I’ve picked up Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, after stumbling upon Frankenstein village last week. I believe in the seemingly random “suggestions” that life whispers in your ear. So why not play the card that life pitched my way? We’re having a bout of cold, gloomy Gothic weather anyway—so the stage is set.
The book was sitting on my own bookshelf, but where, exactly, I wasn’t sure. Three months in a new house and only my daily- and weekly-use possessions are in obvious places. The rarely used objects in my life still take a full-on three day manhunt to find.
And I was going to the library anyway. (There’s an American library close by—you know my German falls far short of Dr. Seuss at the moment, much less Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.)
So I went looking for Frankenstein, but found myself, instead, in the cookbook aisle. This will surprise no one who knows me—I’m easily distractible. But this was different, I thought—another whispering in my ear. Some days we are more ripe for some experiences than others, and this was one of those days when something solid and sensual was needed to catch my attentions. The seasons are beginning to turn in Germany: the light is swinging away from us, there’s a damp chill creeping into the air, and my body is registering this on many levels. It’s dark before 7 pm, and I’m growing sleepy far too early. Birds are migrating, and my own psyche is being tugged at by that hibernation reaction—I want to cozy in already. And my stomach is whispering its own suggestions: time for soup, time for autumn foods, and nearly time for holiday cakes and ale.
When my stomach speaks, I listen.
It began whispering a week or two ago, and I pulled a Julia Child book off my bookshelf. I’m totally lacking in the sort of culinary ambition that led to “The Julie and Julia Project,” but I told myself that I’d cook whatever I happened to open the page to. It would be a delicious adventure.
I closed my eyes and opened the book.
To the chapter entitled “Mayonnaise.”
I closed the book quickly and resolved to serve leftovers for dinner.
But yesterday my stomach was speaking again, and this time with a back up chorus: all the senses were alive and singing. “It’s autumn– we want the tastes, the outrageous spiced aromas, the feeling of being held close and warm.” There’s no denying the call. I was on a mission.
And I found my helpmate in Nigella Lawson. I already have many of her cookbooks on my own bookshelf, but I picked up the library’s copy of Nigella Bites and tucked it under my arm for the trip home.
Once my kids were home from school and had enveloped themselves in that quiet hour they often take—to nibble on snacks, to relish their private “cone of silence” after a day of overstimulation—I picked up my book and fell into a comfy chair for my own moment of communion with Nigella.
The moment didn’t disappoint.
In describing the cream she uses in a Ginger-Jam Bread and Butter Pudding, the author says, “nothing creates so well that tender-bellied swell of softly set custard.” And toward the end of her chapter entitled “Trashy,” she asserts that “Trashy is a state of mind, a game of mood: the food itself deserves, demands, to be served and eaten—unsmirkingly, unapologetically and with voluptuous and exquisite pleasure.”
THIS is a feast of the senses. And, if Nigella has built her fame on being a bit of a strumpet, the truth is that she’s dead-on right about the comforts and sensuality of food. And she’s as good a reading companion as she is a cook. (Nigella’s Christmas cookbook was my first foray into her vast library, and, although I have cooked some recipes from it with great success, I love it even more for the witty, intelligent read that it provides.)
Anyhoo, back to the senses.
We were apple picking in our landlord’s orchard last weekend and brought home wine crates full of apples, so cakes and cobblers have been flying out of our oven. It’s time now for a shift to something savory. I’ve scanned Nigella Bites, and, aside from some lovely desserts, I’ve dog-eared a recipe called “Granny Lawson’s Lunch Dish.” An inauspicious name, but the recipe was speaking to me nonetheless. Yum–spicy beef, savory smells, flaky pastry–oh, oh, wait a minute, I know! What I really want is a steak and ale pie–a really, really good one. And I have just the recipe. . .somewhere in my house. I haven’t found some of my recipe files yet. That will take a three day man hunt, of course. (Grrr.) But I have started looking for those recipes.
They haven’t turned up yet, but the good news is that Frankenstein finally jumped off my bookshelf at me. I think that must be the universe whispering to me (again) that I’m supposed to be reading Shelley’s book. So I’ll just relax, read the complicated Gothic tale now and worry about savory pies later.
Unless, of course, I get distracted again.
I really do need to go out and rake the back yard. . .