The Director’s brother flipped a cute little switch recently when he told me how he’d cultivated a liking for port in homage to Kerouac upon reading On the Road. Since my own adolescent Beat phase centered largely on Burroughs’ gaping, oozing oeuvre, beginning with Naked Lunch, you can imagine (not too fluorescently, I trust, gentle reader) that it didn’t coincide with my culinary awakening. But his comment got me to thinking about what did:
wherein Pippi partook of tropical breadfruit—of which I had no inkling but pictured lovingly, not so much like
split-top, with fresh creamery butter baked right in, as the voice in the ad circa 1978 used to melt out of the TV, & filled in the middle with something like
I’ve since put the question to my writerly pals (& rest assured the comment board is always open to readers writerly or otherwise, as is my e-mailbox!): Which works of fiction/poetry/drama most whetted your appetite &/or wetted your whistle? The answers may surprise you. Or not, I just get a kick out of that phrase.*
Matt Rohrer, author of numerous books of deeply strange & charming poetry, whom you may have met here, whereas I met him when I was 13 & thereafter collaborated with him on what was my 1st restaurant review, about Dairy Queen & its great blazing
I actually have quite bad luck following up on culinary tips from
literature. It started in 4th grade, reading SRAs or whatever the little
folders were called with different topics & reading levels.** The point was
reading comprehension, but one of them I read was about
sounded incredible. I’d never heard of anything like it. Of course, crab was
absolutely mysterious to me because I lived in Oklahoma, & I probably
responded to the promise of evil or anticlericalism in the “deviled” part.*** But I just couldn’t shake it, & asked my mother (who is a really excellent
cook) to make it, but crabs weren’t available in Oklahoma in 1979.
About a year later, we took a vacation to Florida & stopped at a
restaurant that served deviled crab. I couldn’t believe it, & waited
impatiently for it to come. When it did, it was terrible. Or at least, I
didn’t like it. I suppose nothing could have lived up to the pressure of
representing everything that I couldn’t have in Oklahoma. But I remember the
texture was just gross.
Not long after that, reading The Lion, The Witch & the Wardrobe, I became
fascinated by what Jadis the White Queen offers Edmund:
I knew was it was some kind of candy & her version of it also had magical
(& evil, now that I come to think of it) powers. It was several years
(again: Oklahoma****) before I got to try Turkish Delight, & it was almost as
big a disappointment as the deviled crab. It certainly couldn’t compare to a Butterfinger (which is definitely the best candy bar).
As I got older, the same thing happened with drinks. I always felt like the
characters in Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants, complaining that all
the drinks they’ve never had before but have heard of just taste like
licorice. Which, as it turns out, is true. In my junior year abroad, when I
was 20, I tried as many different liquors as I could get my hands on.
Arrack, Sambuca, Pernod…all of them taste like licorice. Which tastes
Matt’s opinion on this point does not necessarily reflect that of your insatiable Denveditor—& let’s not forget absinthe!—but it does reflect this:
Recently, however, I read the complete unexpurgated original translation of The 1000 Nights & 1 Night, which is around 3000 pages long, & realized
that what kept me going had at least as much to do with the descriptions of
the feasts the Djinns were constantly being forced to provide as with
anything else in the stories. But when I got so hungry reading it that I
couldn’t take it anymore, I just got up off the couch and had some peanuts.
Nothing can touch peanuts when it comes to everyday snacking.
Speaking of Hemingway, says Joey Porcelli, author of Rise & Dine: Breakfast in Denver & Boulder & coauthor of The Gyros Journey: Affordable Ethnic Eateries along the Front Range:
After reading The Old Man and the Sea, I wanted to eat a big fish. After Eat, Pray, Love, I wanted to to eat pizza in Naples. After reading The Geography of Bliss’s chapter on Iceland, I didn’t want to eat anything ugly ever again, except lobster. After reading Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil, I wanted to drink a mint julep. After reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I wanted to grow my own food. After reading The Secret Life of Bees, I craved honey. After reading The Jungle, I never ate cow again. After reading Kitchen Confidential, I wanted to snort cocaine in the kitchen. After reading Alive, I wanted to eat my neighbors. Should I quit reading? (Au contraire: I think you should reread the latter pair, then invite the Director & me over to join you. That fundamentalist next door looks ripe.—Denved.)
