Boyles Blistered

October 11, 2019

 

Sometime in the 1990s, I read “Water Music” by T. Coraghessan Boyle.

This is a mind-stretching, boisterous, epic, bawdy and violent fictionalization of the life of African explorer Mungo Park who, having “discovered” the Niger River for the white man and become a national hero in the process, was killed, along with the remnants of his party, near the end of his second expedition in 1806.

More, Park’s story is intertwined with an equally mind-stretching, boisterous, epic, bawdy and violent fictionalization of the life of a London derelict and crook, Ned Rise, who, in the book’s own sweet time, would be a member of Park’s second expedition.

The book is written in a rollicking tone and seems comic if one can put aside the seemingly endless degradations and violence these two men have to put with up. I thought it was wonderful and couldn’t wait to read more.

I have a habit of binge-reading a particular author that I like, reading all of their books in sequence.  I did that with Boyle.  By the time I caught up with him he had written perhaps a half-dozen novels and several books of short stories.  I read them all, one after the other, back to back.  And I never found another thing by Boyle that I really cared for.  Terrible disappointment.  “Road to Wellville” was OK (and certainly a much better book than the movie they made of it), but only OK, I thought.

Once I’d caught up with his publications I read one or two more as they came out.  But then I couldn’t do it any more.  That was perhaps two decades ago.

So, a few weeks ago, I picked up the old copy of “Water Music” and read it again.  Just finished it; it was hard going at times.  I still enjoyed it, still think it is worth the read; but it can be a hard slog sometimes.  In this novel he writes about fascinating things, places, people, ideas with passion and verve.  But there is just so much of it, the constant disappointments, the constant torment and complaints.  Damned hard work for a leisure activity!


Image: Wall of Water

October 11, 2019

“Wall of Water” (2000), digital TIFF, 12″ x 12″


The Clouded Roots of Eggs Benny

October 11, 2019

I love eggs benedict. It is one of my very favourite foods and I enjoy it as often as possible.  It is always my test for a new breakfast restaurant, but mostly I make them at home.

 

Long ago, I was taught the classic preparation and, like for many cooks, it seemed so complicated that I rarely made them except for very special occasions.  However, these days, there are any number of efficient ways to make them, In the last few years, I have tried a few different takes including Chef John‘s version of hollandaise and that of Svitliana Popivnyak).  Using an uncomplicated method poaching eggs also helps!

Anyway, this wasn’t meant to be a cooking lesson!   I have written before about the mystery of how certain foods came about, but there should be no mystery about Eggs Benedict. It was definitely invented at a certain time and place. But where and when exactly?  Luckily, there is a fascinating piece in Literary Hub that helps show the way.  They mention the first known reference to the dish in “The Rich Fool and the Clever Pauper,”

“an 1894 work of fiction by Horace Annesley Vachell, a British expatriate then living in San Francisco. Printed in the January issue of Overland Monthly, a California literary magazine, it is considered to be the first-known printed reference to eggs à la Benedict, as poached eggs over toast with ham and hollandaise was originally known. And I quote: “After luncheon, which consisted of Blue Points, potted char, eggs à la Benedict, and a remarkable Maraschino jelly, Jimmy announced his intention of taking a walk by himself.”

The article then goes on to describe the three main origin stories. First:

“the Lemuel Benedict at the Waldorf story, which appeared in The New Yorker in 1942 … By his own account to the reporter, the New York City socialite and stockbroker invented the dish forty- eight years earlier by ordering a similar concoction while hungover at the hotel. That could have been 1893, given that these were recollections, but no earlier, as the hotel only opened that year.”

Second:

“The Commodore E. C. Benedict recipe story, from a column by New York Times food editor Craig Claiborne in 1967 … Commodore. E.C. was a New York City stockbroker who would have been hanging out among the other socialites in the 1890s.”

And third:

“The Mrs. Le Grand Benedict at Delmonico’s story … According to her family’s lore, Mrs. Benedict was a relative of the commodore, and she created the dish at the “turn of the century” (Mabel’s words) at then-world-famous Delmonico’s, Mrs. Benedict’s regular Saturday brunch spot. Mrs. Benedict told the maître’d what she wanted, in Mabel’s telling, essentially the dish as we know it topped with some truffles.”

The article proceeds to doubt the veracity of the stories, but what seems certain is that it was invented in the 1890s in New York City.  As Claiborne noted in his 1967 account, “Eggs Benedict is conceivably the most sophisticated dish ever created in America.”