Sunday, 19 January 2014

Thoughts on My Second Favourite Thing...

... Which is food.

Happy New Year, one and all! I trust that your Christmasses (if you can remember that far back) were wonderful and full of your favourite things. Mine certainly was; I can confidently state that I ate far more than is strictly healthy, drank too much and have only just stopped waking up from residual cheesemares (i.e. nightmares brought on by cheese. Yes, I ate that much). In penance for my over-indulging, I somewhat foolishly suggested that Boyfriend and I gave up meat for the entirety of January. This was a pretty big deal, as people who know me personally would understand; I strut about smugly on the odd occasion I manage a meat-free day, and I've been known to panic that I have the diet of Henry VIII and so will get gout. So why I got this idea to go meat-free in January, when everyone else is doing far better, tougher things like going vegan or giving up booze is anyone's guess (though there was wine involved... ahem). But! I'm over halfway in and actually, it's not too bad, although I do miss meat, and certainly could not give it up permanently.

This self-denial of one of my favourite things has lead me to think about some of my favourite food-related passages that I've read over the years, and for your perusal and delight, I present these to you now. Starting with...

 1. The Chocolate Room from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl
'"There!" cried Mr Wonka, dancing up and down and pointing his gold-topped cane at the great brown river. "It's all chocolate! Every drop of that river is hot melted chocolate of the finest quality... The waterfall is most important!" Mr Wonka went on. "It mixes the chocolate! It churns it up! It pounds it and beats it! It makes it light and frothy! No other factory in the world mixes its chocolate by waterfall! But it's the only way to do it properly! The only way! And do you like my trees?" he cried, pointing with his stick. "And my lovely bushes? Don't you think they're pretty? I told you I hated ugliness!And of course they are all eatable! All made of something different and delicious! And do you like my meadows? Do you like my grass and buttercups? The grass you are standing on, my dear little ones, is made of a new kind of soft, minty sugar that I've just invented!"'

There are so many wonderful things about this scene; Wonka's enthusiasm for his marvellous creation, the idea that you can eat everything in the room and, of course, the infamous chocolate waterfall. As a child this room filled me with incredulous wonder, but as an adult, it just makes me long for chocolate. Who wasn't a little bit jealous of Augustus Gloop getting to take a dip in the chocolate river (until he went up the pipe, of course)? Who doesn't wistfully imagine that moment where everyone ate the grass and tasted a sweet instead? The whole thing is just glorious.

2. Pete's meal in the Convent from McCarthy's Bar by Pete McCarthy
'After a light supper of langoustines with whiskey mayonnaise, chervil and carrot soup, well-hung fillet of rare local beef marinated in Thai spices, and rhubarb creme brulee, all washed down with a galumphing chocolately Aussie red, I sleep the luxuriantly deep, guilt-free sleep that comes only to those who've had too much to eat and drink, and just don't care.'

There's a large number of meals that Pete describes in McCarthy's Bar as he traverses his way around Ireland, but there's something about this one that always makes me hungry, regardless of the time of day. It's not even usually the type of thing I'd order - I don't like rhubarb, and I'm not actually sure what langoustines are - but even now, my stomach is rumbling. I suppose it's the air of sheer enjoyment that Pete experiences with his dinner, as summed up in his excellently-described post-meal sleep; it's like he's achieved Foodie's Nirvana. It also impresses me that 'The Covent', as it is so-called, is actually a codename for a B&B, as it's so good Pete doesn't want anyone else to find out about it: for, as Pete's Third Rule of Travel says, 'Never Bang On About How Wonderful Some Unspoiled Place Is, Because Next Time You Go There, You Won't Be Able To Get In.'

3. Harry's First Feast at Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J. K. Rowling
'Harry's mouth fell open. The dishes in front of him were now piled with food. He had never seen so many things he liked to eat on one table: roast beef, roast chicken, pork chops and lamb chops, sausages, bacon and steak, boiled potatoes, roast potatoes, chips, Yorkshire pudding, peas, carrots, gravy, ketchup and, for some strange reason, mint humbugs... When everyone had eaten as much as they could, the remains of the food cleared from the plates, leaving them sparkling clean as before. A moment later the puddings appeared. Blocks of ice-cream in every flavour you could think of, apple pies, treacle tarts, chocolate eclairs and jam doughnuts, trifle, strawberries, jelly, rice pudding...'

I never cease to be massively jealous of Harry Potter. I mean, sure, his entire adolescence is spent in the shadow of the threat of Voldemort, and he's famous for something he doesn't understand, but who cares? Because he gets to go to Hogwarts and have feasts like the one above. Even their normal meals are pretty impressive sounding, but can you imagine sitting down to dinner and having every single thing you've ever found tasty appear before your eyes? It's the like the buffet of your dreams. And of course, it's got nothing to do with the fact that I'm protein-deprived, and there's an entire list of various meat dishes for me to salivate over...

4. Jim Rennie's Dinner With Christ from Under The Dome by Stephen King
'"Well, he's eating dinner with Christ the Lord tonight," Big Jim said. "Roast beef, mashed with gravy, apple crisp for dessert."'

Big Jim Rennie is one of the most despicable character creations ever. He's so evil he's basically a pantomime villain, and is the main antagonist in this novel about a town that is suddenly sealed off from the rest of the world in by an impenetrable, invisible barrier. One of his most disgusting characteristics is that he believes that every wicked thing he does is sanctioned by God, and one of his favourite phrases is a variation of the one above - always in regard to a recently departed character. Yet despite how horrible he is, every time I read this phrase - or something similar - I found myself yearning for a big old pile of roast beef, with mashed potatoes and gravy. It's such a simple meal, yet unbelievably tasty-sounding, so that even when I was in the grips of fury at this man, I still found myself thinking, 'Mmmm, roast beef....'

5. Ratty and Mole's Picnic from The Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Grahame
'"Hold hard a minute, then!" said the Rat... and after a short interval  reappeared staggering under a fat, wicker luncheon basket. "Shove that under your feet," he observed to the Mole, as he passed it down into the boat. Then he untied the painter and took the sculls again. "What's inside it?" asked the Mole, wriggling with curiosity. "There's cold chicken inside it," replied the Rat briefly; 
"O stop, stop," cried the Mole in ecstasies: "This is too much!"

Again, there's so much to love about this scene that it's hard to put a finger on it: is it the wicker luncheon basket? The list of delights contained within that basket? Mole's rapturous response to such a feast? Who knows? The point is, pretty much every picnic I've ever been on has been a mere shade of the one Ratty and Moley have; never has anything sounded as indulgent, as delicious or as wonderful as this meal, and I yearn for the day when I can have a mess about on the river, before sitting down to a lunch such as this.

Well, that concludes the food-envy for today, and just in time for lunch too; if you've encountered any literary meals as sumptuous as these, let me know; I'm always on the lookout for more things to make my mouth water.


  1. I've always loved this from The Secret History:

    "There was roasted lamb, new potatoes, peas with leeks and fennel; a rich and almost maddeningly delicious bottle of Chateau Latour. I was eating with better appetite than I had had in ages when I noticed that a fourth course had appeared, with unobtrusive magic, at my elbow: mushrooms. They were pale and slender-stemmed, of a type I had seen before, steaming in a red wine sauce that smelled of coriander and rue."

    Don't know why, particularly.

  2. I just finished Reading The Secret History and I actually remember being annoyed I'd already written this, because that passage definitely would've made it in! Not least because I love roast lamb, and the menacing appearance of the mushrooms.