Michael Brodeur, music editor for The Boston Phoenix & fellow former food (& music) editor for the Weekly Dig:
There was a part in Johnny Got His Gun where I have a distinct memory of a description of a sandwich that was nothing but bread & a thick
slice of (Bermuda?) onion. That hung around a bit.
I trust that comes before the hero’s face gets blown off. Googling “onion sandwich” yields a number of recipes, like James Beard’s, that are nearly quelle simple as Brodeur recollects, adding only a little butter & mayo, a sprinkle of sea salt & minced parsley or chives:
Warning: requires lips & teeth. Do not insert in face crater.
More specifically, I’ve always loved the indulgent little books of Italian
writer Aldo Buzzi, whose A Weakness For Almost Everything is one of the
best-fed books ever.
Having been meaning to read him forever, I’ve just been inspired to order both the aforementioned & The Perfect Egg & Other Secrets—in which, per 1 online description, Buzzi “writes about how to make lime soup, what goes into an olla podrida, varieties of futurist cuisine, the difference between edible & inedible pigeons, & the emotional resonance of overcooked pasta.” Sweet—to be con’t.
Beth Partin, author of Living the Mile-High Life, a just plain smart collection of observations about this wacky Rocky Mtn. valley in which we live (whose twin emphases on food & literature prompted me to prompt her in turn for her thoughts):
I confess I can’t think of a story that actually compelled me to eat or drink something, but there are many stories that have made me long for food: I always wanted to have a meal at
the waybread of the elves, for instance. No doubt someone, somewhere, has come up with a recipe for it. (‘Fraid so—make that Frodo so, heh. See also below.) Also, this passage from Election Eve by Evan S. Connell made me wish I could go to the Wibbles’ buffet:
However, the Wibble buffet was sumptuous, imperial, a whopping tribute to an exemplary bourgeois life. Mr. Bemis gazed with satisfaction at the roast beef, sliced breast of duck, venison, platoons of shrimp, a giant salmon, lamb chops sprinkled with herbs, prosciutto, crisp little sausages & more. Rosy red tomatoes stuffed with something creamy. Butterfly pasta. Mushrooms. Mr. Bemis gazed at the beautiful mushrooms. Asparagus points, juicy pickles, Gargantuan black olives. Nor was that all, oh no. Desserts. A perfect regiment of seductive desserts. Lemon tart. Mince pie topped with hard sauce. Blue & white cheeses. Chocolate mousse. Peaches. Pears. Melons. Petits fours. Nuts. Strawberries. A silver compote of mints. Fancy bonbons individually wrapped in gold foil. Nor was that all. Mr. Bemis clasped his hands.*****
Maybe for my fiftieth birthday I’ll throw a party like that. (I’m available 24/7.)
Last but never least, MC Slim JB, acclaimed food-writer-about-Boston:
There are many times—most often early in the morning, or at around 3pm when my concentration and energy are flagging—when I wish I had some lembas, the revivifying elven hardtack from The Lord of the
Rings, in my pocket. (You can!—see above.) But Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe made me want to drink rye.
Consequently, I became a rye drinker years ahead of the current rye
revival & was inspired to write a piece about it for the Weekly Dig
in early 2007.
Since the Dig ransacked its own online archives & stashed the loot—& there was once some precious loot—shortly thereafter, Slim sent me the text of said piece; here’s a learned & suave excerpt:
SQUEEGEE YOUR ANOMIE WITH RYE WHISKEY
It’s a film noir world: drop that Technicolor cocktail
by MC Slim JB
Rye commands reverence among booze historians as America’s oldest whiskey, the original base of ancient cocktails like the Manhattan. Yet despite cultish adherents & growing press attention, rye cruises in the blind spot of most Boston bartenders. Order it & you’re liable to get a blank stare, or an unassuming blended Canadian whisky like Crown Royal, the kind that Americans had to settle for during Prohibition. Repeal came too late to restore rye’s fortunes: bourbon had usurped the American whiskey throne, relegating the impoverished surviving ryes to the plebian front-end of Boilermakers.
Philip Marlowe, the archetypal private detective of 1940s hardboiled crime fiction, slugged rye from bottles stashed in his desk & glove box. Preferring brash rye to sweeter, mellower bourbon flagged Raymond Chandler’s protagonist as an old-school hard guy. The assertive bite Marlowe favored is distilled from a mash of at least 51% rye grain (where bourbon uses sugar-rich corn) & aged in charred-oak barrels. Respectable ryes under $40 are still produced by venerable brands like Van Winkle & Sazerac, but this roughneck is also getting the super-premium makeover: you can now drop $100 or more on 21-year-old ryes from boutique producers like The Classic Cask.
