The Erl-King lives by himself all alone in the heart of the wood in a house which has only one room. His house is made of sticks and stones and has grown a pelt of yellow lichen. Grass and weeds grow in the messy roof. He chops fallen branches for his fire and draws his water from the stream in a tin pail.What does he eat? Why, the bounty of the woodland! Stewed nettles; savoury messes of chickweed sprinkled with nutmeg; he cooks the foliage of shepherd's purse as if it were cabbage. He knows which of the frilled, blotched, rotting fungi are fit to eat; he understands their eldritch ways, how they spring up overnight in lightless places and thrive on dead things. Even the homely wood blewits, that you cook like tripe, with milk and onions, and the egg-yolk yellow chanterelle with its fan-vaulting and faint scent of apricots; all spring up overnight like bubbles of earth, sustained by nature, existing in a void. And I could believe that it has been the same with him; he came alive from the desire of the woods.He goes out in the morning to gather his unnatural treasures, he handles them delicately as he does pigeon's eggs, he lays them in one of the baskets he weaves from osiers. He makes salads of dandelions that he calls rude names, 'bum-pipes' or 'piss-the-beds', and flavours them with a few leaves of wild strawberry but he will not touch the brambles, he says the Devil spits on them at Michaelmas.His nanny goat, the colour of whey, gives him her abundant milk and he can make soft cheese that has a unique, rank, amniotic taste. Sometimes he traps a rabbit in the snare of string and makes a soup or stew, seasoned with wild garlic. He knows all about the wood and the creatures in it.... He is an excellent housewife. His rustic home is spick and span. He puts his well-scoured saucepan and skillet neatly on the hearth side by side, like a pair of polished shoes. Over the hearth hang bunches of drying mushrooms, the thin, curling kind they call jew's-ears, which have grown on elder trees since Judas hanged himself on one; this is the kind of lore he tells me, tempting my half-belief. He hangs up herbs in bunches to dry, too - thyme, marjoram, sage, vervain, southern wood, yarrow. The room is musical and aromatic and there is always a wood-fire crackling in the gate, a sweet, acrid smoke, a bright, glancing flame. But you cannot get a tune out of the old fiddle hanging on the wall beside the birds because all its strings are broken.... Goat's milk to drink, from a chipped tin mug; we shall eat the oatcakes he has baked on the hearthstone. Rattle of the rain on the roof. The latch clanks on the door; we are shut up inside with one another, in the brown room crisp with the scent of burning logs that shiver with tiny flame, and I lie down on the Erl-King's creaking palliasse of straw. His skin is the tint and texture of sour cream, he has stiff, russet nipples, ripe as berries. Like a tree that bears blossom and fruit on the same bough together, how pleasing, how lovely.
Monday, 30 November 2009
Saturday, 28 November 2009
(This is just an excerpt.)
And still she slept an azure-lidded sleep,
In blanched linen, smooth, and lavender'd,
While he forth from the closet brought a heap
Of candied apple, quince, and plum, and gourd;
With jellies soother than the creamy curd,
And lucent syrops, tinct with cinnamon;
Manna and dates, in argosy transferr'd
From Fez; and spiced dainties, every one,
From silken Samarcand to cedar'd Lebanon.
These delicates he heap'd with glowing hand
On golden dishes and in baskets bright
Of wreathed silver: sumptuous they stand
In the retired quiet of the night,
Filling the chilly room with perfume light.
"And now, my love, my seraph fair, awake!
Thou art my heaven, and I thine eremite:
Open thine eyes, for meek St. Agnes' sake,
Or I shall drowse beside thee, so my soul doth ache."
Wednesday, 25 November 2009
In light of the recent rather unseemly revelations about what ground beef may or may not contain, I bought a meat-grinding attachment for my big stand-mixer--something I'd been meaning to do for a while. It feels primal, somehow, grinding meat, obviously not in the same camp as my super-hardcore friend Novella Carpenter, who raises and butchers her own chickens, rabbits, and pigs (and wrote a splendid book about it), but still very satisfying.
One reason I'd had this on my mind for a while was that the following passage from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was imprinted on me at a very young age. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
Neeley came home and he and Francie were sent out for the weekend meat. This was an important ritual and called for detailed instructions by Mama.
“Get a five-cent soup bone off of Hassler’s. But don’t get the chopped meat there. Go to Werner’s for that. Get round steak chopped, ten cents’ worth, and don’t let him give it to you off the plate. Take an onion with you, too.”
Francie and her brother stood at the counter a long time before the butcher noticed them.
