Monday, February 4, 2013

Gathering Gridiron Gastronomy

It was a Superbowl-caliber challenge, in a way: to coordinate the potluck offerings from over 200 party-goers at a bar in downtown Baltimore, Maryland, which would be temporarily closed to the public for a private party on Sunday.  A dear friend and the party's mastermind, Kevin Weston, issued his edict earlier than usual this year.  In an email on January 22 we got our marching orders: Todd and Dave would be in charge of projection; Glen would secure a firepit for warmth and ambience outside; Mike P. would be in charge of deep-fried and grilled delicacies to be prepared on site in an adjacent alley; Mike B. would be in charge of paper goods and eating utensils; Dan would be in charge of bagged snack foods; Dickie would be in charge of fine-tuning the guest list; and Lynell would be in charge of coordinating incoming potluck dishes and organizing their orderly display and dissemination to the hungry hoardes. 

That the above-mentioned acquaintences see me more as a parental figure nowadays than a contemporary is okay. Coordinating party food is somewhat of a specialty of mine, and I’ve been doing it for this group of friends since they first started hosting a Superbowl Party in their concrete industrial flat cum communal apartment / band-rehearsal studio a dozen years ago.

Two levels of revelers took in last night's Superbowl game
in high definition on a 15' by 13' screen

In those days we entertained 50 to 75 people.  At halftime we batted around a homemade piñata stuffed with candy and decorated to look like one of the band members. Girls on roller-skates scooted across the vast cement floor, delivering beverages to beer-pong competitors at one end of the warehouse space or zipping in for a plate of deep-fried turkey and fixings at the other. All the faces were familiar and well-loved back then. But the young men who lived in that flat have all grown up and finished college now. They’ve begun careers and marriages and parenthood. Since outgrowing that space several years ago and renting out an actual bar for our festivities instead, the annual fete now draws hundreds of revelers. In yesterday’s surging crowd I hardly recognized a familiar face.   Where we used to watch the plays on a fold-up screen from a beat up projector on a wobbly table, yesterday's contest emanated from a digital, high definition Epson Cinema 1080p attached to the bar's ceiling with a bracket fabricated by Gutierrez Metalworking Studios (, and projected onto a screen custom made for this event out of theatrical flats coated with white enamel. 

It didn't matter to me that the majority of guests were complete strangers.  My job was to set up a "food-service" area at the live-band venue Ottobar (, wire the food tables for electricity to power crockpots, microwave ovens and warming trays, and to coordinate the incoming offerings as they arrived, no matter whether I recognized the participants or not. I knew I would be on my feet for a good part of the day, so I dressed for supreme comfort: a pair of black, bootcut, Levi’s Perfectly Slimming jeans and my most comfortable pair of furry après-ski boots by famous ski outfitter Technica. The Ottobar is a dark, cavern-like space which is generally very cold inside, so I layered thermal long underwear beneath a Field Flirt Fashion short-sleeved jersey featuring Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco’s number 5 on the front, the shirt’s V-neck trimmed in rhinestones, with sexy ruching at one hip and fluttery mesh cap-sleeves creating a bit of edge. I accessorized my look with some long earrings of purple feathers and antiqued gold metal chains, a purple fashion ring and a violet bracelet of painted wooden disks.

My contributions included, from left, maple-brined pork
tenderloin, baked artichoke-cashew dip, Greek pasta
salad and spinach dip in a bread bowl
In the hours before kickoff I marinated four pork tenderloins in a maple-sugar-infused brine. I baked an aromatic artichoke-cashew dip and assembled a spritely Greek pasta salad. I carved out a round loaf of crusty bread and filled the hollow with homemade spinach dip. I packed boxes with spatulas, serving spoons, containers and plastic wrap, label-making materials, bowls, platters, extension cords, outlet strips, hot plates and microwave ovens. Once at the venue, I covered long tables with festive cloths, set up warming stations and shelves for crock pots, and then set a cushion and a stadium blanket on the chair from which I would view the game.

There was no shortage of food
Mike's deep-fried,
bacon-Spam creation
Once the crowds arrived, some two and a half hours before the game began, I worked nonstop. Crockpots arrived by the bushel-full, along with trays of purple-hued cupcakes, cookies and other desserts. Trays of football-shaped rice-krispy treats and deviled eggs took their places alongside bowls of more traditional hummus, guacamole, salsa, barbecued beef, gumbo and chili. Outside the bar, my fellow gastrono-geek and good friend, Mike Peters, fired up a grill and four deep-fried turkey kettles in which he sizzled several whole turkeys, mild and spicy sausages, buffalo wings and slabs of Spam, the latter featured in a sandwich Mike designed exclusively for the Superbowl – a deep-fried Spam-infused "Baconmore Bomber".

Whole turkeys and buffalo wings
emerged from Mike's deep fryers
Crockpots were lined up like soldiers
By the time kickoff was imminent, eager diners and their culinary contributions were arriving at a slightly less frenetic pace, so I took my seat in front of a gigantic 15' by 13' screen set up at the front of the Ottobar stage, tucked into a plate of tasty grub and sat back to savor a fabulous championship football game between two tough, talented teams. Where did my allegiance lie? It was tough to choose, actually. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and once called the 49ers my team (see my post titled "Fire In The Hole"). But I’ve called Baltimore, Maryland, home for the past dozen years.   What's a girl to do?  Love the one you're with, of course!

Mike Peters and Bridget Boswell relax after
churning out dozens of sausage sandwiches
 and "Spam-Baconmore Bombers" 
Frankly, yesterday’s game couldn’t have been a better contest. The match was fast-paced (save for New Orleans’ embarrassing 34-minute power interruption), with nary an injury nor serious penalty to disrupt the tempo (one each, as I recall). Beyonce nailed her halftime concert, the commercials were funny and provocative, and each team got to claim one half of the game as its own. In the end, however, I was gratified when Baltimore held off the 49ers’ aggressive (and almost successful) rally for the lead. It was wonderful to witness athleticism on such a keen level that two previous NFL records were shattered during the contest (one by each team). It was great to be a part of such an enthusiastic crowd who broke into rousing renditions of the Maryland state song and other camaraderie-inspiring chants each time the Ravens made a successful play. And, mostly, it was good to see my new home team win the championship for the second time since I’ve lived in this fair state.
I had a great seat for the game

More than 200 fans cheered on the
Baltimore Ravens at our party
The congenial owner of the Ottobar, Mike Bowen, told me today that he took in well over $5000 in bar receipts last night.  The number of revelers exceeded 200.  Through almost 15 years as the Ottobar's proprietor, our party, he said, is turning out to be one of his favorite events.

Police escort the team buses past my
driveway on their way back to their
practice facility in Baltimore County
The roads were packed with cars on my drive home last night, even though it was close to midnight. The entire city seemed to be outdoors in the 20-degree cold, celebrating.  Tonight my rural farmhouse was "guarded" by police cars as well-wishers gathered outside the entrance to the team's private complex just down the street to welcome the champions back from New Orleans.  And tomorrow, running from Baltimore City Hall to the Ravens football stadium downtown, there will be a big parade to honor the triumphant team.

Baltimore can and should be very, very proud.

1 comment:

  1. OMG the Baconmore ... I love that drawing. Next Super Bowl I am going to find you and be your assistant. :-)