. I have only been doing this for a month, and have been listening to British actress Juliet Stevenson reading Middlemarch the entire time. I am almost done. (Next on my list: Alan Rickman reading The Return of the Native.) I would also like to point out that half the D&D players are women. I don’t think I could make food for free for that many dudes. So far I have made meatloaf, pot roast, pork shoulder and, most recently, chicken thighs. I always make potatoes. Potatoes are fascism-fighting food.
I don’t know when I have had a string of hours in my life more delightful than those I spent two Sundays afternoons ago with the Cook’s Illustrated “MEATS” edition, spread open on the kitchen table dotted with oil-soaked mint and cilantro, making elaborate but deceptively simple dipping sauces in my Cuisinart as I listened to Juliet Stevenson’s expressive — at times a bit too expressive— narration. Every once in a while a D&D player in the adjoining dining room would ask a question like “Did you say cyborg or sideboard?” (the answer was actually sideboard) or “How many rations do we have left?” or “Hey, how come no one ever buys the rowboat?” I was happy to be sort of a part of things and sort of apart. I felt mildly proud of my boyfriend, kind of like in between how I might feel if he were elected to Congress and how I might feel if he were a dog who got along with all the other dogs at the park.
Outside rain fell and it turned to heavy, thick snow. I made chicken thighs, and, to go on them, a minty shallot sauce and some other sauce with pumpkin seeds and cilantro. I realized, feeling stupid, that the only difference between people who make dipping sauces and people who never do is the willingness to crouch down and get the Cuisinart out from under the sink.
Cook’s Illustrated is so dorky and serious about everything: “We tested this recipe 1000 times and even made it one time on a space station to see if that change in atmosphere allowed the cheese melt more evenly.” I am pretty sure everyone in that office loved the shit out of Hillary Clinton. They are all about “doing your homework.” Still, I feel like their recipes are only so-so at times. The chicken thighs were fine, but I have made better chicken thighs acting on instinct. Also, they told me to microwave a poblano pepper, then roast it in foil, then peel it. It was like trying to peel a piece of paper. Also, the stupid pepper didn’t need to be peeled. It was fine. No one gets extra points for working harder, Cook’s Illustrated. Haven’t you been reading the news?
I also made roasted potatoes and a salad. I made the salad dressing — olive oil, apple cider vinegar, garlic, dried mustard — in the Cuisinart. Did I mention that I love that thing?
Part of the deal of my being the D&D caterer is that the dish has to have relevance to the game. It is pretty loose. It is not like this bonkers-in-a-good-way lady, “The Bardic Chef.” My boyfriend and I simply have a little confab before the meal where he tells me things like, “We just killed a swamp buffalo, so you could make a stew and call it “swamp buffalo stew” or “they just harvested some wild apples so you can make something with apples.” This week he told me that there were these things called Forest Chickens floating around fictional D&D town of No Regrets, so when I served the meal I was like, this is Forest Chicken, these are the vegetables that came from Hans’s garden (Hans is the gate guard of No Regrets). I am not sure how much this performance registers with the players, but at least we have a protocol. After the last week in America I think everyone can agree that protocol is important. It also feels wonderfully cozy, which is fucking sad.
People generally bring their own drinks to D&D. But as I was cooking I realized that I really had to go out and get a growler of Emerald Pool IPA at Three Forks, a restaurant in Nevada City. This is the perfect beer. It is the Darn Tough socks, the Davines Conditioner, the American Apparel tank top of beer. I haven’t been drinking wine lately because, like you, I have been in an “Oh, whatever, fuck it!” mood. The kind of mood where you just want to chug beer and don’t care at all if you’re getting really fat.
And this is the beer to chug. It’s creamy but just a little sharp, aromatic but not overpowering. For the last few weeks, nothing in the world has tasted as good as this beer. Let me rephrase this — for the last few weeks, nothing in the world has tasted good but this beer. It takes you into fantastical almost unreal realms appropriate to D&D but it is also rich and grounding, just the thing to drink while listening to that scene toward the end of Middlemarch, the one between Will Ladislaw and Rosamond Lydgate, where, in my opinion, he is not very nice to her.