As for cocktails, rye’s emphatic character is ill-suited to the sickly-sweet concoctions that rookies order when they graduate from Goldschläger shots. Crafting a well-balanced rye cocktail demands a certain scholarly, 19th-century rigor and inventiveness. Such precise bartending chops are cultivated at only a handful of…elite establishments, [where] rye is one tool in the campaign to hoist drinkers out of the dark age of chocolate “martinis”. When you’re ready for a grown-up drink with some grizzled authenticity, try curling your lip like Bogart and ordering a rye cocktail….[You’ll] feel virtuous, vigorous, like a star in [your] own black-and-white movie. While I agree with Chandler that “It is not a fragrant world,” the right rye cocktail can certainly refresh it for a moment.
Especially if you’ve also got lembas in your pocket.
*Come to think of it, so does the protagonist of Delillo’s White Noise, who repeats it over & over in the throes of a particularly pomo meltdown, largely foreshadowed by harrowing trips to the supermarket. Thus we come full circle.
**I remember those. The levels were represented by colors, probably to spare remedial readers from the more direct/explicit embarrassment numerical ratings yield. Relatedly, I rarely cared what level the color I was at represented, so long as it was a pleasing hue—violet, turquoise, old gold…
***Matt had to go to catechism classes & shit, not that he wound up minding as he got kissed by many a Norman High School cheerleader in nursing homes during the volunteer part or whatever.
****If you do a Google image search for Oklahoma, you get: 3 movie posters; 1 picture of the bombed-out Federal Building & another of that firefighter holding that baby; 1 age-progression photo of a missing child, whom agents at the SBI are apparently convinced has had more than his or her share of gender-reassignment surgery since he or she went missing; & 1 picture of an all-out Sooners fan whose plains the wind comes sweeping down. Doin’ fine!
*****Suddenly I’m reminded of 1 of my own literary nearest & dearest, Italo Calvino, whose Mr. Palomar didn’t make me want to eat or drink this or that particular thing so much as to just generally inhabit the body & world of the ever-hyperstimulated titular character. From the section titled “Mr. Palomar Does the Shopping”:
The cheese shop appears to Mr. Palomar the way an encyclopedia looks to an autodidact: he could memorize all the names, venture a classification according to the form—bar of soap, cylinder, dome, ball—according to the consistency—dry, buttery, creamy, veined, firm—according to the alien materials involved in the crust or in the heart—raisins, pepper, walnuts, sesame seeds, herbs, molds—but this would not bring him a step closer to true knowledge, which lies in the experience of the flavors, composed of memory & imagination at once….
Behind every cheese there is a pasture of a different green under a different sky: meadows caked with salt that the tides of Normandy deposit every evening; meadows scented with aromas in the windy sunlight of Provence; there are different flocks, with their stablings & their transhumances; there are secret processes handed down over the centuries. This shop is a museum: Mr. Palomar, visiting it, feels as he does in the Louvre, behind every displayed object the presence of the civilization that has given it form & takes form from it.
ADDENDUM: Speaking of hyperconsciousness, the virtual ink on this blogpost wasn’t yet dry when MC Slim JB came up with another good one; if he sends a photo of the recipe herein at some point, I’ll post that as well:
Haruki Murakami‘s characters spend a lot of time eating & drinking, much of it pretty ordinary , everyday food—canned beers, instant noodles, spaghetti with jarred sauce, frozen prepared foods. It serves to reinforce his wonderful, quiet documentation of the quotidian rhythms of uneventful lives. Few people seem to enjoy lush banquets in his work. There’s one dish he describes, not sure where now, either in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle or maybe Hardboiled Wonderland & the End of the World, where his protagonist makes a rice omelet. I’m not sure if a rough recipe is included or not, but mine now follows a formula that I tacitly, perhaps unfairly, attribute to Murakami: a bit of leftover rice stirfried with a bit of soy sauce, some minced garlic, maybe some pepper flakes & a dusting of five-spice powder, with a couple of beaten eggs poured on top & cooked until barely set. I love this as breakfast food, & I’m certain the only time I ever otherwise seen it is in Murakami’s fiction.