Monday, March 23, 2009

Alice, Let's Eat by Calvin Trillin

"As it happens, health food does disagree with me. I tend to react to eating one of those salads with brown grass and chopped walnuts the way some people react to eating four or five fried Italian sausages. (I, on the other hand, react to eating four or five fried Italian sausages with a quiet smile.)"

Published in 1978, Alice, Let's Eat: Further Adventures of a Happy Eater is not just about food, it's about Trillin's relationship with his ever-patient wife: "...marriage is sharing - not merely one's fettucine with one's husband if he is gazing at it adoringly and is obviously having second thoughts about having ordered the veal, but sharing the burden of finding the fettucine restaurant in the first place."

You can't help but admire Trillin's dedication to food. At a farmers' market in England, they return with:

"three jars of honey, one jar of raspberry jam, two cabbages, a jar of pickled onions, some Cheshire and Caerphilly and Cheddar cheese, a half-dozen honey lollipops, a carton of raspberries, a carton of blackberries, a bunch of bananas, a jar of tomato relish, an astounding number of shortbread cookies, a package of clotted cream, some bread pudding, a few tomatoes, a pound of hog's pudding, a pound of sunflower nuts, some extra-fruit strawberry jam, a lemon cheesecake, a half-dozen rock cakes, some fresh salmon, some fresh haddock, a cooked crab, six scones, a jar of runner-bean chutney, a jar of loganberry jam, one toy car, a jar of olive oil, a
bunch of grapes, some sunflower oil, some wine vinegar, a pineapple cheesecake, even more rock cakes, three kippers, two smoked mackerels, a knitted hat, two hundred-weights of chicken feed, a few lemons".

In case that hasn't convinced you, here's what he brought on a flight to Miami:

"a small jar of fresh caviar, some smoked salmon I had picked up at a 'custom smokery' in Seattle the week before, crudités with pesto dippig sauce, tomato-curry soup, butterfish with shrimp en gelee, spiced clams, lime and dill shrimp, tomatoes stuffed with guacamole, marinated mussels, an assortment of pate, stuffed cold breast of veal, a bottle of Puligny-Montrachet, a selection of chocolate cakes, some praline cheesecake, and a dessert made from Italian cheese-in-the-basket and fresh strawberries and Grand Marnier by Alice".

But he doesn't simply eat the food, he investigates issues such as the disappearance of crabs from Fisherman's Wharf, seeking out a scientist to ask why crabmeat that has been out of its shell for a while "tends to taste like balsa wood". (Answer: it's the oxidisation)

Ok ok, so it's really all about the food.

"Are you really going to England just because you want a potato latke?" Alice asked. "Of course not," I said, rather hurt. "You must think me a narrow fellow indeed. As it happens, I have just remembered the Great Dried Beef in the Sky we used to eat at the Chinese restaurant across the Golder's Green tube stop.""

There are so many more passages like this I'd love to type out. But then you might as well go out and get hold of a copy of the book. Now I have to go see if my library has a copy of American Fried.

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