I decided to serve dinner at the table for this month's Books & Bakes. One of the consummate scenes in Virgnia Woolf's To the Lighthouse is the dinner where all the family and boarders are gathered round the table and Marthe serves the boeuf en daube and Mrs. Ramsay thinks her thoughts and Virgina Woolf so brilliantly mines the mind, the female mind and writes them down for us in a sort of epic of the domestic.
... of grapes and pears, of the horny pink-lined shell, of the bananas, made her think of a trophy fetched from the bottom of the sea, of Neptune's banquet, of the bunch that hangs with vine leaves over the shoulder of Bacchus (in some picture), among the leopard skins and the torches lolloping red and gold...Thus brought up suddenly into the light it seemed possessed of great size and depth, was like a world in which one could take one's staff and climb hills, she thought, and go down into valleys, and to her pleasure (for it brought them into sympathy momentarily) she saw that Augustus too feasted his eyes on the same plate of fruit, plunged in, broke off a bloom there, a tassel here, and returned, after feasting to his hive. That was his way of looking, different from hers. But looking together united them.
The boeuf en daube did indeed take three days to prepare, but most of that was done in the fridge where it marinated. I used my friend Cara Nicoletti's recipe from her blog Yummybooks. *
And she must take great care, Mrs. Ramsay thought, diving into the soft mass, to choose a specially tender piece for William Bankes. And she peered into the dish, with its shiny walls and its confusion of savoury brown and yellow meats and its bay leaves and its wine, and thought. This will celebrate the occasion -- a curious sense rising in her, at once freakish and tender, of celebrating a festival, as if two emotions were called up in her, one profound -- for what could be more serious than the love of man for woman, what more commanding, more impressive, bearing in its bosom the seeds of death; at the same time, these lovers, these people entering into illusion glittering eyed, must be danced round with mockery, decorated with garlands.
"It is a triumph," said Mr. Bankes, laying his knife down for a moment.
We had the above boeuf en daube (prepared, literally, over three days), French Cheese and Crackers, Parsnip Soup, Mussels in Cider, Apple, Kohlrabi and Celery Salad with Walnut Oil Vinaigrette, Savoy Cabbage with Caraway and Cider and French Apple Cake for dessert.**
Cheers with Calvados!
Oh, and while we're looking together, here's my son Henry before the Homecoming dance. I think we can be united here -- however superficially so -- on the dash of this kid. Lest you think he's all beef, I assert that the beauty is as much on the inside as out.
* Cara is an adorable, kick-ass butcher and baker and writer and has just published a gorgeous book about food and literature called Voracious. I'll forgive her ambivalence about Virginia Woolf because -- well -- you need to go out right now and buy it (and read the acknowledgements).