Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Domesticity: A Gastronomic Interpretation of Love

I suppose that in some ways, it doesn't surprise me that this book and its author, Bob Shacochis, are overlooked when people are talking about food writing.  I mean, the guy was a novelist and former Peace Corps volunteer when he fell into the role of food writer for GQ Magazine.  Since the publication of this book, he has been a journalist, war correspondent, and is now teaching creative writing.  Who is this guy?  And how did he get a job as a food writer?  I have to give you the answer in his own words.

The offer from GQ was actually a matter of coincidence: the fiction editor at the magazine had invited me to send him some of my novel then in progress. The chapter I submitted contained a scene in which the male character cooks an elaborate dinner, highlighted by a planked striped bass roasted over an open fire, for the woman he's romancing. At the same time, GQ's former Dining In columnist threw in his apron, and  word went out around the editorial offices, “Does anyone know anybody who can write about food?"
The fiction editor believed he did. My dinner scene was photocopied and passed around; in desperation, the senior editors agreed the column was mine, if I wanted it. One of them telephoned to see what I'd say. I said, not quite emphatically, No. I said I probably wasn't the person they were looking for. The writing I had read about food, unless authored by the likes of Fisher or A.J. Liebling or Calvin Trillin, struck me as exceedingly boring, pea-brained, pretentious, faddish, rife with the worst sort of classism, devoted to the most anemic forms of joie de vivre, etc. It wasn't even lovely enough, on its own terms, to turn my stomach.
The editor said, Fine. She said, write about anything you want, in any style you fancy, only tag a recipe on to the end of it.

And eventually he agreed. Boy, can this guy write about food. But like some of the best food writers, much of what he's writing is about everything around the food.  The people, the places, why the food is being cooked, why that food is being cooked.  The book is in some ways a journal of his life, with the central (non-food) focus being his "common law wife", Miss F.  The writing is romantic, it is upsetting, it is hysterically funny and it is beautiful.  Actually, the writing is so good that the recipes do frequently feel tacked on, as an afterthought.  And, if I was going to be very critical, the recipes do feel like they were mostly written on the east coast in the 80's.  Lots of seafood and bottles of wine were consumed in the making of this book.  But it all sounds so good, and you never question whether the food was as good as he makes it sound.

The recipe is one I read and started drooling over, until I started thinking about how much 2 pounds of good scallops were going to cost me.  One of these days we will make this in celebration of something, but I can't bring myself to make it in celebration of, say, Tuesday just yet.

Miss F's Champagne Scallops

2 pounds scallops
2 cloves garlic, halved 
4 chives, chopped 
1/2 teaspoon parsley 
1/2 teaspoon thyme 
2 whole cloves 
1 teaspoon salt 
1 teaspoon pepper 
2 cups champagne 
1 cup onion, diced 
4 egg yolks 
2 tablespoons half-and-half 
1 teaspoon arrowroot starch

In a large pot, simmer scallops for four minutes with parsley, thyme, chives, onion, cloves, salt, pepper, and champagne. Remove scallops and boil the remaining broth for eight minutes. Remove and discard garlic and cloves. In a mixing bowl, beat remaining ingredients. Pour contents into broth and cook at low heat, stirring constantly, until sauce thickens. Serve scallops on rice, smothered with the champagne sauce and sprinkle with paprika.  

Serves 4.

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