Sunday, June 10, 2007

Food For Thought

Monet's Table, The Cooking Journals of Claude Monet is a picture cum recipe book with glorious photographs of the Monet household and gardens at Giverny. Life lived large in a picture book setting most mortals came only dream about. The recipes are simple, and you just know that their deliciousness came from the purest, freshest ingredients. Take for example, Leek and Potatoe Soup. Butter, leeks, salt and potatoes. And water.

I'll wager the butter from rich and fresh from the dairy, the leeks and potatoes from the garden, and the water chlorine-free. Apparently Monet was a tyrant about harvesting veggies at the time of optimum ripeness.

The cookbook calls for lettuce in many of the soup recipes, but I do not see one single salad recipe, or even any cold dishes. Nary a one. Hmmm. The text mentions salads of "chicory laced with garlic and croutons or dandelions with strips of fat bacon or purslane.." Monet insisted upon so much pepper in his salad that two salads were prepared. Likewise, asparagus--he liked it almost raw, and the rest of the household preferred cooked. The garden must have been full of herbs. They also ate salad of lamb's lettuce. Salad was so simple one needs no recipe.

There is certainly no recipe for the decidedly weird pineapple and truffle salad that Marcel's parents served to M. de Norpois; however, Cold Beef a la Mode, which made Francois shine, and Homard a l'americaine, served Chez Swann are both to be found.

Note: one of these days I have to figure out how to key French accents, the grave, etc. kind, not the vocal ones.

Maybe Monet didn't like cold foods. I knew Germans who believed cold beverages caused stomach cancer. Did Monet harbor similar superstitions? A homemade banana ice cream was served at Christmas only. Refrigeration would have been a problem most of the year. No Zero-Kings in Swann's or Monet's kitchens.

Swann had a large garden near Combray. Is Swann the gentleman farmer the same man as Swann of the jockey club, but a different Swann that the husband of Odette and the disgraced habitue of the Verdurin's parties? Swann of the split personality. One interesting thing about great literature is that the reader can think about the various characters for a long time, pondering their foibles and personalities, whereas, if you read the latest thriller, a week later you can barely remember the plot much less the characters. Except for LeCarre and Alan Furst. And Lee Child's Jack Reacher. One recalls Reacher when the plot has long fled one's mind.

So called Literary Fiction is heavy on character, light on plot. If the characters are absorbing and well defined, one doesn't need a lot of plotting, as they can carry the book. Although I would argue that Madame Bovary, War and Peace and even Remembrance of Things Past do have plots. Secondary to the characters, but what is a plot but the story?

Yikes, I don't want to be accused of lit blogging, ex-computer programmer that I am. I only wondered if Monet's Table might shed light of Proust's Table, and to some degree it does.

For an interesting take on personality in Proust go to this link:

Odette, who was a very bad girl and had bacon, eggs, fried potatoes, french bread and one tiny tomato for breakfast.

No comments: