While friends Jeanne and Bull Kahler joined my husband and me for an outdoor meal on a picnic table, we recalled memories of a three-day backpacking trip we’d taken many years ago in the Wyoming wilderness. We have fond memories of climbing to a summit and seeing a vast herd of elk, wading through pristine streams, and a special morning when my husband caught fresh trout and prepared them for our breakfast. But also vivid in my memory are the many handfuls of trail mix we munched on to sustain us, and the first meal we ate after returning to civilization.
The afternoon we left the woods, we decided to treat ourselves. We showered (such a glorious feeling) then drove to an elegant-looking restaurant where we’d be sure to have plenty to fill our deprived stomachs. We ravenously waited for our menus.
The young waiter in his impeccable white chinos and crisp, pressed shirt presented us with an appetizer. “The regal artichoke,” he announced. “It is perfection.”
To my companions and me, it looked more like the weeds we’d been treading on, and I would have much preferred a basket of warm, crusty rolls. Determined to get nourishment, though, I asked, “How do you eat it?” I readied my knife.
“No, no madam,” the waiter said. “You must gently peel off a leaf. Then place it between your teeth and pull, letting the meat excite your palate.”
At the mention of meat, my husband’s eyes widened.
But after pulling the artichoke through his front teeth, he grimaced and, fingers to his mouth, tried to get the fiber unstuck. “Got a toothpick?” he whispered to me. I had a tremendous urge to giggle.
The waiter ignored our shenanigans and asked if we’d like hors d’oeuvres. “Yes!” Bull exclaimed, searching for the most filling option.
After ordering adobe buffalo—buffalo are huge after all—the waiter asked if we’d care to look at menus right away.
“Yes,” we said in unison.
He bequeathed us each with a menu then said, “I’ll return presently.”
“I don’t know what half this stuff is,” I whispered to my husband.
“I’ll be happy with anything that doesn’t look like gorp,” Jeanne said.
Our adobe buffalo arrived. For $12, we expected a chunk of meat, not a tiny taco. We placed our order. After the waiter left, we whispered, rolled our eyes, and tittered. Then we each grabbed one of the special tiny forks and speared a bite of adobe buffalo. We licked our fingers searching for more.
The waiter returned with a tray of four cups. “Here is your gingered beef consommé with crepe pillows.”
The four of us kept a straight face until the waiter left. Jeanne said, “This looks like bouillon with a few dumplings.”
I took a sip. Salty, but we all drained our bowls.
“And now,” the waiter said, clearing away our cups, your entrées are done to perfection.”
Another young man carried out the tray while our waiter announced, “Your skewered shrimp resting on a bed of wild rice, tomato and bell peppers, sir.”
My husband stared at the delicate array of shrimp and trimmings, then looked hopefully at the waiter’s hands, but there was no more. “And your seafood crepes in champagne sauce,” the waiter said, serving a plate that a hiker fresh out of the wilderness like Bull could down in three mouthfuls. “And for you, madam,” he told Jeanne, “the lemon-lime fillets in parchment-
paper hearts.” Hardly enough food for a sparrow, I thought. Finally he came around by me. “And for you, madam, the pièce de résistance. Your coquilles St. Jacques. It is perfection.”
“Oh,” I said, staring at the scallops. “I thought I was ordering chicken or quail or something.”
He grimaced as if smelling something bad, but I grimaced harder. I hate scallops.
“May I get you anything else right now?” the waiter asked.
Yes, I wanted to say. The directions to MacDonald’s.