Sport 9: Spring 1992
Leafing despondently through Marie Claire. The children are at boarding school, Jasper has just phoned to say his business trip has been extended. Bar room noises in the background; he sounded slightly flustered. On the first page ofMarie Claire's Cuisine Ordinaireis a most extraordinary illustration. A black glossy background and an oil and herb drenched (I should be able to recognise the herb) lettuce leaf. It looks, drifting towards two partially-shown edges of lettuce leaf at the bottom of the page, like a great cloud unfolding. Or it could be an exquisite piece of lingerie in the act of floating through the air.
'French cookery, despite its very traditional base, is constantly changing. While welcoming and reflecting innovation, we do not ignore the charms of the past.' I turn quickly over The French Larderand say the names of the sauces like a litany: Crēme Fraîche, Cēpe, Béchamel, Mornay, Velouté, Soubise. Then, since I haven't eaten, I imagine myself at Maxims and order in perfect French:
Soupe de soles
Salade tiède de verdures aux foies de volaille
Tournedos aux herbes du jardin de monsieur le curé
Choux rouge à l'Alsacienne
Crêpes 'veuve joyeuse'*
The very sound is enough to produce happiness. Happiness and sadness, as in Velouté sauce. So soft and full does it sound one imagines a starving man in prison—a chef perhaps—dining on memories. Then, since I am dining on memories myself tonight, I open a can of baked beans, set one egg in the little poacher which gives such a perfect appearance and plug in the toaster.
* Sole soup, Warm salad of chicken livers and mixed greens, Tournedos with herbs from the curé's garden, Alsace sweet and sour red cabbage, deep fried parsley, 'Merry Widow' pancakespage 81
Marie Claire has a broccoli and cauliflower terrine (Terrine de chou brocoli et chou fleur), a slice of which resembles a landscape. The puréed broccoli stalks make the grass, two whole broccoli perfect little green trees with crushed pink peppercorns for fruit, crēme fraîche and puréed cauliflower make the sky and clouds. The most perfect touch is one large cauliflower floret which makes a perfect cumulus cloud.
Shopping list for a solitary weekend
4 pkts instant noodles (pork, chicken, oriental, beef)
1 Danish camembert
500 g muscatels
3 slices ham
Betty Crocker cheesecake (small size)
1 can Dairy Whip (medium)
Now that term has recommenced and Jasper is in Europe I am reading more and more and discovering the links between food and literature. Not discovering them exactly, since I am still an amateur, but beginning to associate certain books, certain characters with certain dishes. I noticed it first some years ago when I was reading A House for Mr Biswas and felt an almost irresistible desire to eat rice off brass dishes. I even found myself in the kitchen boiling a large quantity of rice which had the next day to be made into a cold rice salad. I used to imagine that those writers who introduced recipes and descriptions of food were simply filling up space, in the same way two or three drafts of a letter may be shown and the reader invited to select the one posted. Thos and I had quite a good discussion when I was packing his tuckbox and he was suggesting what I might add. It seems it is important to have a good quantity to share as well as a private horde and the one conceals the other. We talked of priest holeshe is studying the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the thought of secret caches of chocolate bars seems very like a priest hole. Also I was convinced by something he said that he regards the hamper as a kind of surrogate mother. He tells me he hates Jane Austen who is on his reading list. No mention of food and not page 82 enough about sailors. I pointed out that Elizabeth Bennet does walk up an appetite in P&P but I have to agree with him that mostly exertion results in a storm of nerves. When he had gone back I suddenly thought of the cold spread in Emma.
Mrs Tancred, the new housekeeper and treasure, has left
Lamb and vegetable hotpot
Pear and walnut upside-down pudding
Last week she brought a Dundee cake.
Thos has sent a quote from John Betjeman on a postcard:
'I know what I wanted to ask you,
Is trifle sufficient for sweet?
Can we have trifle next hols and lots and lots of sherry?
Two new pies from Mrs Tancred:
Bacon, leek and apple pie (scrumptious!)
High-rise apple pie
I've decided to give her a raise.
Collect toll call from Benjamin. Tuck box seriously depleted. Then, obviously put up to it by his elder brother, he reads out with much guffawing:
'It's a very odd thing
As odd as can be
That whatever Master B eats
Turns into Master B.'
I gather this is from Walter de la Mare (adapted) and he regards me as responsible for girth, height, muscle tone, attractiveness to girls. Capitulate but insist he studies harder.