I’ve never made a recipe from a novel before. Making a recipe featured in a novel has always seemed a little counter-intuitive. Like shopping at a gas station for produce. You go there more for the free bathroom than the fresh organic vegetables. I go to books to escape, not to become the next top chef. But in the interest of adventure I decided to attempt a recipe from a book and see how it turned out. My first experiment was from the book Delicious!: A Novel by Ruth Reichl.
Delicious! was one of those novels where I called my mom every twenty minutes to tell her what the character was up to. This is a bad habit I developed in my adolescence when I was reading a novel written in the form of a diary and mentioned the date of one entry to my mom. She, being a good sport, said “I guess I’d better get your brother a birthday gift, then.” I was delighted. In our world it was September, in the book world it was March… I could live in two worlds! I gained an unhealthy love for updating my mom every month during that book that’s never really gone away when I find a good book.
Delicious! Is the story of Billie Breslin, has the ability to taste food. Really taste food. I dated a guy with this superpower once. His father owned a Chinese restaurant and would send him in to other restaurants to taste the food, pull out the flavors and help him recreate the recipe. The guy didn’t work out so well but every once in a while I do miss the dumplings he made.
Anyway, Billie has this same superpower and finds herself taking a job in New York City at Delicious! an iconic food magazine. She quickly becomes enthralled with the office and the weird string of foodies she comes in contact with through her work.
The magazine shuts down, but Billie agrees to stay on in the empty office to maintain a hot line for reader complaints. She stumbles upon a room of letters written during World War II by Lulu Swan, a 12-year-old girl, to the legendary chef James Beard. We never get to see James responses to Lulu, but each of her letters to him are engaging, innocent, fun, sad, and full of pluck.
The letters she writes are probably my favorite part of the book. They paint a picture of life during WWII, especially rationing, something I previously didn’t know much about. To help Lulu and her family James Beard responds to Lulu’s letters with ration friendly recipes (cooked Milk Weed, anyone??). My biggest disappointment in the book is we don’t get to see what the recipes consist of (since we only see Lulu’s letters to James, not his to her).
The book was super fun. And at the end we do get one recipe. A recipe called Billie’s Gingerbread. The name was a little misleading for me. I expected gingerbread men… but what it really is is a really lovely, spicy cake with a taste of ginger, orange and bourbon.
Right now I’m off all fun things like wheat, sugar, dairy and bourbon to manage some physical symptoms I’ve had. Mary Lapp at Simple and Merry has been coaching me through it and it’s certainly been trans-formative! The down side to the wonderful transformation has been making a delicious(!) ginger cake and not being able to scrape the goo off the bottom of the plate.
However, I was scheduled to make a dessert for church last Sunday so I pulled out my measuring cups, spoons, and other wedding gifts and got down to baking one Saturday afternoon.
Since I couldn’t taste the cake I was a little nervous about bringing a previously untested recipe to church. I finished the worship service, and took my typical spot next to the lead pastor greeting people as they left church. I walked up to fellowship hall afterwards, where people meet for treats and coffee. I wanted to grab a photo of the half eaten cake for the blog, but all I saw left of my delicious (!) cake was… crumbs. And as I stood there, dumbfounded, those were being scraped into a napkin as the best way of consuming the goo (the icing leftover with the cake crumbs).
Lemon bars and cookies remained, but the ginger cake had disappeared.
I heard more than one person comment on how great it was. I’d totally make it again. It’s a little time intensive, but not too bad, and people really enjoyed the unique combination of flavors and spices. This book recipe was a total win.