I am currently cooking in a cramped, ill-equipped kitchen with a fridge that rumbles like a Panzer division. I was trying to think of something I could make Marion for dinner that wouldn’t leave me exhausted and frustrated.
Then I remembered a dream I had many years ago. My friend Carolyn and I had been discussing dreams — in the Jungian sense, not the stars in our eyes sense. Virginia Woolf appeared to me wearing one of her magnificent brocade robes and said, “bear but a touch of my hand and you will be upheld in more than this.” If you recognize this is what the Ghost of Christmas Past says to Scrooge, Mr. Freud will give you a cigar.
Quick, To the Lighthouse! The answer to the dinner question was obvious: a daube. The kitchen was not a room Virginia made her own. In fact, she didn’t spend a lot of time eating, poor thing. Leonard would spend hours trying to spoon consomme into her while reassuring her that what she’d written that day was the best thing she had ever done.
Despite her obvious tragic aspect, it’s hard not to smile at “The beef, bay leaf and wine — all must be done to a turn.” She makes those of us who’ve cooked and eaten this dish (but not the bay leaf) squirm a little more on her behalf by adding that it will be ruined if it has to be kept warm.
This is sloooow cooking. For 12-24 hours, marinate four pounds of stew beef in 750 mls of red wine with a chopped onion or two, carrots and celery with a bouquet garni of herbes de provence, orange peel, a couple of crushed cloves of garlic, whole cloves, peppercorns and of course, a great big bay leaf. Normally you would tie these up in a piece of cheese cloth. I didn’t have any, so I used a tea bell. Stir occasionally.
Remove the beef, reserving the wine mixture. Pat the beef dry and brown it in olive oil in batches until you’ve done it all. Mix a tablespoon of tomato paste into a half cup of stock and use this to deglaze the pan you browned the beef in. Bring the wine mixture to a boil, then simmer for five minutes. Put the beef, wine and stock mixture, and a handful of niçoise olives in a Dutch oven, cover and cook in a 300 degree oven for at least two hours. Stir in a couple of tablespoons of orange juice. Cook for another half hour.
I served my daube with polenta, but mashed potatoes or, if you are feeling truly decadent, a gratin would be wonderful. Yes, Virginia the leftovers are great.
Neglected Master of a Neglected Art
It would do my heart good to think I helped someone enjoy poetry, so I must tell you about Samuel Menashe’s New and Selected Poems. They are vivid and accessible, they crystalize observations with poignant clarity: weeping windows, impudent sparrows darting among the pigeons. Though one of the best in the collection is about life as felt, rather than seen:
There is never an end to loss, or hope
I give up the ghost for which I grope
Over and over again saying Amen
To all that does or does not happen —
The eternal event is now, not when