Wednesday, March 14, 2018


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Little ramblings on writings about food:

In a perfectly delicious Father Brown short story, The Invisible Man, I was captivated by the first paragraph:

In the cool blue twilight of two steep streets in Camden Town, the shop at the corner, a confectioner’s, glowed like the butt of a cigar. One should rather say, perhaps, like the butt of a firework, for the light was of many colours and some complexity, broken up by many mirrors and dancing on many gilt and gaily-coloured cakes and sweetmeats. Against this one fiery glass were glued the noses of many guttersnipes, for the chocolates were all wrapped in those red and gold and green metallic colours which are almost better than chocolate itself, and the huge white wedding cake in the window was somehow at once remote and satisfying, just as if the whole North Pole were good to eat. Such rainbow provocations could naturally collect the youth of the neighbourhood up to the ages of ten or twelve. 
       G. K. Chesterton, of course.
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And the next story in the same book is Lamb to the Slaughter with the most infamous leg of lamb in written word, served with some potatoes and a can of peas whose purchase establishes a handy alibi.

Mary Maloney was waiting for her husband to come home from work.    

Sinister sentence, that---especially from a "children's" writer.        

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In John Mortimer’s grim-and-cheeky stories of the Gourmand/Barrister, many mentions of lavish repasts occur between demise and denoument, stabbing and solving.  In Rumpole Rests His Case, there are numerous  breaks for lunch at Pommeroy's for S&K pie, apple tart, and Chateau Thames Embankment in the glass.   Ahhh, Rumpole---the man for whom the cuisinical term “Trencherman” was coined.

There's one memorable dinner party with some tres retro acquaintances, whose shawl-swathed lamps and cavernous dining room were enhanced by sitar music and the odors of what seemed to be "ecclesiastical incense, smouldering carpets and simmering lentils."

Mrs. R.---She Who Must Be Obeyed---is no shabby cook, either: she provides her Old Darling with a sound Brit breakfast of rashers, eggs, mushrooms, beans and tomatoes, with six crisp slices in the silver rack.   Dear Horace. 

From my friend Maggie the Cat, in her online essay, “A Whiter Shade of Sauce.”

“It’s never inspired a wild fandango, let alone cartwheels 'cross the floor. Calling it Béchamel doesn’t make it chic and rolling the "l"s in balsamella won’t make it sexy. It’s White Sauce, pale, pure and reliable, the Vestal Virgin of Escoffier’s Mother Sauces.

“It’s a Mama sauce, a Maman sauce, a Mom and Mummy sauce. There’s no macaroni and cheese, no creamed spinach, no creamed potatoes or onions without White Sauce. No lasagna, no rissoles; barely a scalloped potato. No soufflés. No crap on clapboard. No sauce for chicken-fried steak or salmon patties. No choufleur gratinée or cute little coffins of chicken a la King. No éclairs, cream puffs, or Boston Cream Pie, because isn’t pastry cream white sauce with sugar, egg and vanilla?

“In this order, place butter, flour and milk in a saucepan, some salt, maybe a twist of beige from the nutmeg grinder -- all it calls for is some attention with the wooden spoon and an eye to the size and activity of the bubbles. The proportions are way simpler than the multiplication flashcards my father drilled me with in third grade. My mother called them out over her shoulder as she chopped parsley and cleaned the big can of salmon.

“I remember: “One tablespoon each of butter and flour for thin, two for medium, three for thick. Keep stirring. Watch the heat -- you don’t want to burn it.” Some Maternal Units would never besmirch the snowy stuff with black pepper -- though not my mother, Julia Child was passionate about the white pepper only rule. I like the black specks, (always) a grating of nutmeg, and (often) a pinch of cayenne. When I have extra time I add a fillip of my own: I throw a bay leaf, a sprig of thyme, and a few fresh tarragon leaves into the milk, warm it up to the small bubble stage, then let it cool down and infuse. I strain out the herbs before I add the milk to the roux, pondering the greatness of the bouquet garni, and what a clever cook I am.”


And my response to her wonderful treatment of such a simple, elegant old stand-by recipe---the secret’s-in-the-sauce kind of concoction, and which elevates a plebeian mix of flour, butter and milk into elite territory, along with whawhatever vegetable, meat, pasta or casserole is cloaked or soaked in it:  

Absolutely Breeeelyant, Maggie, as always. Your mastery of the concept and the execution is impressive, but not surprising. And your research and knowledge are a formidable team with your incomparable way with words.
I learned to make White Sauce at a very young age, in exactly the same 1-2-3 over-the-shoulder that you did; my Mammaw would be boning chicken for a la King, or skinning the tiny blanched pearl onions (specially ordered once a year, for Christmas Dinner---no canned mush for HER table).

After about the second “making” I noticed that she just kept right on with her work, humming along with the radio, and I remember the tight feeling in my chest as the swell of pride in my kitchen independence almost overwhelmed me. I’d made cakes and cornbread and biscuits by myself for ages, but WHITE SAUCE! Ladies talked about how hard it was in WMU meeting and at Wednesday Bridge at my friend’s house, while we hid and listened and snuck little sandwiches. It was mentioned so often, for so many dishes, I’d thought it was some kind of formula you’d have to learn in college.

I way later learned the word Bechamel from Italian neighbors---the ones who taught me to make ravioli from scratch, and pizzelle and latugi. They sang out the word so rapidly as we started putting together the lasagna---Besh’-meh---that I had to ask several times, so I could look it up. And it was good ole White Sauce.

I used the word for quite some time back when I was catering parties---I’d rattle it off myself like I assumed they knew it, too, and it FELT impressive. But when I got back to my own old Franklin, melting the butter gently in the big wide skillet, using a worn-down old flat wooden paddle to keep every fleck of flour constantly moving---I was standing in that familiar old kitchen in that tiny shotgun house, hearing my Mammaw’s words so long unspoken, “A Tablespoon each of Butter and Flour . . .” 

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All this drought and now the Freshet turns Flood.   Anybody got a wrench?

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donna baker said...

I'll have mine with biscuits please. How you been?

Chesapeake said...

Only to open!

NanaDiana said...

I have a wrench, a hammer and pliers---whatever you need---lol xo Diana

Chronica Domus said...

Call it what you will but that is one darn good sauce. Try it on cauliflower, with the addition of cheddar cheese (blue, if you get really fancy) and it becomes one of England's best dishes. Served, of course, with a glass of Chateau Thames Embankment.

bj said... good with a biscuit. I love all of your post...

Dear One...I am beginning to get back into blogging...after losing my honey, Mr. Sweet, I couldn't breath for so long...everyone told me TIME would help the shattered heart...and tho it;s been only 8 months since he went HOME, I am at least able to put one foot in front of the other. My life will never ever be the same...he was such a huge part of my life, my heart and soul and spirit. ...I have so many blessings that have helped me gain my bearings again.
I've missed your visits and mine to you....hoping things are ok in your world.
Much love and hugs, bj

Kim S. said...

Oh, I DO love reading about food! And the folks in my favorite English mysteries always seem to be having tea and cutting sandwiches or going on picnics! I think you've inspired me to go back and re-read the eG essays! Not sure how far I'll get with you here - I'm stealing some ME time while Momma is still asleep upstairs. I can venture far, because I need to hear her if she calls down.

Kim S. said...

Food and literature! A wonderful combination. And you and our Miss Maggie are the queens of the genre! I think part of the reason why I love English mysteries so much is that they are always having tea or cutting sandwiches (but what the heck is FISH PASTE???).