Imaginary menu

One of the themes of my novel about the Radwinter family which I’m writing as part of the National Novel Writing Month challenge, is… (no surprises)… food! I nearly always mention what characters eat when they go out; some (most)  readers like it and find it interesting, others find it irrelevant… but that’s the way it is, some will like something and some won’t… However, in this book it is definitely a part of the novel and plays a part in it… food, cooking, eating, restaurants, menus and recipes are part of the story line.

In ‘Radwinter’, food says something about my characters, and one of them, Ruthie, is going into business selling her home-baked goods and giving demonstrations and talks about food preparation. Another character Rebecca wants to impress Ruthie; she s a very good cook herself but she wants to pull out all the stops to showcase her food when Ruthie comes to dinner:

In the event after all the nightmare and tension of preparation, with Rebecca in tears more than once, and me retiring to the bathroom to get to grips with myself, with a last minute trip to buy a new tablecloth and napkins with matching table mats, the evening was wonderful. Paul and Ruthie were such pleasant and easy company, genuinely complimentary to Rebecca for the wonderful meal she had prepared, that with a few glasses of the lovely wine Paul had brought we were soon completely relaxed.

Rebecca had decided to go with a traditional English menu ‘with a twist’ she said, as the cooks in Masterchef so often did. She used only seasonal vegetables and game and put together one of the best meals I had ever eaten. I was so proud of her… she wouldn’t want to but of she went on Masterchef I’m sure she would win.

Rebecca loves cookery books, we have more of them than anything in the flat, a lot of my books once I’ve read them have to go to the charity shop, there is a LEPRA shop in town which has a good book section so they’re always taken there… it’s a little annoying sometimes when books I’d like to reread vanish, but Rebecca’s right, we do only have a small flat… maybe we ought to start looking for another place… she did mention it… maybe once we’ve found somewhere with more bedrooms and a garden and a bigger kitchen…

A book Rebecca actually bought from the LEPRA shop is called ‘English With a Difference’ by Steven Wheeler, and even though it was published nearly thirty years ago it is a favourite of hers and she’s cooked lots of lovely recipes from it. I like it too, there are good illustrations and nice photographs, and the food is always interesting. ‘With a Difference’ as it says.

I thought her menu was too ambitious but she was really trying to impress, and I can understand that. She had made a lot of little nibbles to start with, toasting nuts and seeds and doing tiny cheese twists with paprika, then we had started with soup, a clear duck consommé with port; we’d had to have duck a couple of times leading up to this so she had the carcases to make the broth from. She served it in quite small Chinese dishes, because it was a large menu… I thought it was too large and too ambitious, but I didn’t like to say. Then we had a trio of little starts… she had seen these dishes in a store I town and bought them and then decided on what to put in them. They were small and oval and divided into three segments, and she had potted salmon with toasted walnuts in one a microscopic cheese and courgette soufflé in the other and an aubergine dip in the third, with a great hit of tabasco…

She presented it all beautifully, you could tell Paul and Ruthie were really impressed. For the main course (and she’d judged the amount of soup and starters perfectly, I was so proud of her) we had pigeon which she’d cooked with steak and red wine, so just the gravy was heaven, let alone the meat! He had managed to cook the pigeon quite rare too…. I know it’s fashionable but I like it that way. She served it with a red cabbage and russet apple dish, cauliflower cheese and plain roast potatoes… well, with herbs and sea-salt. Pudding had been such a dilemma for her… we’d had plenty of tears and sharp words and slammed doors over that. In the end she had made what Steven Wheeler calls Plum and almond shuttle, which is like a plum and frangipani turn-over, the plums and what is essentially marzipan, in a puff pastry case. I had to be quite firm about her making her own puff pastry… it was just too much on top of everything else. She also served a blackberry and pear mousse which was heavenly but took a lot of work.

She had actually trusted me to get the cheese, so I went to a cheese shop in Strand and got a selection of local cheeses, a blue, a soft and a year old mature hard cheese, almost orange in colour. I had forbidden her (well, told her not to) make biscuits for the cheese and bought the most expensive hand-crafted, locally made from locally milled organic flour, selection, and local butter for good measure.

It was a wonderful, wonderful, never to be forgotten meal, but I just hoped it wasn’t repeated too soon… I didn’t think I could stand the agony and anxiety.

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