Archives for category: Food

New Hope November 2013:  Near Fred's Breakfast

New Hope November 2013: Near Fred’s Breakfast. Looking across the river to Lambertville.

Babette puts her quails in the oven.

Babette, having won the lottery, prepares a magnificent dinner for her friends.

Did you ever see the movie Babette’s Feast?  If you like to cook, or ever had a meal that made the leap to transcendence where everyone at the table fell in love, at least for the nonce, you should.

And today on Slate.com, I found this article:

Cooking with Babette:  I made the richest, most expensive dish from the best food movie of all time.

J. Bryan Lowder recounts the re-creation of Babette’s signature dish, cailles en sarcophages, for friends.  More than that, he muses on the role of the cook.  An excerpt:

During this dinner I spent a great deal of time in the kitchen, prepping the next course, opening more wine, and generally taking pleasure in the fact that my guests were enjoying themselves—my food and service, as the grist for the gathering, were more important than my constant presence. In this sensibility I share something fundamental with Babette, who cooks not to impress or to show off (indeed, she never appears in the dining room), but rather to facilitate the alchemy that transforms good food into great fellowship.

This is an ethic that is all too rare. We live in a food culture dominated by the notion that cooking is a performance art, something that you wow people with from behind the island of your open-concept kitchen as if you were the host of your own Food Network show. The covers of glossy cooking magazines exhort you to “impress your friends” with this or that new technique, while “celebrity chefs” by their very existence make the argument that a cook’s personality is more important than her food. This is the contemporary self-centeredness that makes Julie’s half of Julie & Julia so unbearable—she may master French cooking, but in the end, the only guest she’s interested in feeding is her ego.

Contrast that with Babette. My favorite scene in the film comes after the last, glistening course has been served, when she finally sits for a moment in the kitchen, her skin dewy from work, quietly sipping a glass of wine. The satisfaction on her face is the kind that can only come from the knowledge that you have created something that sustains both the bodies and the spirits of the people in your care. Indeed, Babette’s story is an argument for the idea that spending money, time, and energy cooking for friends is the best gift a home cook can give, especially if they enjoy themselves so much that they practically forget who’s behind the stove.

The most memorable part of that movie for me, and I saw it back when it came out, was the guests’ utter joy at the end of the meal:  joy in the food, the wine, each other, and the world.  Out under the stars, I seem to recall, they experience some kind of 19th century, strait-laced, Lutheran Danish version of a group hug.  That is the power of good food, lovingly and generously prepared.

Still life with quails.

Still life with quails.

J. Bryan Lowder details all the steps to make the dish and its transformative effect on him and his friends, a kind of meditation in homage to the film and good cooks everywhere.

 

Today one of my students brought me this.  She baked it with her mother over the weekend as a thank you to the teachers who had written her college recommendations.  She said that it was her first foray into the world of yeast, and, to her consternation, it took a lot of time. Her mother , a former teacher herself, responded, well, think what time your teachers took to write your recommendations.

Her mother happens to have been my mentor in my very first year of teaching.  So to B:  thank you for understanding.  How much you understood!  Thank you.  And to the student:  you are one lovely young woman.  Sometimes college recommendations are so easy, they practically write themselves.  You will go far.  (don’t you wish that pastries could take the form of Mobius strips?)

 

It was even more delicious than beautiful.

It was even more delicious than beautiful.

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Katherine Good

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