Among my other compulsions, I have an addiction to books about entertaining. Specifically, I suck at cooking but here are my tricks for impressing everyone books. This category encompasses titles like Peg Bracken’s classic The I Hate to Cook Book, but my favorites are less defiant and more conspiratorial. I think it all started with a copy of the food stylist Kevin Crafts’s Desperate Measures: 90 Unintimidating Recipes for the Domestically Inept, which was in my house when I was growing up. It contains fabulous chapters like “Entertaining Is a Self-Inflicted Wound,” “Remedial Entertaining,” and “Patsy Cline Memorial Chili Dinner.” The pictures are, needless to say, outstanding, and I still like his ice-cream-cake recipe. My addiction was hastened by Sally Quinn’s The Party (in which she’s always passing bought food off as her own) and over the years bolstered with any title containing the words entertaining, secrets, trickery, and stylish solutions. Read More
We live in the age of the Cake Wreck. Online, no confectionary disaster, no late-night slip of the icing tube, goes undetected or unmocked. It’s all in good fun, and at the end of the day, presumably most of the desserts still taste okay. Part of the issue is that there’s so much cake perfection in the world today. At any moment, Pinterest and Instagram are teeming with examples of whimsy and skill at which most of us can only marvel. Between the ludicrous and the ideal, what’s left? Read More
On Wednesday, I mentioned to you a certain menu description. This description caused something of an existential crisis. I wept; I ranted; I pondered existence. But life is not just a vale of tears!
I might still be lying in bed, paralyzed by the enormity of everything, had I not been saved by yet another piece of food-related writing. This one came courtesy of a slightly outdated gourmet-store catalogue I picked up at the airport last week. I say “outdated” because it contained a number of Easter and Passover treats available for purchase. I always find looking at food relaxing, but when I opened it, I found that this catalogue was much more than just pretty pictures and appetizing captions. It was riveting.
The prose was bold, even dashing. Also, bizarre. Here is a description of all-butter croissants:
Boasting French connections of the cuisine nature, they immediately bring to mind afternoons on the Seine. Indeed, it is their verity that affords them this intensely delicious recall.
On a certain flowering tree, sold in the garden center: Read More
Happy birthday to Dame Ivy Compton-Burnett, who wrote dialogue so witty, lively, and fluent it makes Aaron Sorkin look like—uh—well, you get the idea—I’m sure one of them would be savvy enough to fill in the blank. “She was very, very clever,” Rebecca West said of Compton-Burnett in her 1981 Art of Fiction interview. “You’d have to be very tasteless not to see she had something unique to give her age.”
Here, in the way of proof positive, is the beginning of The Present and the Past, her 1953 novel, which starts with a lot of winsome talk about poultry, death, and cake.
“Oh, dear, oh, dear!” said Henry Clare.
His sister glanced in his direction.
“They are pecking the sick one. They are angry because it is ill.”
“Perhaps it is because they are anxious,” said Megan, looking at the hens in the hope of discerning this feeling.
“It will soon be dead,” said Henry, sitting on a log with his hands on his knees. “It must be having death-pangs now.”
Another member of the family was giving his attention to the fowls. He was earnestly thrusting cake through the wire for their entertainment. When he dropped a piece he picked it up and put it into his own mouth, as though it had been rendered unfit for poultry’s consumption. His elders appeared to view his attitude either in indifference or sympathy.
“What are death-pangs like?” said Henry, in another tone.
“I don’t know,” said his sister, keeping her eyes from the sufferer of them. “And I don’t think the hen is having them. It seems not to know anything.”
Henry was a tall, solid boy of eight, with rough, dark hair, pale, wide eyes, formless, infantine features, and something vulnerable about him that seemed inconsistent with himself. His sister, a year younger and smaller for her age, had narrower, deeper eyes, a regular, oval face, sudden, nervous movements, and something resistant in her that was again at variance with what was beneath.
Tobias at three had small, dark, busy eyes, a fluffy, colourless head, a face that changed with the weeks and evinced an uncertain charm, and a withdrawn expression consistent with his absorption in his own interests. He was still pushing crumbs through the wire when his shoulder was grasped by a hand above him.
“Wasting your cake on the hens! You know you were to eat it yourself.”
Toby continued his task as though unaware of interruption.
“Couldn’t one of you others have stopped him?”
The latter also seemed unaware of any break.
“Don’t do that,” said the nursemaid, seizing Toby’s arm so that he dropped the cake. “Didn’t you hear me speak?”
Toby still seemed not to do so. He retrieved the cake, took a bite himself and resumed his work.
“Don’t eat it now,” said Eliza. “Give it all to the hens.”
Toby followed the injunction, and she waited until the cake was gone.
“Now if I give you another piece, will you eat it?”
“Can we have another piece too?” said the other children, appearing to notice her for the first time.
She distributed the cake, and Toby turned to the wire, but when she pulled him away, stood eating contentedly.
“Soon be better now,” he said, with reference to the hen and his dealings with it.
“It didn’t get any cake,” said Henry. “The others had it all. They took it and then pecked the sick one. Oh, dear, oh, dear!”
The art of sploshing. (Contains mildly NSFW photography.)
The Friday night before last, on an otherwise abandoned block in Gowanus, I spied a young man and woman; she was carefully carrying a plastic bag that contained a boxy package. “Are you here for the sploshing?” I asked. They were. I followed them to their destination—Trestle Gallery, a nonprofit art organization affiliated with Brooklyn Art Space, on the first floor of a building that once housed factories. Was it their first time sploshing? I wanted to know. It was. And me, would I be participating, too? No. I was only there to watch.
I’d learned of artist Martha Burgess’s “Cake Sit” a few months prior, over dinner at Omen, the serene, Zen-like Japanese restaurant on Thompson Street. The novelist Monique Truong, whose Book of Salt I often cite as one of the best examples of food writing, turned to me and asked, with wide-eyed excitement, “Have you heard of cake splooshing?!”
Although I spend an inordinate amount of time writing, thinking, and talking about cake, to say nothing of eating it, this splooshing, as Truong called it, was new to me. People, she explained, sit on cakes and get off on it. Read More
- Happy Monday. Here are some cakes inspired by books!
- Nineteen Charles Bukowski drawings have come to light; most of them illustrated his column for the Los Angeles Free Press.
- A poem written by a thirteen-year-old Charlotte Brontë is expected to fetch at least £40,000 at auction.
- “If there has ever been a golden age for the unconventionally named author, it is now.” Bylines in the age of Google.
- The 2013 Tournament of Books is on.