Sunday, October 18, 2015

Looking Together United Them

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).
* I got many of the recipes from the delightful Seattle cookbook: A Boat,  a Whale & a Walrus. The French Apple Cake, especially, was amazing.


  1. Replies
    1. Well, thank you. But I don't know about that.

  2. I'm salivating. Bouef sounds wonderful right now, actually served up any way, but en daube - especially warming and cozy.
    I commend you on three days preparation even if part of it was resting in the fridge. And so kind of you to actually show inside the pot. I love pictures inside the pot.
    Henry? They must be swooning!

    PS: does it make me an inferior person when I reveal that I have never been able to fully embrace Virginia? Perhaps I've never been able to be completely present with her words. Perhaps slowly absorbing them opens them more. I'll try her again...slowly

    1. Silly liv. Not enjoying Virginia Woolf has nothing to do with what type person you are -- in fact, there were a couple of beautiful people at the dinner that didn't really get into the book. And Cara Nicoletti, in her blog post about the beef en daube and To the Lighthouse admits her own ambivalence. VW is not for everyone.

  3. You outdid yourself, Elizabeth. This was truly a wonderful meal. I am still thinking about the soup and the cabbage. Everyone needs to experience your cooking. Thank you for sharing your culinary talents and decorating flair with us. And Sophie. She is even more beautiful in person. Oliver too. He is so polite!

  4. Love the table setting, very beautiful. The beef sounds good but not a fan of VW. I tried but couldn't do it.

  5. Oh my. This is extraordinary. I'm so sorry I missed it! What fantastic literary decadence and I mean that in the most inspired way!

  6. And your Henry only grows more handsome. I bet the girls at homecoming swooned!

  7. Sounds like a fabulous menu, and everything looks so carefully assembled and presented. Bravo. Even though I am also ambivalent about Virginia Woolf, I would have loved to attend. And yes, dashing Henry!

  8. I am startled by the grown up visage of Henry. Hunky, GQ material!

    I must read that book again. I read it in college (in a course on VW) and it made me dizzy (in a good way). I tried reading it years later, and I couldn't get past the first few pages. Must. Try. Again. The excerpts above are tantalizing.

    Your table looks lovely -- the food sublime. What are you? Superwoman? I think you are.

  9. Stunning. The food, the writing (yours and VW's), the connections, the cake (swoon!!) and Henry. Thank you for sharing them all. One day, you and I shall get together and have splendid food and write. Soon.

  10. Very nice. And definitely dashing! With a side of Batman-to-be.

  11. Everything about the evening was delicious!

  12. I wish I could have joined you for every part of it - the reading, the looking, the tasting, the discussion - and the savoring, after. Stunningly lovely!

  13. What a great post. Loved the title, clipped from the passage of the book. So perfect. Wish so hard that I lived in LA so I could come and dine and chat with you. Henry is incredibly dashing and best of all, his light of goodness just radiates out. You did good, Mama. You did good. :)



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