By Teresa C. Macdonald
On a recent sub-zero day, my back sore from shoveling a pile of wet cement-like slush, I lay on the floor and, examined the ceiling with an ice pack under my spine. In need of a good mental exercise, I pondered the question: Which of the literary greats would I invite to dinner tonight given their culinary proclivities and mine?
In an effort to attract good karma, I considered both the living and deceased as I attempted to balance my intended guest’s likes, dislikes, and allergies. I compiled a mental list of authors and their food and beverage favorites and then placed them into sub-categories: culinary tradition, writing genre, childhood favorites. I reordered the list by things I like and things I’d like to try: Hemingway and mojitos, Dorothy Parker and whiskey, Willa Cather and sweet kolaches, Jonathan Franzen and pasta (tossed with kale and garlic), Daniel Handler and carrots, Oscar Wilde and the beguiling anise flavored absinthe. In a frenzy, I understood why the topic yields volumes of blog articles, column inches, and cookbooks.
The cold, foul weather dictated a good, warm meal, and as simple as that, my mind locked on J.D. Salinger and his love of roast beef. Roast beef with carrots and steaming mounds of mashed potatoes. Roast beef served with red wine, Claret. While his seat at my table would mostly likely remain empty (given his reclusive nature) I’d still make certain to pour us both an extra glass of Claret to honor his personal favorite meal.
Claret, in the wine world, is another name for a Bordeaux wine that refers to the wines transparent nature. It was termed in the late 1300s when the French shipped their wine to England for consumption by the English. In fact, Chaucer even refers Claret in the “Merchants Tale” in The Canterbury Tales. This nomenclature continues today and I just so happen to have a bottle of Bell Wine Cellars Claret in my cellar. Yummy.
With my thoughts now locked on England, I thought Gin would be a natural pre-dinner cocktail choice: London Dry Gin (Bombay Sapphire that is). While there are three main styles of Gin, London Dry Gin is known for its purity of flavor, given the lack of added sugars and citrus profile. F. Scott Fitzgerald was famous for his preference for this distilled spirit served gimlet style. He might add some excitement to the evening.
But no, my mood called for something more precise and linear, a Martini. Anne Sexton then could enjoy a cold jigger, too. Martinis are a fantastic compliment to Borscht. Nothing is more refreshing on a hot summer day than an ice-cold martini served with a cold summer Borscht. Cold weather be damned, Allen Ginsberg loved this soup. While my recipe probably does not compare to that of his mother’s, the sour, sweetness of the soup dabbed with sour cream is expertly cleansed by the proof of the gin: juniper gives it extra herbal depth.
So Borscht and Martinis and roast beef with carrots and mashed potatoes and Claret and perhaps some mixed nuts thrown in, what next? Dessert.
Earlier in the week, while vertical, I had attended a horizontal tasting of Madeira from the Rare Wine Co.’s Historic Series. The Boston Bual would be the perfect compliment to George Orwell’s favorite, Plum Pudding. Ah, but the recipe for Plum Pudding takes weeks if not months for the fruit to soak up all the essential cognac. Walt Whitman loved coffee cake… …Emily Dickenson loved coconut cake…Steven King eats a slice of cheesecake daily. Jack Kerouac liked his apple pie. Well, I do too when it’s topped with Calvados infused whipped cream. Agatha Christie and Devonshire cream? I can lap the stuff up, especially with a good scone and cup of black tea. I decided to resort to my default dessert: brownies. I could finally pull out Elizabeth Bishop’s brownie recipe that’s somewhere in my “recipes to try” pile. Along the lines of some of my grandmother’s recipes—with mentions of pinches, dashes, and you’ll know whens—I could fudge the missing measurements and cooking times if I kept a clear head. I’d serve this with a Brachetto d’Aqui.
Brachetto d’Aqui is an Italian red wine that’s fun, affordable, and it’s ALWAYS a crowd pleaser.
Named for the grape varietal, Brachetto, it’s grown in the northern Piedmont region of Italy. This frizzante style wine bursts with sweet strawberry and raspberry flavors that heighten the fruit flavors found in chocolate. But more specifically the wine softens the feel of the chocolate tannins.
What a fine last minute dinner party. I imagine that we’ll get along smashingly, even if the lopsided menu resembles a potluck and more people drop in. Afterall, we have so much in common. We’re writers and we like the same things.
Sustenance. It’s the stuff of settlement, wars, trade routes, passion, and vice. My fascination with the nip and nibble preferences of my literary heroes is not so I can imitate their vices to project greatness. I’m interested because, in addition to knowing their work, I want to know them as people. I picture them at my table slurping soup, spilling Claret on the carpet, staining my linen with lipstick and au jus, smoking cigarettes, and even breaking my Riedel in a sincere effort to help wash up. And in knowing them, I’m that much closer to understanding how to channel the act of living and the frenzy of my own inner genius.
Teresa C. Macdonald is a writer of fiction and a connoisseur of good food and fine wine. She grew up in Bryn Mawr, PA, and received a BA in English at Franklin & Marshall College, a MS in Integrated Marketing Communications from Northwestern University, and an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars. She is a Certified Sommelier, Certified Specialist of Wine, and has her Advanced Certificate in Wine and Spirits from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust. When she isn’t demystifying the grape for wine enthusiasts, she can be found playing ball with her sidekick, Fig, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.