When I was working on the Montreal Gazette piece about my dinner with Belgian chef Clement Petitjean, I struggled to find ways to carefully articulate the particular joys of dining alone.
Two months later, I found the perfect passage, seemingly yanked from my brain, from Lorrie Moore’s latest, A Gate at the Stairs. I’ve been a big fan since I breathlessly read Like Life in high school, admiring especially the way she likes to linger over language and words. So it was no surprise to discover that she can write about the particularities of food and the ritual of eating with incredible skill, clarity, and humor:
I had never eaten such intricately prepared food before, and doing so in this kind of mournful, prayerful solitude, in a public place, where by this time no one but I was seated without a companion, made each bite sing and roar in my mouth. Still, it was an odd experience for me to have the palate so cared for and the spirit so untouched. It was a condition of prayerless worship. Endless communion. Gospel-less church.
As if a compote were a chauffeur, every dish seemed richly to have one. I ordered the homemade asparagus ravioli—ravioluses!—with thyme and asparagus and chopped herbs, a vegetable tag-teaming itself. Gradually, I felt I had started to ascend into some kind of low-level paradise. It was astonishing to eat food that tasted like this. Was there ever a time on the planet before now when people had eaten this well? Surely people were eating in a way that evolution had no preparation or reason for. It was a miracle, gratuitous, dizzying and lovely. A “celeriac puree” could no doubt mend all cracks, remove all stains, but what was a “torchon”? A “ganache”? A “soffrito”? A “rillette”? Even the tenderly braised escarole offered up a phrase in a seemingly new tongue, familiar words reshaped in the high-scoring points and busy luck of Scrabble or Dutch.
Perfect. I wanted to transcribe the entire four-page passage that documents this remarkable meal — the entire book, and this passage particularly, is really special.
[All images by Alexi Hobbs]
I really love these images my friend Alexi Hobbs took in and around the Mile End, for a TIME magazine story about Montreal’s bustling literary scene. He really captured the relaxed spirit of the neighborhood, especially in the summer, when everyone likes to hang outside all day long.
About to go on a road trip to Kamouraska with Adam! I always love packing lots of books to read (I just started this one by Mario Vargas Llosa) — does anyone have any recommendations for rad vacation-worthy tomes??
Posted in books
Tagged books, breakfast
Is anyone else obsessed with the used book dealers on Amazon? With the exception of Patricia Curtan’s “Menus for Chez Panisse” and Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Plenty” (both 2011 releases), I managed to score every single one of these books for $2.99 or less, and all arrived in impeccable condition.
Most people assume I have a huge collection of cookbooks, but the reality is that I stick to a few eternal favorites and cook almost exclusively from those. I’m excited to expand my repertoire (the only Chez Panisse book I had owned up until this point was Lindsey Shere’s Chez Panisse Desserts!), and I’m especially stoked to learn more about Marcella Hazan’s old-school nonna-style of cooking.
Also, there’s been a lot of hype surrounding the Ottolenghi “Plenty” volume, and while it is a beautiful, inspiring book, I don’t have much need for completely vegetarian volumes. I would recommend any of the Moro cookbooks instead, in a heartbeat. Similar aesthetic, but better and more sophisticated flavors. Just my 0.02, don’t hate me, vegetarians!
Adam’s book was released in China earlier this week! Isn’t the cover amazing? I’m kind of obsessed with it. I want my parents to hunt down a copy in Hong Kong!
I wish I had remembered to post this a full day earlier, but I’ve had a long week—
Benoît Chaput, founder of L’Oie de Cravan Press and bilingual cultural journal Le Bathyscaphe, hosted a wonderful triple-book release and concert last night at the Sala Rossa. I wrote a teeny thing about it for the Montreal Mirror, excerpted here:
Manhattan-born critic Byron Coley began documenting the music underground in the 1970s, as strains of rock, punk, noise and free jazz thrashed and congealed into something startlingly electric. C’est la guerre: Early Writing 1978-1983 traces the contours of his earliest writing, with thrilling, wry essays on musicians like David Bowie, Lydia Lunch, and the Minutemen.
Friday also launches The Words to the Songs of Michael Hurley, a bilingual book of lyrics by American folk legend Michael Hurley. His sweet melodies and eccentric visual imagery make Hurley—perpetually underrated for four decades—one of America’s finest songwriters, yet The Words to the Songs marks the first time his lyrics have been published in book form.
I’ve been an admirer of Coley’s acerbic, Beatnik-flecked music journalism for quite some time (that’s him in the photo above), and his columns for Arthur and The Wire add a much needed levity and wittiness to both pubs. And, of course, my love for the Snock knows no bounds, though admittedly I was surprised at how indie rock-ified most of the music was last night. Was hoping for more of an old-soul vibe, but c’est la vie!
Buy these books from L’Oie de Cravan now!
Adam recently gave me a beautiful first edition of one of my favorite books from high school, John Updike’s Witches of Eastwick. As I happily reread it, I’m noticing for the first time how heavily food plays into the story. All of the witches have their own strange eating and cooking habits; one afternoon, one of the witches makes some pasta sauce:
It was, she dimly perceived, some kind of ridiculous tribute to her present lover, a plumber of Italian ancestry. Her recipe called for no onions, two cloves of garlic minced and sauteed for three minutes (no more, no less; that was the magic) in heated oil, plenty of sugar to counteract acidity, a single grated carrot, more pepper than salt; but the teaspoon of crumbled basil is what catered to virility, and the dash of belladonna provided the release without which virility is merely a murderous congestion. All this must be added to her own tomatoes, picked and stored on every window sill these weeks past and now sliced and fed to the blender.
So lyrical and simple — it reads like a recipe that I want to follow. Now that is a spaghetti sauce I would happily eat every day.
My boyfriend recently surprised me with a copy of Elizabeth Schneider’s indispensable tome Uncommon Fruits and Vegetables. We have a bit of history with this book, though we never actually owned a copy. I first saw it at Chino Farms, where the ladies who worked there provided me with a battered copy to browse while I wondered what to do with the cardoon I was holding in my hand. (Schneider recommends a bit of an oven braise with some white wine and a dusting of grated Parmesan, and it is a delicious, light dish).
It’s just as wonderful as I remember it, full of gorgeous writing, delicate drawings and lovely recipes.