In Janet Goss’s Perfect on Paper, Dana Mayo is a woman finally getting back into dating after realizing that she has carried the torch for an inappropriate man for far too long. She meets two men, both of whom may be inappropriate for their own reasons, but that doesn’t stop her from diving right in to try to figure out which one she should be with.
Look at the food choices that happen when she meets one of them for a date at the famed Katz’s Deli in NYC.
Ah. But I could order a knish. A nice, bland, relatively compact knish. We approached the counter where Billy caught the eye of a server.
“I’ll have a knish,” he said.
Great, I thought. I wasn’t about to order the same thing. What else on the menu was smallish?
“I’ll take a hot dog.”
What the hell had I ordered that for? There was no genteel way for a woman to eat a hot dog. Now I was about to sit directly across from Billy Moody and go down on a six-inch length of meat.
Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child takes place in 1920’s Alaska. The main characters, Jack and Mabel, are having a difficult time in their marriage, and an even harder time taming the Alaskan wilderness to create a successful homestead. Most times they have to turn to nature to supplement their diet.
Thankfully, though, they had rhubarb pie.
When the weather was fine and the bugs were miraculously scarce , they ate outdoors. Jack and George would build an alder fire in a pit early in the morning and then roast a hunk of meat from a black bear Garrett had shot in the spring. Esther would bring potato and beet salad; Mabel would make a fresh rhubarb pie and spread a white tablecloth. The two women would walk together arm in arm and pick fireweeds and bluebells. In the background they would hear the men talking and laughing as the flames in the pit sputtered and flared with the bear fat drippings.
Check out the video of the making of Strawberry Rhubarb Pie from the The Joy of Baking.
I have only been lucky enough to have had any type of rhubarb pie once, and this was a couple of years ago. It just doesn’t sound that appetizing, rhubarb. Strawberry seems to be a popular pairing for it, though I saw a few recipes for blueberry as well.
1 large egg yolk beaten to blend with 1 teaspoon water (for glaze)
Combine flour, sugar and salt in processor. Using on/off turns, cut in shortening and butter until coarse meal forms. Blend in enough ice water 2 tablespoons at a time to form moist clumps. Gather dough into ball; cut in half. Flatten each half into disk. Wrap separately in plastic; refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled. Let dough soften slightly at room temperature before rolling.)
Preheat oven to 400°F. Combine first 7 ingredients in large bowl. Toss gently to blend.
Roll out 1 dough disk on floured work surface to 13-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch-diameter flass pie dish. Trim excess dough, leaving 3/4-inch overhang.
Roll out second dough disk on lightly floured surface to 13-inch round. Cut into fourteen 1/2-inch-wide strips. Spoon filling into crust. Arrange 7 dough strips atop filling, spacing evenly. Form lattice by placing remaining dough strips in opposite direction atop filling. Trim ends of dough strips even with overhang of bottom crust. Fold strip ends and overhang under, pressing to seal. Crimp edges decoratively.
Brush glaze over crust. transfer pie to baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Bake pie until golden and filling thickens, about 1 hour 25 minutes. Transfer pie to rack and cool completely.
Naomi Benaron’s Running the Rift takes place in Rwanda and a lot of the staple foods were unfamiliar to me, with the exception of a few vegetables. All of the food sounded delicious, and I took to the internet to look some of it up. Isombe is a stew made of cassava leaves, fresh vegetables, peanuts and peanut butter, and ugali seems closest to a grain like polenta or grits, albeit cooked and served in coarser texture.
The table was set up in the front room, covered wit the tablecloth resrved for holidays. There were plates of ugali and stews with bits of meat and fish to dip it in, bowls of isombe, green bananas and red beans, fried plaintains, boiled sweet potatoes and cassava. There were peas and haricots verts sauteed with tomatoes, bottles of Primus beer and Uncle Emmanuel’s home-brewed urwagwa. Angelique had not stopped cooking, bringing mam tea, wiping everyone’s eyes. The power was off. Candles flickered; lanterns tossed shadows at the wall. Jean-Patrick and Roger sat on the floor with Jacqueline, feeding Clemence bits of stew wrapped in sticky balls of ugali.
Ugali, pictured above, and below with beef and sauce. Photo source: Elimu Strive’s Blog & Wikimedia Commons.
Ugali is supposed to be an acquired taste for the American palate. Like I said, the closest equivalent I can think of would be grits, which can also be vey plain if not flavored with butter and salt, and eaten with (usually) eggs, bacon, sausage or fish. Shrimp and grits is also a favorite.
Here is a quick recipe that I found for ugali:
In a 2-quart saucepan:
Boil rapidly 1 quart water or chicken broth
Add 1 tsp. salt and 1 cup any fine white cereal.
Swirl the cereal into the boiling water and cook according to package directions to a thick heavy mush.
Keep warm over hot water (in a double boiler) until ready to serve.
Food in books usually serves a purpose greater than just the delight of my food loving heart. What people eat and how they react to it gives insight into their socio-economic status, tastes and preferences and character. In The Beginner, by Rebecca Wolff, Ginger’s mother has a view of food the informs the way you see her and her relationship to her daughter…
I heard my mother’s call from downstairs. We had lamb chops that night, and so I know we also had small green peas and mashed potatoes and mint jelly. Frozen peas, reconstituted potatoes from a box, jelly from a vacuum sealed jar; these are the ends by which we come by our means. What more can we ask? My mother hated to cook-“didn’t care about food”; “would just as soon have gone without”-though she never said this out loud, only muttered it under her breath as she she stripped the yellow fat from raw chicken breasts, or sliced a bitter cucumber expertly against her pink thumbs in the salad bowl. I am grateful that she saw the necessity of feeding her growing daughter as long as she did.
I always feel like I have hit the jackpot when a character in a book is a chef. Yummy things are usually in store, and that is definitely the case in The First Husband by Laura Dave, due out next week. The novel is a delightful read, all about trying to figure life out in the aftermath of a breakup that is completely unexpected. Trying to put her life back together, Annie Adams meets a sexy chef who makes her lobster eggs in the middle of the night as she is trying out life as a newly single. Here is what Annie had to say about those eggs…
They were totally and completely delicious. The single most delicious thing I had ever tasted. I’d tasted all sorts of things that had competed for that ranking – a mustard coated prime rib in Salzburg, Germany; blowfish in Kyoto; chocolate covered crickets in Nova Scotia- but nothing like these eggs. How do you describe something that good? They tasted like cotton candy, but the egg version. They were creamy and rich and they melted as soon as they touched my tongue, as soon as I tasted the sea-salty edge of them.
I’m disappointed that it’s so hard to see the lobster! Also, not sure about the chocolate covered crickets!
Laura and I chatted about me liking her book and those eggs, and she graciously shared her recipe for lobster eggs on Twitter with me.