A foodie’s literary adventures
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For the first time, Chinese New Year is a holiday in the country. In the past, I thought it worked well for us that it was like any ordinary day here because many Chinese from other parts of Asia would come to town and celebrate since shops and restaurants here remained open.
At the Hotel InterContinental Manila, the celebration included not only special food, a teapot exhibit but also fortune reading divined from coins and tea leaves.
Actually it was the latter that interested me and an advanced session with reiki master Noel Resella, who looked like a character from the “Kung Fu” TV series of the 1970s, was arranged. Reiki is a Japanese healing technique to alleviate stress.
My fortunes will remain private, but I can tell you that whatever Resella told me to focus on this year was in the mantra I chose blindly from his collection and also in my fortune cookie given that day, not chosen by me but distributed in no particular order in sealed containers to diners.
The food was concocted by Café Jeepney Filipino chef, Roberto Ocopio, who specializes in Chinese cooking but whose creations that day were a mix of fusion and the traditional. I liked the sesame roast chicken with egg noodles treated like a salad, then the pancit and the profiterole with a peanut-butter filling. If only for those two, the Chinese Food Festival should be tried and that goes on until Feb. 6. (tel. 7937000)
Do you know Nero Wolfe? an editor of a celebrity magazine asked me. It seems the star she interviewed talked about how she enjoyed Wolfe’s books because food was always part of the stories. Apparently, the star fancied herself a foodie.
I told the editor that my husband collected and read the Wolfe mystery stories, a crime solver like Sherlock Holmes. The author, Rex Stout, wrote over 30 novels and as many short stories about Wolfe’s adventures that also included his eating and comments about food. Wolfe, as you can imagine, is supposed to weigh about 300 pounds.
Those books were weeded out of our home library and donated years ago. The Nero Wolfe series are disposable books; once the mystery is solved and the dishes imagined, it’s time to move on.
In my own library (each family member has one), there are “gourmet detective” books, with titles such as “Spiced to Death,” given by friends. But there are other recipe books I like to call “curiosities” because they tempt one to look them over rather than use them for cooking.
“A Brontë Kitchen” by Victoria Wright is probably what one can buy at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Yorkshire, England, but I found it in a used book shop. The Parsonage is where the famous literary sisters—Charlotte, Emily and Anne—lived and wrote their novels, using the moors around their home as their bleak setting. It is in the kitchen where they gathered to write and help out their cook as she prepared their meals.
The recipes, however, were gathered from old cookery books of the time. Of course I had to look for Yorkshire pudding and there it was. The procedure asked the cook to “beat the batter with a wooden spoon until your arm aches” and revealed the secret to a good pudding—“a dash of cold water… will turn to steam and make the pudding rise.” (The Bluecoat Press, 1996)
In every foreign place I visit, I have to buy a food or recipe book. In New Zealand, curiously, I bought a drinking book. “Hemingway and Bailey’s Bartending Guide,” which features 43 American writers each with a drinking quote, a drink-related excerpt from one of their works, a drunken anecdote and a cocktail recipe. The authors are artist Edward Hemingway and writer Mark Bailey, their names coincidentally linked to drink as well with one of them a grandson of Ernest Hemingway whose quote in the book is, “A man does not exist until he is drunk.”
Hemingway’s cocktail is mojito said to have been invented at La Bodeguito del Medio in Havana, Cuba, where the author drank the mix. The blurbs at the back has Norman Mailer’s lament: “I like everything about this book, except that I’m not in it.” (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2006)
Then there is “Girl Food,” a cookbook of the cartoon character “Cathy” created by Cathy Guisewit. The character is supposed to be the modern woman, described by Guisewit as “a dynamic businessperson, financial wizard, nurturing homemaker, enlightened and involved parent, environmental activist, physical fitness expert, low-fat chef, champion of human rights, alluring and responsible partner, community activist and a size five, all at once.”
The book has Guisewite’s illustrations and recipes of Barbara Albright. There are hilarious titles for the recipes. For a low-calorie chocolate sauce, it’s “Just because I’m healthy doesn’t mean I have to suffer.”
For Slim Fries that isn’t deep-fried but baked, Cathy calls it, “Nothing encourages revenge like a high-school reunion.” (Andrews McNeal Publishing, Kansas, 1997)
There are still more such “curiosities” that haven’t been explored such as “Kafka’s Soup: A Complete History of World Literature in 14 Recipes” and “The Casablanca Cookbook,” the latter referring to the movie with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Those will ensure more pleasant, light reading fun in the new years to come.
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