Gourmet is one of those words that over the years has not only lost its meaning, its meaning has actually started to reverse. Started to mean the opposite of its original intended meaning. As a noun it is a person of good, discerning taste. As an other noun, it is the food and drink that the first noun version prefers. When you see gourmet frozen pizza, and gourmet dog food, the word tends to dissuade me from choosing the described item. So given the above, there is one dish that I used to make that was considered to be gourmet fare. Compared to everything else that my housemates and I were eating.
We did not have much money being college aged, long haired artist and musician types. Artists in training and musicians in waiting [for gigs]. Living our version of La Boheme in Rural Orange County, NY, renting cottages intended to be summer vacation lodgings for people of less than high means, these houses, Tallyho Estates, were made with a minimum of structural integrity and materials that you would never find in designer showrooms. At night you could tell people were home because the light from the interior would illuminate the exterior through the walls. The original color of the short pile carpeting could not be determined. The intense, fluorescent orange color of the kitchen walls, lit with industrial blue/white buzzing fluorescent tubes, was the subject of discussion by all our many guests. During the arctic-like winters that plunged to temperatures of 15 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, the forced air heating system would fire on and raise the temperature in the bungalow to intolerably hot and dry only for the temperatures plunge to cold and damp as soon as the fan kicked off. A process that repeated many times an hour. The heating system was a jumble of metal air tubes in the attic that spread from a central air handler in a radial pattern to all the rooms. It looked like a silver octopus. Those of our group that had fewer means, or were late to claim the deluxe accommodations downstairs, could set up their living quarters upstairs in the embrace of the octopus. In the attic, stale air was never a problem because from inside the attic one could tell the direction of the wind outside by the smoke coming off your cigarette or joint moving along with the breeze.
After several months the orange kitchen walls started to be normalized. No longer a subject of discussion but it did remain an object of hate. Hatred of a color. More accurately, hatred of a misplaced color. That color on a life vest is fine. On a kitchen wall, not as much. One day I, and my friend who were taking the same color design course at the college, decided to apply our newly gained knowledge to improve the lot of mankind. We carefully collected a paint chip from the wall and spent some time at a paint store going through color chips to find the perfect complimentary color to the orange wall. In color theory, when you look at a color wheel, the colors opposite each other on the color wheel are complimentary colors. Purple and yellow, red and green, blue and orange. After some effort we both decided on specific hue and went to work. With a 3/4 inch wooden dowel we proceeded to place perfect blue dots all over the kitchen walls and ceiling (yes the ceiling was orange too). The effect we were trying to achieve was perfect. You see, complementary colors produce an interesting effect in your vision. When you stare at a brightly lit color, say a color dot, and then you close your eyes, you see the complimentary color as a dot on the inside of your eyelid. So when you look at an orange kitchen with complimentary blue dots, your eyes lift those dots off the walls because your brain adds a shadow to each dot. They float off the walls and dance. They become maddening. It worked beautifully. Everybody hated it and us. It was great. The effect was particularly intense considering the amount of Mexican herbs that were consumed regularly.
It was that kitchen that I was the master chef, the gourmet. I did most of the cooking as long as I did not have to wash dishes. It worked for me. One of my gourmet dishes was to take pasta, eggs, butter, cheese and if we were particularly wealthy that day, perhaps ham or bacon. I simply made the pasta the regular way, drained the water and added butter. Mixed it well and added the eggs and cheese and other ingredients, stirring over low heat until all was well mixed. This was 1970’s upstate NY so when I say cheese, it came out of a green cardboard can. This provided a stomach filling, cheap meal that one of us, Tom, named Smegmarroni. Given the color and texture of the finished product, that name was perfect. We ate it covering our eyes so we did not get vertigo from the spots dancing off the walls.