Sunday, September 15, 2013

Book Club: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

My book club FINALLY got around to meeting again today. We read a short book--Neil Gaiman's dark fairy tale, The Ocean at the End of the Lane--but it seemed nearly impossible to find a date and time when we all could get together! But at long last, we made it happen, and the menu was comfort food in general with some specific dishes that appeared in the story. My favorite thing on the buffet was "porridge" with blackberry-beer jam and a good slosh of cream from my favorite Strafford Organic Creamery in Vermont. So simple, so incredible...and I don't even like oatmeal!

“'We have breakfast here early,' she said. 'Milking starts at first light. But there’s porridge in the saucepan, and jam to put in it.' She gave me a china bowl filled with warm porridge ...from the stovetop, with a lump of homemade blackberry jam, my favorite, in the middle of the porridge, then she poured cream on it. I swished it around with my spoon before I ate it, swirling it into a purple mess, and was as happy as I have ever been about anything. It tasted perfect." --Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane

In the picture, you can see the big casserole dish full of oatmeal that my lovely friends, the Padulas, brought, along with a cauldron of incredible chicken and dumplings as well (not appearing in the book, but delicious and comforting nonetheless). Another highlight was this unusual meatloaf that had rye bread in it (pictured at the top of the frame) giving it a wonderful tangy quality. I will have to ask our hostess, Kathleen, for the recipe. As for my contribution, I ran across an article online where Gaiman himself shared his family recipe for the lemon crepes featured in his magical tale, so of course, that's what I made and took to the party, although instead of filling them with plum jam as in the story, I topped them with fresh strawberries and whipped cream.

Nail Gaiman’s Lemon Pancakes

(Excerpted in total from Joe Hill’s interview on Omnivoracious)

JH: There’s a lot of wonderful food writing in this book. I had to put the thing down several times to rummage desperately through my fridge. Can you give us the recipe for the Hempstocks’ lemon pancakes? Please don’t let that part be make-believe.
NG: There is no make-believe in cooking. There were few things I took as much fun in cooking, when I was a boy, as pancakes. (I liked making toffee, too, because it was a little like a science experiment.)

Right. The night before you are going to make them, you mix:
1 cup of ordinary white flour
2 eggs
a pinch of salt
2 1/2 cups of milk and water (a cup and a half of milk and a cup of water mixed)
1 tablespoon of either vegetable oil or melted butter
(You’ll also need some granulated sugar, and a couple of lemons to put on the pancakes, along with other things like jams and possibly even maple syrup because you’re American.)

Put the flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Crack the eggs in and whisk/fork the egg into the flour. Slowly add the milk/water mixture, stirring as you go, until there are no lumps and you have a liquid the consistency of a not too thick cream. Then put the mixture in the fridge overnight.

Grease or butter or oil a non-stick frying pan. Heat it until it’s really hot (377 degrees according to one website, but basically, it has to be hot for the pancake to become a pancake. And these are crepes, French style, not thick American round pancakes). Stir the mixture you just took from the fridge thoroughly because the flour will all be at the bottom. Get an even, consistency. Then ladle some mixture into the pan, thinly covering the whole of the base of the pan. When the base is golden, flip it (or, if you are brave, toss it). Cook another 30 seconds on the other side.

For reasons I do not quite understand (although pan heat is probably the reason), the first one is always a bit disappointing. Often it’s a burnt, sludgy, weird thing, (always, in my family, eaten by the cook) (which was me). Just keep going, and the rest will be fine. Sprinkle sugar in the middle. And then squeeze some lemon juice in, preferably from a lemon. Then wrap it like a cigar and feed it to a child.

(You can experiment with other things in the middle, like Nutella, or jam, or even maple syrup–but remember that these pancakes are not syrup-absorbent like American style pancakes.)

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