Jonathan Bing is the hero of one of the first poems I ever learned. He makes three attempts to visit the king and is thwarted each time by someone who points out a lapse of protocol on his part, “. . . by the palace the soldier said, “Hi! You can’t see the king; you’ve forgotten your tie! (He’d forgotten his tie.)” Poor old Jonathan Bing.
When I set out to explain my recent cyber silence, to answer the question, where have I been? A voice in my head said: I’ve been to the palace to visit the king. Really.
Really I’ve been trying to cook my way out of chaos. To bring order to my life (and pleasure to my friends) by knowing not just where my next meal was coming from, but what it would be. I may not be able to find eternity in an hour, or the world in a grain of sand, but there is some certainty in a saucepan.
So I've been making pots of soup, soaking Romano beans over night - peeking into the pot at two in the morning to make sure they are swelling satisfactorily for pasta e fagioli. I've been stewing up a barrow’s worth of vegetables for stock in which to cook spinach dumplings. I've been slathering a butterflied leg of lamb in a puree of olive oil, garlic, lemon, rosemary and mint. If I do say so myself, the leftovers made a pie that would have brought a smile to the face of the most dour shepherd on the moor.
I wanted to call this post “Where have I bean?” but puns sully one’s reputation, and it has bean - aaagghhh, couldn’t help myself - so much more than beans. It's been multiple loaves of pain de mie, raisin bread, eggs Florentine, three different pasta casseroles, and croissant stuffed with sauteed apples and creme fraiche.
In the end, Jonathan gives up and writes a short note to the king. “If you please will excuse me, I won’t come to tea. For home’s the best place for people like me.” For people like me, it’s the kitchen.
Are there no workhouses?
Midsummer Night in the Workhouse is by Diana Athill. At 95, she was recently shortlisted for the EFG Bank Short Story Contest. This collection contains her earliest work. I particularly liked The Return, a funny and frightening story of two women’s adventure in Greece.
Toast is Nigel Slater’s account of his childhood told almost entirely through what he ate. He is the master of culinary improv - the croissant recipe mentioned above is his - and endearingly fond of good and “bad” food. Spoiler alert: you may be put off pub food after what Slater reveals behind the curtain.
The Imperfectionists is a tour de force by Tom Rachman. This collection of linked short stories had me at hello, since most of the pieces involve Rome, my eternally my favorite city.