Monday, September 19, 2011

Of Mothers and Invention

I am not a professional chef. I am an ambitious amateur, whose reach oft exceeds her grasp. At a loss for what to make for dinner, I thought about things I’ve enjoyed recently. I thought about what was in the fridge. Laughably, I thought about what might be quick. The result was an improvisation I’m calling Prosciutto Two Ways.
The chef at Vertical Restaurant makes prosciutto and melon a feast for the eyes. The melon is cut in ribbons and interleaved with the prosciutto to form a rose garnished with fresh mint. Not for one moment did I think I was capable of fabricating faux flora out of cantaloupe, but I had an idea: weave the ingredients as you would the lattice on top of a cherry pie. “It would have worked if it hadn’t been for the--” as the designer of the Titanic said. 
A peeler produced slices that were too thin. With a knife the slices were too thick. I didn't have a mandolin. Where are those K-tel slicer-dicer guys when you need them? The result was disappointing visually, but it tasted fine. I have learned since that the chef uses a salami slicer.
Next I shredded prosciutto and sauteed it in olive oil with garlic, removed the prosciutto and reserved the flavored oil. I parboiled broccoli florets, drained them and tossed them with the reserved oil, then on to a cookie sheet where I topped them with slices of bocconcini and put them under the grill. I then cooked pasta and tossed it in a red sauce, which I topped with the grilled broccoli and cheese, then garnished it all with the frizzled prosciutto. Wheeew. I think I was trying too hard, as the contortionist said to the fireman. But I’d do it all again. No, I wouldn’t. I’d use asparagus . . .
Minnie’s Room
Persephone is Demeter’s daughter and the unwilling wife of Hades, who by allowing her to return to her mother once a year provides us with spring; and whose return to her husband is signaled by autumn. Thus Persephone Books restores neglected works, mostly by women of the last century to their place in the sun. As objects each one is a work of art with end papers inspired by period wallpapers with matching bookmarks.
Number 34 in the Persephone catalogue is Minnie’s Room a collection of the post-war stories of Mollie Panter-Downes. Each one delivers insight - not with a bang or a whimper. Pain is endured with gentle humour. In The Exiles, Colonel and Mrs Stanbury are relocating to South Africa where their money will go farther. Mrs Stanbury thinks of her husband, “Maybe he was too old to adapt himself to the changes - or they were too old, as she loyally, not entirely truthfully, put it for she was a gentle soul.”
In these stories we are shown the world in a grain of sand. In the title story a room is a castle. In What are the Wild Waves Saying? a girl discovers an adult  truth in a glance. In I’ll Blow Your House Down a widow finds solace in an ugly dog whose less appealing owners buy her marital home. Panter-Downes' characters live ordinary lives, endure, persevere, compromise, and affirm love with the touch of the hand on the way to the unknown.