Thursday, July 01, 2010

Do you think I could stretch it into a novel?

 I like to manage expectations. Below you will find an uneventful First World slice-of-life story with no sex, no violence, no dialogue, and one character. 

Once upon a time, there was a woman who had been cooking a lot of fantastic stuff out of Barbara Lynch's superb book Stir for her family. Specifically:

-torn pasta with shrimp polpettini. (See above.) This involved cutting homemade pasta into odd, raggedy shapes, cooking them, then combining with a sumptuous sauce of white beans and poached shrimp dumplings. You can not imagine a more breathtaking pasta -- and it would work almost as well without the shrimp.

-fresh pasta with green beans and potatoes. Exactly what it sounds like and quite tasty. However, the woman and her daughter agreed that pesto made with Lynch's formula had too much bite. 

-pasta envelopes stuffed with Epoisses cheese and tossed with a sauce of celery and apple. This dish was both labor-intensive and expensive, as Epoisses cheese, rich and stinky, costs $26 for a 9-ounce round. The woman's daughter and husband thought the cheese was too stinky. The woman thought the cheese was delicious, but that her unsightly homemade Taleggio was just as rich and stinky and delicious, and cost a lot less. How much less, she did not compute. 

-risotto with aged gouda. A porridgy crowd pleaser.

-yogurt panna cotta. A puddingy crowd pleaser.
The woman wrote a cookbook review blog and she took her unpaid work seriously. She kept meaning to post about each dish as she cooked it, but this was an altogether frantic, anxious time. She had some intense paid work projects to complete, was worrying about settling her recently deceased mother's estate, and got up very day at 5 a.m. to bottle feed warm milk to baby goats. The goats had never once said thank-you. She was also driving children to and from various camps and lessons almost hourly, which made her a 21st century parenting clichee. Sometimes her daughter said thank-you.
Whatever. Boring. Everyone was busy. It was the fashion.
One day, in between chauffeuring her children to enriching activities, the woman ran a tedious errand in San Rafael and spotted a cafe she'd heard about called Brazil Marin. In this small ethnic supermarket/diner, a couple of slouchy men were watching the Brazil-Chile game on TV. The woman decided to stop; she never stopped. At the counter, she ordered a "cheese bread" and served herself some stew, rice, and beans from the steam table buffet. On top of it all she sprinkled manioc and vinegary salsa. Then she took the plate outside to eat in the sun and read her novel.*
The cheese bread was so delicious it almost made her faint: pale and crusty on the outside, borderline glutinous on the inside, chewy, super-cheesy. She started trying to figure out how to make it at home and then thought: Why? Like she needed more chores? She stopped trying to figure out how to make Brazilian cheese bread at home.
Then she began eating the beans and rice and stew. Objectively speaking, none of it was as "good" as the pastas she'd recently made from Barbara Lynch. Still. It was so overwhelmingly pleasant to be sitting in the sun, eating homey food that someone else had cooked, that, to her complete surprise and bemusement, the woman burst into tears. She cried off and on for the rest of the day. Then she was okay.

The End.

Questions for discussion: What did eating rice, beans, and stew mean for this character? Was it about missing her "recently deceased" mother? Or was she simply feeding too much without getting fed? Is that a problem for women in our culture? Would the story have been more exciting if the woman had flirted with one of the Brazilian men watching soccer instead of buying lunch? Do we really believe the cheese bread "almost made her faint?" Discuss.

In other news, Isabel and I made a light, nearly perfect cupcake, using many of your suggestions: oil, cake flour, yogurt.
The cupcake has a macaroon-like top crust that is actually very tasty, but not technically ideal. Still, this is close! Research continues. Thank-you.

*Amy & Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout. Whew. Strong stuff. The Epoisses cheese of Elizabeth Strout novels. Recommend!


  1. Yay! I love Amy and Isabelle! My aunt chose it for her book club and they all loved it.

    Also, when I'm near the edge, food can make me cry, especially when I didn't have to make it myself. Even though I love to make it myself.

  2. When grieving, it is my experience that unexpected tears are the norm. Tears honor your feelings and the sadness of not being able to physically hug someone.
    Also Thanks for all your reviews. And Thank you for cooking and commenting on things. One of the worst things is to cook something and then realize the person writing just passed on a recipe without trying it. Arrggah.

  3. I think the key sentence in this short story is "The woman decided to stop; she never stopped."

    Thank youfor your diligence on this blog!

  4. You are even more brilliant and delightful today than usual.

  5. Thank you for your blog. I enjoy every post.

    I think eating rice and beans set off tears because the woman had been doing too much, in general and specifically for others. Perhaps she would benefit from more frequent breaks, and things like a massage, mani/pedi, mini-vaca, etc. Or just a little quiet time and some of that cheese bread.

  6. What a lovely pensée, Tipsy.

  7. Laurie Muchnick7/1/10, 8:17 PM

    Have you ever read "Peyton Place"? I found "Amy and Isabelle" oddly similar.

    I think what you need to read next is "The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake." Though actually, maybe you should wait a few months. Maybe some Donna Leon would be better. Have you read her? Her Brunetti eats the best meals.

  8. Thank you for your writing; I've mentioned before how much I enjoy reading it - you are one of my "daily" stops (right after "Dear Abby!"). I am (still) sorry about your mother. The cheese bread sounds yummy. I think you cried because you were finally "not busy" enough to have a few moments to feel your own emotions, which are still grieving, and also, because you need to "take care of yourself" a little bit more. I join in the other comments voting for a massage (which had me crying non-stop during a particularly grief filled time - miscarriage), or a mani/pedi time (less emotional, but feels so nice!). Please keep writing. (Also, if you'd like, I think you *could* write a very entertaining novel!) :) Best, Ida

  9. Too much feeding others, my friend. And missing the one who once fed you. Off to order Stir.

  10. I would love someone else to cook for me! Make me a sandwich. A nice bowl of soup. It doesn't have to be fancy. Unfortunately, my husband is the only possible other chef in my house, and he threw up his hands re: cooking many years ago.

  11. Much belated, again. I think Ida's got it spot on. Just a tiny break in a busy schedule and, desired or not, you have time to feel what you may not even be aware you're feeling.

    A friend once talked me into going for a facial, something I would have never chosen to do on my own. I sat there with tears running down my face the whole time. I apologized repeated to the aesthetician, who told me it happened more often than anyone would guess.

    On reflection, I think it had to do with the power of touch. And in the case of food cooked by others, nurturance.

    Abruptly changing the subject: Brazilian cheese bread. Have you tried Elise's recipe from Simply Recipes?

    It's marvelous -- crisp on the outside, satiny and cheesy on the inside. Like a velvety, less eggy popover. I've tried it with many cheeses and all have been good, some great (e.g., Emmentaler, Cabot's Seriously Sharp Cheddar). Highly recommended.