My significant other is a cook, and over the past few years, I’ve had the luxury of watching his talent grow—and my waistline when he’s on a roll. As a writer, I find the intersection of our two careers to be interesting. A good writer can describe food so well it will make your stomach grumble. And great food, like certain books or poems, stay with us. They fill us with nostalgia for our mother’s cooking and bring memories with them. Like how spaghetti makes me think of the time my father demanded I sit at the dining table all night and finish my bowl of pasta because there were children in Africa who didn’t have that luxury—but that’s another story.
The act of cooking can be meditative. I once read somewhere that our mind’s default mode is daydreaming, which is why you can drive from point A to point B without having any recollection of how you arrived there. And when you’re cooking or baking, I imagine the same thing happens. Your mind turns off while you chop, mix, and pour, and while it’s off, your imagination wanders. And it’s during these moments that inspiration can strike.
Besides writing poetry, baking inspired Emily Dickinson. She’d often send cakes and other sweets to friends along with her letters, or lower gingerbread down to the neighborhood children through her window with the help of a basket. She did this during a time in her life when she had become a complete recluse. But while baking, she would sometimes jot down a poem on the back of a recipe. She wrote “The Things that never can come back, are several” on the back of a coconut cake recipe (the original recipe can be found here).
However, the beautiful cake below was made by Cara Nicoletti, a writer, butcher, and former pastry chef living in Brooklyn, who created the blog Yummy Books. Little, Brown will be publishing a book about her love affair with reading and cooking next year.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote Strange Pilgrims during the seventies and eighties, despite the fact that it was published in 1993. The book is a collection of twelve loosely-entwined stories which touch on the isolation and strangeness of living in a foreign land. In one of the stories, “Miss Forbes’s Summer of Happiness,” two young boys spend the summer under the care of their strict German nanny, Miss Forbes, whose punishment often involves sending the boys off without dessert. And Miss Forbes desserts, my friend, are the best the boys have ever tasted. The boys soon discover that while Miss Forbes may be a tyrant during the day, she lives a secret life at night—baking with wild abandon, flour covering every inch of her skin, and scarfing down whole cakes to herself. Oh, and also gulping down their father’s special bottle of wine.
The sight of this other Miss Forbes drives the boys to a rather drastic measure, but in my book, Miss Forbes seems like the kind of woman who knows how to let loose. Luckily, we don’t need Miss Forbes to enjoy this tasty dessert—which combines two of my favorite things, wine and chocolate.
Really, I should have started off with Sylvia Plath. Plath was one of the first writers whom I fell in love with. At the time, I was around fifteen years old. Like many fifteen-year-old girls, I was full of angst, but I could also relate to Plath unlike any of the authors I had read before. I knew that Esther Greenwood, from The Bell Jar, wasn’t Plath herself, but the semi-autobiographical nature of the book made that fact easy to ignore. Esther was so smart. She was a straight A student, had earned herself scholarships and internships, and yet, her life felt empty. There was a poetry in her words that seemed to sum up every feeling I had ever had about this unnameable hurricane that was welling up inside me. She was a perfectionist who constantly worried that domesticity—even her love of cooking—would tear her away from her writing. That it would lessen her abilities.
Her love of food is evident in her private journals—which are now not so private. But even reading The Bell Jar, when she describes the stuffed avocados that later make the girls at Ladies’ Day sick, you want to reach out and grab one: “I saw the delicate, pink-mottled claw meat poking seductively through its blanket of mayonnaise and the bland yellow year cup with its rim of alligator-green cradling the whole mess.”
But Plath’s greatest dish, according to the writer herself, was lemon meringue pie. “I make a damn good lemon meringue pie,” she writes in one of her journals. The pie comes up repeatedly in her journals: “Baked a lemon meringue pie, cooled lemon custard crust on cold bathroom windowsill, stirring in black night stars.”
Those of you who read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe will remember Edmund’s weakness for Turkish delight. Growing up, I had absolutely no idea what a Turkish delight actually was, but I knew that Edmund’s own desire for them made my tongue water. The sweets leave him enchanted. He lies to his siblings and eventually betrays them. And all the while I’m left thinking, damn, those Turkish delights must have been something.
Apparently, Turkish delights are essentially a fruit jelly candy that is rolled in a cornstarch and powdered sugar mixture. And, at least with this recipe, it can be made in a microwave.
Well, friends, I’m off to get my just desserts (see what I did there?).