Wednesday, 27 August 2014

"This may taste awful..."

Unable to find spinach at the market, I'd bought chicory instead; it, too, was horrid. We ate the lunch with painful politeness and avoided discussing its taste. I made sure not to apologize for it. This was a rule of mine. I don't believe in twisting yourself into knots of excuses and explanations over the food you make. When one's hostess starts in with self-deprecations such as "Oh, I don't know how to cook...," or "Poor little me...," or "This may taste awful...," it is so dreadful to have to reassure her that everything is delicious and fine, whether it is or not. Besides, such admissions only draw attention to one's shortcomings (or self-perceived shortcomings), and make the other person think, "Yes, you're right, this really is an awful meal!" Maybe the cat has fallen into the stew, or the lettuce has frozen, or the cake has collapsed—eh bien, tant pis! Usually one's cooking is better than one thinks it is. And if the food is truly vile, as my ersatz eggs Florentine surely were, then the cook must simply grit her teeth and bear it with a smile — and learn from her mistakes.
Julia Child
My Life in France (2006)

More delicious quotations here.

Monday, 18 August 2014

a neat little dinner

He heaved a deep sigh, which made the Cumberland corset creak alarmingly; but almost immediately grew more cheerful, as he disclosed to Kit that his object in coming to Hill Street was to beg him to bring his mama to a little dinner-party which he was planning to hold at the Clarendon Hotel, before he retired to Brighton for the summer months. ‘They have a way of cooking semelles of carp which is better than anything my Alphonse can do,’ he said impressively. ‘You cut your carp into large collops, you know, and in a stew-pan you put butter, chopped shallots, thyme, parsley, mushrooms, and pepper and salt, of course – anyone knows that! But at the Clarendon something else is added, and devilish good it is, though I haven’t yet discovered what it may be. It is not sorrel, for I desired Alphonse to try that, and it was not the same thing at all. I wonder if it might be just a touch of chervil, and perhaps one or two tarragon-leaves?’ He slewed round to smile fondly upon Lady Denville. ‘You will know, I daresay, my pretty! I thought I would have it removed with a fillet of veal. We must have quails: that goes without saying – and ducklings; and nothing beside except a few larded sweetbreads, and a raised pie. And for the second course just a green goose, with cauliflowers and French beans and peas, for I know you don’t care for large dinners. So I shall add only a dressed lobster, and some asparagus, and a few jellies and creams, and a basket of pastries for you to nibble at. That,’ he said, beaming upon his prospective guests, ‘is my notion of a neat little dinner.’
Georgette Heyer
False Colours (1963, set in 1817)

Saturday, 9 August 2014

golden brown with a few little burned parts

I would like to ask her what a person who is seven months pregnant is supposed to do when her husband turns out to be in love with someone else, but the truth is she probably wouldn't have been much help. Even in the old days, my mother was a washout at hard-core mothering; what she was good at were clever remarks that made you feel immensely sophisticated and adult and, if you thought about it at all, foolish for having wanted anything so mundane as some actual nurturing. Had I been able to talk to her at this moment of crisis, she would probably have said something fabulously brittle like 'Take notes.' Then she would have gone into the kitchen and toasted almonds. You melt some butter in a frying pan, add whole blanched almonds, and sauté until they’re golden brown with a few little burned parts. Drain lightly and salt and eat with a nice stiff drink. 'Men are little boys,' she would have said as she lifted her glass. 'Don’t stir or you’ll bruise the ice cubes.'

Nora Ephron
Heartburn (1983)

I wrote about this delicious book here.