“What’s yours?” he asked finally.
Francie started the negotiations. “Ten cents’ worth of round steak.”
“Lady was just in. Bought a quarter’s worth of round steak ground. Only I ground too much and here’s the rest on the plate. Just ten cents’ worth. Honestly, I only just ground it.”
This was the pitfall Francie had been told to watch against. Don’t buy it off the plate no matter what the butcher says.
“No. My mother said ten cents’ worth of round steak.”
Furiously the butcher hacked off a bit of meat and slammed it down on the paper after weighing it. He was just about to wrap it up when Francie said in a trembling voice,
“Oh, I forgot. My mother wants it ground.”
“God-damn it to hell!” He hacked up the meat and shoved it into the chopper. Tricked again, he thought bitterly. The meat came out in fresh red spirals. He gathered it up in his hand and was just about to slam it down on the paper when . . .
“And mama said to chop up this onion in it.” Timidly, she pushed the peeled onion that she had brought from home across the counter. Neeley stood by and said nothing. His function was to come along for moral support.
“Jesus!” The butcher said explosively. But he want to work with two cleavers chopping the onion up into the meat. Francie watched, loving the drumbeat rhythm of the cleavers. Again the butcher gathered up the meat, slammed it down on the paper and glared at Francie. She gulped. The last order would be hardest of all. The butcher had an idea of what was coming. He stood there trembling inwardly. Francie said all in one breath,
“Son-of-a-bitchin’ bastard,” whispered the butcher bitterly. He slashed off a piece of white fat, let if fall to the floor in revenge, picked it up and slammed in on the mound of meat. He wrapped it furiously, snatched the dime, and as he turned it over to the boss for ringing up, he cursed the destiny that had made him a butcher.
After the chopped meat they went to Hassler’s for the soup bone. Hassler was a fine butcher for bones but a bad butcher for chopped meat because he ground it behind closed doors and God knows what you got. Neeley waited outside with the package because if Hassler noticed you had bought meat elsewhere, he’d proudly tell you to go get your bone where you got your other meat.
Francie ordered a nice bone with some meat on it for Sunday soup for five cents. Hassler made her wait while he told the stale joke: how a man had bought two cents’ wroth of dog meat and how Hassler had asked, should he wrap it up or do you want to eat it here? Francie smiled shyly. The pleased butcher went into the icebox and returned holding up a gleaming white bone with creamy marrow in it and shreds of red meat clinging to the ends. He made Francie admire it.
“After your mama cooks this,” he said, “tell her to take the marrow out, spread it on a piece of bread with pepper, salt, and make a nice samwish for you.”
“I’ll tell Mama.”
“You eat it and get some meat on your bones, ha ha.”
After the bone was wrapped and paid for, he sliced off a thick piece of liverwurst and gave it to her. Francie was sorry that she deceived that kind man by buying the other meat elsewhere. Too bad Mama didn’t trust him about chopped meat.
It was still early in the evening and the street lights had not yet come on. But already, the horseradish lady was sitting in front of Hassler’s grinding away at her pungent roots. Francie held out the cup that she had brought from home. The old mother filled it halfway up for two cents. Happy that the meat business was over, Francie bought two cents’ worth of soup greens from the green grocer’s. She got an emasculated carrot, a droopy leaf of celery, a soft tomato and a fresh sprig of parsley. These would be boiled with the bone to make a rich soup with shreds of meat floating in it. Fat, homemade noodles would be added. This, with the seasoned marrow spread on bread, would make a good Sunday dinner.
Tuesday, 24 November 2009
Despite looking like "Famine descending upon the earth or some scarecrow eloped from a cornfield," Ichabod has a monstrous appetite, and a tendency to read his surroundings in culinary terms.
As Ichabod jogged slowly on his way his eye, ever open to every symptom of culinary abundance, ranged with delight over the treasures of jolly Autumn. On all sides he beheld vast store of apples--some hanging in oppressive opulence on the trees, some gathered into baskets and barrels for the market, others heaped up in rich piles for the cider-press. Farther on he beheld great fields of Indian corn, with its golden ears peeping from their leafy coverts and holding out the promise of cakes and hasty pudding; and the yellow pumpkins lying beneath them, turning up their fair round bellies to the sun, and giving ample prospects of the most luxurious of pies; and anon he passed the fragrant buckwheat-fields, breathing the odor of the beehive, and as he beheld them soft anticipations stole over his mind of dainty slapjacks, well buttered and garnished with honey or treacle by the delicate little dimpled hand of Katrina Van Tassel.
