Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Blackjacks and Literary Cuisine

Impersonators don't seem to be as popular as they once were. That's too bad. The talented likes of Rich Little or the late Frank Gorshin could unerringly home in on a given celebrity with such accuracy, they often sounded more authentic than the person they were impersonating. There is, however, another kind of impersonation that yields an equal value in entertainment and that is the literary pastiche.

To be sure we're on the same page, I offer one of Wikipedia's two definitions of pastiche: "In this usage, the term denotes a literary technique employing a generally light-hearted tongue-in-cheek imitation of another's style; although jocular, it is usually respectful (as opposed to parody, which is not)." This definition perfectly fits what happens with Mark Crick's most excellent offering, "Kafka's Soup" subtitled: "A Complete History of World Literature in 14 Recipes."

Yes, the book Bonnie ordered for me finally arrived today. And what a treasure it is. Crick has produced a small but rich volume that pays homage to writers from Homer to Raymond Chandler and if there is a false note struck anywhere, I cannot detect it. As an added bonus, the recipes look to be perfectly wonderful all by themselves.

Crick begins with the hilarious Chandler shtick centered on Lamb with Dill Sauce. "It was time to deal with the butter and flour so I mixed them together into a paste and added it to the stock. There wasn't a whisk, so using my blackjack I beat out any lumps until the paste was smooth." Almost makes me sorry I come equipped with three different whisks and not a blackjack in sight.

Speaking in the articulate phrasing of the Marquis de Sade, Crick manages to make fun of politically correct cuisine with its "naive trust in low-fat yogurt" and celebrates the sensuality of food with a story about an innocent maiden forced to observe a hypocritical judge as he lecherously prepares Boned Stuffed Poussins. Makes you quiver, it does.

The Harold Pinter playlet titled "Cheese on Toast" features ciabatta and eggplant and mozzarella and, I swear it, you can taste the results before you've finished reading. My tummy growls in frustration for I have none of the aforementioned ingredients on hand.

So far, my favorite is the gem in the voice of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, titled "Coq au Vin." There is a priest tormented by mosquitoes and a mulatta cook who prepares a last meal for a murderer, Fidel Agosto Santiago, and the meal is the tough carcass of the fabled fighting cock, El Jaguaracito, donated by its owner, the Syrian. It's all there -- drama, rich characterization and food so wonderful it will make you weep.

I love to read and I love to cook. It's hard to imagine a single book that combines those two pleasures more perfectly than this one does. Bonnie, thank you, again. This book will hold a place of pride and joy in my cookbook collection. Now -- I wonder if I can find a blackjack on eBay?


The Old Guy said...

Once you get the blackjack, you should be able to take a slug or two of wine while preparing these literary/culinary masterpieces.

We used to have something we called "mystery meat". Whodunit in the oven? Not sure....

Mage said...

Ah, you leave me smiling. :)

bb said...

So glad the pony express finally delivered. My apron book apparently is a back order. I might see it next month. :-)