Garden Diary

Friday, January 20, 2006

Happy Ending

At the end of The Wonder Worker Alice has overcome her food addiction; finding confidence in her abilities and respect and love within her social circle has made the need for anesthetizing herself far less urgent. The healing she wondered about in the quote below had, of course, only begun; by the end of the novel, it was greatly progressed. Healing, such as she experienced in Howatch's story never finishes of course--it is a lifelong process in which God makes right what has gone wrong, where the mountains are leveled and the valleys filled in. The seemingly bottomless valley of self-hatred and despair for the future which Alice tried to fill with food and its comforts has been made a straight way by a healing.

And of course, it happened without directly attacking her eating habits, which were only a minor part of her problem, and were more in the line of symptoms than causes. This is not unusual; the way to solve a problem often lies in addressing a deeper problem that may not be obvious at all.

But what of the food that is, in a novel with a Cordon Bleu cook as a central character, a main feature? All that talk of roasts, puddings, has me wondering where to find the recipes for these dishes. When I find them, I'll report back.

I read a different series of books, by Patrick O'Brian, last year, and food was a staple in that narrative as well. If you haven't read these books (20 finished and 1 left unfinished at the author's death) do so...they are marvellous. Someday I'm planning on going back through to make a note of all the times Maturin (a Catholic amidst a mostly Anglican crowd) turns into a church or monastery to listen to and rhapsodize on Gregorian chant. The movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is also great. The burial at sea scene, with the crew reciting (in toto) the Our Father is a moving moment.

Fortunately, for those interested in things culinary, a pair of authors decided to track down the recipes for all of the dishes mentioned in the Aubrey/Maturin books like Master and Commander and The Far Side of the World (despite the movie title, these are two different volumes, 1 and 10 respectively) and have published them in the book Lobscouse and Spotted Dog. This past weekend I decided to make the eponymous Spotted Dog, which is a boiled pudding. The resulting pudding (which is nothing like what we Americans call a pudding) is something like a sweet raisin bread. It has something in common with Irish Soda Bread (which was originally cooked in a pot over a fire, but without the boiling). We enjoyed it at home with creme anglaise, and I brought some in for my coworkers who also enjoyed it. Here's the recipe:

4 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup currants
1/2 pound beef suet
2 eggs (slightly beaten)
1 cup milk

Mix the dry ingredients together, making sure to separate the currants. Grate the suet (cleaned of any connective tissue or meat) and mix with the other dry ingredients. Add the eggs and milk, and stir together, finishing with a light kneading on a floured surface. Put in a greased pudding mold (I used a stainless steel mixing bowl) and cover with a floured cloth (a bar towel would work, although I used cheesecloth) tied tightly with a string. Put in a pot of boiling water (with a plate at the bottom so the mold or bowl doesn't come directly into contact with the heat), cover loosely and cook for about 2 hours. Turn out on a plate and serve slices with creme anglaise, sweetened condensed milk, dulce de leche or hard sauce.

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