The pedagogue's mouth watered as he looked upon this sumptuous promise of luxurious winter fare. In his devouring mind's eye he pictured to himself every roasting-pig running about with a pudding in his belly and an apple in his mouth; the pigeons were snugly put to bed in a comfortable pie and tucked in with a coverlet of crust; the geese were swimming in their own gravy; and the ducks pairing cosily in dishes, like snug married couples, with a decent competency of onion sauce. In the porkers he saw carved out the future sleek side of bacon and juicy relishing ham; not a turkey but he beheld daintily trussed up, with its gizzard under its wing, and, peradventure, a necklace of savory sausages; and even bright Chanticleer himself lay sprawling on his back in a side-dish, with uplifted claws, as if craving that quarter which his chivalrous spirit disdained to ask while living.
'You were right about this dope,' I said after a while. 'It does make you crave something to eat.''You hungry?''Oh, yes,' I said.'Well, don't look at me,' she said, 'I can't be cooking now. This is one of my busy days.''What about that?''What?''That tomato. We could eat that,' I said, 'It looks ripe.''You want to eat my tomato?''Sure,' I said.She reached out and snapped the tomato off its vine and handed it to me.'You don't want some?''Nah,' she said, 'Go to town.'I took a bite. It was delicious, full of the strong, green flavor of the vine. So much juice ran out that Carol stopped me and went to get a towel. The juice ran down my chin. I could feel my beard getting heavy with it, but I didn't care.I was nearly finished when Carol motioned me over to the open window. Charlotte had gotten home. She was out on the porch next to my empty chair, holding the crabs in a white paper package, turning her head up and down the street.'Is that your daughter?''That's her,' I said.Charlotte shouted out for me, a yell as loud as a bullhorn.Carol seemed not to hear. She held up the little remnant of our cigarette. 'You want any more of this?' she asked.'No, thank you,' I said.She licked her fingers and pinched it out, and then she popped it in her mouth and swallowed it.Down below, Charlotte yelled for me again. 'You're not going to see about her?' Carol asked.'I put my hands on the windowsill and stuck my entire head out into the afternoon. The wind chilled the wetness on my lips and my chin. 'Hey,' I called out to my daughter, 'Hey, Charlotte, look up here.'
Monday, 23 November 2009
In this scene, over a cozy pot-au-feu at the bell-ringer's house, Durtal and des Hermies, his friend and chief verbal sparring partner, debate the relative merits of restaurant dining. Ever the provocatuer, des Hermies provides a decidedly unappetizing account of a restaurant that he nonetheless frequents "once a month or so," all in the interest of observing how rapidly its patrons are deteriorating from the sub-par cuisine.
“Can we help you finish laying the table?” suggested des Jermies.
But Carhaix’s wife refused.
“No, no, sit down. Dinner is nearly ready.”
“That smells good,” said Durtal, inhaling the odour of a bubbling pot-au-feu, in which the odour of celery added piquance to the smell of the other vegetables.
“Dinner is served,” boomed Carhaix, reappearing in a clean blouse, his face gleaming from a good scrubbing.
They sat down. The glowing stove roared. Durtal, almost fainting, felt the sudden sense of nervous relaxation which a frozen soul experiences when immersed in a warm bath; one was so far away from Paris here at the Carhaix’s, so far out of this century!
The lodge was extremely poor, but so welcoming and comfortable! Even the table was laid country-style, the polished glasses, the covered dish of semi-salted butter, the cider pitcher, the old-fashioned lamp, which had seen better days, and which emphasized the homely atmosphere by casting reflections of tarnished silver over the white expanse of the table-cloth.
“The next time I come, I must remember to stop at that English delicatessen and buy a jar of that deliciously dependable orange marmalade,” said Durtal to himself, who, by mutual agreement with des Hermies, never dined with the bell-ringer without furnishing a share of the provisions.
Carhaix prepared the pot-au-feu and a simple salad and provided some of his own cider. So as not to be a burden, des Hermies and Durtal brought the wine, coffee, liqueurs, desserts and arranged matters such that their contributions compensated their hosts for the soup and the beef, which would otherwise have lasted them for several days, that were consumed.
“Just right!” noted Mme Carhaix triumphantly, serving to each in turn a bouillon the colour of mahogany whose iridescent surface was looped with rings of topaz.
It was succulent and unctuous, robust and yet delicate, flavoured as it was with a broth made from chicken liver.
Everyone was silent now, their heads lowered over their plates, their faces shining from the steam of the savory soup.
