Lights flicker and I open my eyes from a REM sleep, enjoyed lying on the sofa bed that sits in front of a window overlooking Pike Place Market in Seattle. “Get up. It’s time to cook,” my dad is saying as he stands flipping a light switch, apparently addressing me at 9 a.m. Christmas morning.
I was in Seattle with my parents to see my sister in the Pacific Northwest Ballet. And see Pike Place. After the big performance on Christmas Eve, my mom, dad, sister and I were all on deck in our tiny, electric-stove equipped Airbnb apartment to cook a leg of lamb for 13 people.
Preparations had started two days ago after we landed in the city. At breakfast, we befriended the restaurant owner, and inquired where we could get a good leg of lamb. He recommended a butcher working a counter in the market. As we put away our eggs Benedicts, we were blissfully unaware that he physically ran over to the market to reserve the last holy leg of lamb BB Ranch had left.
My father and I left my mom to pay the bill and ran – as in walked at a striding pace up a steep hill – to the market. With no idea where the butcher’s counter was, and no real familiarity with the layout of the market, we stuck together and walked in three wrong directions, including inside a book store, before we wound our way to the back. Alas, there was a Phillipine restaurant stand facing a butcher counter, with foggy glass countertops overflowing with venison and buffalo jerky in Ziplock baggies.
“We’re here for a leg of lamb? My guy was just here,” said my dad, Petey, former chef and excellent purveyor of markets. I stood by astutely. Our Guy had warned us that the butcher wasn’t much of a talker, but not to be put off by it.
The butcher, dressed in a red apron, blue jeans and a heavy canvas jacket dusted with salt from the crusts of preserved meats, reached into a large freezer and produced a slab of thigh, white bone poking through the sinewed layers of red meat, that whitish salt crust peeling from the edges.
Petey and the butcher discussed roasting techniques, going back and forth on whether to roast on the bone or off. I quietly cheerleaded for on the bone.
My dad studied the leg.
“You can marinate this,” he stated.
“You can marry it,” I piped.
A layer of onion was peeled. The butcher laughed in his own way – a toothy smile and a joke returned that I simply didn’t get. I grinned rather like an idiot who just said they’d marry a piece of meat.
He started wrapping the meat in plastic, unspeaking. There was a jar of miniature rectangular salt canisters, with sticker labels that read “BB RANCH.”
“Dad, look, you could put these in your purse and take salt everywhere with you,” I alerted everyone in earshot.
Petey handed over the credit card. The butcher, head turned askew, reached out toward me and dropped two salt canisters into my palm.
Back home, it was war. Petey had borrowed an apron from my ballerina sister’s ballerina roommate. The lamb had marinated in a dressing of yogurt, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and rosemary for two days. It was ready to roast, after the vegetables were pushed in and out of the oven. I was momentarily resting on my laurels. A pot of stock and lamb neck bones simmered slowly on the stove, on their way to becoming a light, brown-colored sauce. Dad picked up his sharpened knives from the flagship Sur La Table, on a hill above the market.
The lamb leg roasted for an hour or so before it was cooked on the outside and bloody rare in the middle. All around the counters were towers of fried eggplants, a vat of Tzatziki dip and pita bread, roasted brussels sprouts, salad, tomatoes in olive oil, two sheets of lasagna, and several bottles of red Sicilian wine and Oregon pinot.
For dessert there was an apple pie, pumpkin pie, and chocolate cake. For an apartment with a max capacity of nine and a man who used to be a French chef, it was a deftly executed Christmas dinner, sans spills or other incidents, aside from setting off the fire alarm at 9:30 in the morning on Christmas.