Eat, Drink, and Be Well-Read: Food Pairings for Literature
I’ve always believed that the best way to get to know someone is to know their favorite books and their last meal. By “last meal”, I mean that slightly dark question of, “If this were your last night on earth, what you want the last thing you ate to be?” I think there is something so telling about the answers to these two questions. As C.S. Lewis said, “Eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably”, and I concur.
Without further ado, three combinations to whet your appetite.
I was initially intimidated by the sheer size of this book (700 pages in my edition), but I was surprised to find how easy of a read it was. I was immediately captured by the three brothers, each with strong passions towards the world, each other, and their father. Dmitri, Ivan, and Alyosha: one stubborn and proud; another aloof and philosophical; the third soft, compassionate, and loving. When an important person in the village dies, the town is tied up with figuring out who did it, and along the way we discover what it means to truly know yourself, your family, and your own shortcomings. Families are confusing and hurtful, but solace and beauty can also be found there. Dealing with matters of mental illness, familial pain, faith, pride, and existential questioning, and coupled with gorgeous, quotable prose, there is truly something here for everyone. It is one of the very few books I feel compelled to re-read every year.
Now, it would be easy to suggest typical Russian foods to go with this, but I think this book calls for something comforting. In my ideal mind, I would make a fish casserole. Think shepherd’s pie, but filled with flaky, yet firm white fish poached in milk, small shrimp, a bath of dill-infused cream, topped with rich mashed potatoes and cheese. You may be skeptical, as I was, but I promise it will surprise you. It’s warm, creamy, light, yet filling, and goes perfect with an amber ale. But if you’d rather go the vodka route, no one will blame you.
Ms. Kingsolver is perhaps better know for her fiction, but I was immediately captured by her personal account of moving to a family plot of land in rural Appalachia and living almost exclusively off of what they were able to grow—for an entire year. The premise sounds insane to some of us, and I was curious to see how it would turn out. Kingsolver weaves personal farming diary with recipes and facts about agriculture and the current food climate into a compelling narrative that really inspires and awakens the reader to see what type of work really goes into the food we grab so quickly from our supermarkets. I felt convicted to make smarter choices about the types of food I buy, and inspired to do more research about where it comes from. This book was truly the first time that this black thumb felt the importance of gardening—and made me want to try it for myself!
To accompany your foray into the world of sustainable gardening, fresh vegetables are a must. As readers will know, the month of July was stuffed to the brim with zucchini for Ms. Kingsolver. What better way to celebrate that than a delicious loaf of zucchini bread? If you can find grass-fed butter from a farmer’s market, use that to smear on top (but of course, French salted butter works just fine). As spring is finally emerging, I envision all the uses for peas and their shoots (on toast, as a side with pork chops, in a grain bowl), and asparagus. My favorite method for cooking asparagus is also the easiest: just throw the stalks (bottoms trimmed) into a small roasting pan with a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper, and dotted with big chunks of butter. Throw it in a 350° oven for 10-12 min until perfectly roasted. Pour the melted and browned butter that remains over the top. You will never be more thankful for a stinky vegetable.
If I had to pick one author to read for the rest of my life, I just might choose Bill Bryson. I have very fond memories of reading this book of travel essays while on a road trip of my own and laughing so hard that I woke up my future mother-in-law. Bryson, having returned to America after living in the UK for twenty years, finds that much of American culture has changed while he’s away, and his witty observations on the quirks we take for granted will give the supine ab workout you were looking for. Truly, one cannot go wrong with any Bill Bryson book, but this in particular sits firmly in my memory as one of his best, and any traveler who has experienced culture shock, or any reader with a sense of humor, will truly enjoy themselves.
To complement your jaunt through American’s oddities, I can do no better than recommend the truest of American foods, the thing that makes you sit back after a bite and sigh in happiness: a cheeseburger. And not just any cheeseburger. No, this one, like the book, will surprise you. You think you know what you are getting with a Jucy Lucy, but when you bite into it, the spurt of melted cheese from within which will most likely burn and delight you simultaneously, will make you thank God for the ingenuity of Americans. It’s familiar, yet surprising, and you will fall madly in love. Pair it with a cold, domestic beer, and rejoice.
Do you have any food recs to pair with your favorite jaunts through literature? Let us know in the comments below!