“Now is the moment to repeat one of Flaubert’s favorite commonplaces: ‘You never eat like this in a restaurant,’” remarked Durtal.
“No maligning of restaurants,” said des Hermies. “They afford a very special delight to those who know the right way to inspect them. Only the other night, coming back from a house call, I dropped in on one of those establishments which do a set menu for three francs: soup, a choice of one or the other of the day’s specials, side salad and pudding.
“Now I eat at this restaurant once a month or so. It has an unvarying clientele: irritable stuffed-shirts, officers in mufti, Members of Parliament, civil servants.
“While fiddle-faddling about with the sauce au gratin which accompanied a redoubtable sole, I examined the habitués seated around me. They had singularly changed since my last visit. They had become either bloated or emaciated; their eyes were either hollow, with violet rings around them, or puffy, with crimson pouches under them; the fat ones had turned yellow and the thin ones were becoming green.
“It was obvious that the terrible concoctions served in this place, far deadlier than any of the lethal potions employed by the popes of Avignon, were slowly poisoning the customers.
“You can imagine how interested I became. I immediately carried out a toxicological investigation on my own person, paying careful attention to what I was eating. The ingredients were frightful: a mixture of tannin and coal dust, used to mask the smell of fish which is no longer quite fresh, not dissimilar to the stench of decomposing human tissue; marinated meats, painted with sauces the colour of sewage; wines adulterated with fuscin, perfumed with furfurol, provided with artificial body by the addition of molasses and plaster!
“I have promised myself to return every month in order to chart the customers’ decline…”
“How dreadful!” cried Mme Carhaix.
“Good God!” exclaimed Durtal. “What a black sense of humour you have!”
To make this condiment, your poet begsThe pounded yellow of two hard-boiled eggs;Two boiled potatoes, passed through kitchen sieve,Smoothness and softness to the salad give.Let onion atoms lurk within the bowl,And, half suspected, animate the whole.Of mordant mustard add a single spoon,Distrust the condiment that bites so soon;But deem it not, thou man of herbs, a fault,To add a double quantity of salt.Four times the spoon with oil from Lucca brown,And twice with vinegar procured from town;And, lastly, o'er the flavored compound tossA magic soupcion of anchovy sauce.O, green and glorious! O herbaceous treat!'T would tempt the dying anchorite to eat:Back to the world he'd turn his fleeting soul,And plunge his fingers in the salad bowl!Serenely full, the epicure would say,"Fate cannot harm me, I have dined to-day."
Friday, 20 November 2009
"Across a blue tile patio, in through a door to the kitchen. Routine: plug in American blending machine won from some Yank last summer, some poker game, table stakes, B.O.Q. somewhere in the north, never remember now....Chop several bananas into pieces. Make coffee in urn. Get can of milk from cooler. Puree 'nanas in milk. Lovely. I would coat all the booze-corroded stomachs of England....Bit of marge, still smells all right, melt in the skillet. Peel more bananas, slice lengthwise. Marge sizzling, in go long slices. Light oven whoomp blow us all up someday oh, ha, ha, yes. Peeled whole bananas to go on broiler grill soon as it heats. Find marshmallows...."******************************************************************************************
"With a clattering of chairs, upended shell cases, benches, and ottomans, Pirate's mob gather at the shores of the great refectory table, a southern island well across a tropic or two from chill Corydon Throsp's mediaeval fantasies, crowded now over the swirling dark grain of its walnut uplands with banana omelets, banana sandwiches, banana casseroles, mashed bananas molded into the shape of a British lion rampant, blended with eggs into batter for French toast, squeezed out a pastry nozzle across the quivering creamy reaches of a banana blancmange to spell out the words C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre (attributed to a French observer during the Charge of the Light Brigade) which Pirate has appropriated as his motto ... tall cruets of pale banana syrup to pour oozing over banana waffles, a giant glazed crock where diced bananas have been fermenting since the summer with wild honey and muscat raisins, up out of which, this winter morning, one now dips foam mugsfull of banana mead ... banana croissants and banana kreplach, and banana oatmeal and banana jam and banana bread, and bananas flamed in ancient brandy Pirate brought back last year from a cellar in the Pyrenees also containing a clandestine radio transmitter ..."
Monday, 16 November 2009
"I'm feeling kinda hungry," said Rachel uneasily."Hungry?""Yeah, I got this craving for chili.""Well, I'm sure we can get you some on room service," said Patrick, who knew perfectly well there was no chili on the Pierre's all-night menu and would have disapproved if there had been."But there's this diner where they make like the greatest chili in the entire world," said Rachel, sitting up eagerly. "I really wanna go there.""Right," said Patrick patiently. "What's the address?""Eleventh Avenue and Thirty-eighth.""I'm sorry about this," said Patrick to the driver, "we've changed our minds. Could we go to Eleventh Avenue and Thirty-eighth Street instead?""Eleventh and Thirty-eighth?" repeated the driver."Yup."The diner was a ribbed silver caravan with TRY OUR FAMOUS CHILI AND TACOS in red neon outside. It was an offer that Rachel could not resist. A green neon chili flashed cutely next to a yellow sombrero.When the giant oval plate arrived loaded with chili-flavored minced meat, refried beans, guacamole, and sour cream, topped with bright orange cheddar and accompanied by speckled ochre tortilla shells, Patrick lit a cigarette in the hope of drawing a veil of thin blue smoke over the pungent heap of spicy food. He took another sip of insipid coffee and sat back as far as possible in the corner of the red plastic bench. Rachel was clearly a nervous overeater, stuffing herself before he stuffed her, or perhaps, very persuasively, trying to put him off sex altogether by wreaking havoc on her digestive system, and saturating her breath with the torrid stench of cheese and chili."Uh-hum," said Rachel appreciatively, "I love this food."Patrick raised an eyebrow slightly but made no comment.She piled the chili into the tortilla, smeared some guacamole on top, and patted down the sour cream with the back of her fork. Finally, she took a pinch of cheddar between her fingers and sprinkled it on top.The tortilla flipped open and chili flooded onto her chin. Giggling, she lifted it with her index finger and forced it back into her mouth."Delicioso," she commented."It looks disgusting," said Patrick sullenly."You should try some."She stooped over the plate and found ingenious angles from which to snap at the collapsing tortilla. Patrick rubbed his eye. It was itching wildly again. He stared out of the window but was drawn back into the arena of its reflections. The tulip-red bar stools on their chrome stems, the hatch into the kitchen, the old man hunched over a cup of coffee and, of course, Rachel like a pig in a trough. It reminded him of the famous painting by whathisname. Memory getting burned out. The terror of forgetting everything. Hooper . . . Hopper. Got it. Life in the old dog."Finished?" asked Patrick."They make a great banana split here," said Rachel saucily, still chomping her last mouthful of chili."Well, don't restrain yourself," said Patrick. "Will one be enough?""Don't you want one too?""No, I do not," said Patrick pompously.Soon a long glass dish arrived on which scoops of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry ice cream were bracketed by the two halves of a banana, buried under rippling waves of whipped cream and decorated with beads of pink and green candy. Red maraschino cherries ran down the center like a row of clown's buttons.Patrick's leg twitched up and down involuntarily as he watched Rachel exhume bit of banana from the mound of brightly colored creams."I've given up dairy products," she said, "but I allow myself these binges sometimes.""So it seems," said Patrick stiffly.He was overcome with loathing and contempt. The girl was completely out of control. Whereas drugs were at least amenable to advertising: life on the edge, exploring the inner Congo, the heart of darkness, outstaring death, returning with the scars and medals of a haunting knowledge, Coleridge, Baudelaire, Leary . . . ; and even if this advertising seemed horribly false to anyone who had taken drugs at all seriously, it wasn't possible even to pretend that there was anything heroic about an eating problem. And yet there was something unsettlingly familiar about Rachel's obsessive greed and ridiculous dishonesty."Can we go now?" snapped Patrick. "Yeah, okay," said Rachel timidly.He ordered the check, threw down a twenty-dollar bill before it arrived, and wriggled out of the booth. Another fucking taxi drive, he thought.* * *"I feel kinda nau-tious," complained Rachel, as they went up in the hotel elevator.
Friday, 13 November 2009
And so, for instance, every Saturday, because Françoise went to the Roussainville-le-Pin market in the afternoon, lunch was, for everyone, an hour earlier. And my aunt had so thoroughly acquired the habit of this weekly violation of her habits that she clung to it as much as to the others. She was so well "routined" to it, as Françoise said, that if she had to wait, some Saturday, to have lunch at the regular hour, this would have "disturbed" her as much as if on another day she had had to move her lunch forward to the Saturday hour. What was more, this early lunch gave Saturday, for all of us, a special face, indulgent and almost kindly. At the time of day when one usually has another hour to live through before the relaxation of the meal, we knew that in a few seconds we would see the arrival of some precocious endives, a gratuitous omelette, an undeserved beefsteak.