Monday, January 13, 2014

Your morning strawberry coffee, and things

As with Katie's Passion Kitchen -- she of the polpette di zucchine, the hibiscus-infused tequila, the special ordered bread from Poilane -- so with a quite different blogger, Janet Clarkson who calls herself The Old Foodie: one can only bow the head, Jeeves. Janet Clarkson lays it right out there for us. "Every weekday," she promises, "I give you a short story on a food history topic - always including at least one historic recipe, and sometimes a historic menu." She's not kidding. Every weekday. And this has gone on for -- check her archives -- seven years.

A recent post, from Monday the 13th of August (my how tempus fugit, particularly with her) describes aged coffee. I leave you to enjoy the article at your leisure. What caught my eye was the recipe at the end, from (all in one breath) "On Uncle Sam’s Water Wagon: 500 recipes for delicious drinks, which can be made at home (New York, 1919) by Helen Watkeys Moore." It is called Hot Coffee and Strawberry. The Old Foodie worries the recipe will offend today's coffee purists, but I think it sounds delicious. It goes like this, and the asides in bracketed italics are mine: 

Hot Strawberry Coffee, circa 1919

Break one egg into a [do we dare say, cocktail?] shaker.
Add 1 and 1/2 Tablespoons each vanilla and strawberry syrup. [She means vanilla extract, surely, and as for the strawberry syrup, she can not mean something like Quik. Would a very good strawberry jam do?]
Add 2 Tablespoons heavy cream. Shake well, pour into a glass, and fill up with hot coffee. Garnish with whipped cream.

If it were 4 o'clock somewhere and you were to splash a bit of alcohol in this, I think you would have, thanks to the egg, a drink called a flip. Shaking your strawberry coffee flip with ice, and then going out to the pontoon boat with a book to enjoy a summer afternoon, would make that afternoon the very pitch of ecstasy. If vacation is over and you can't do that, it's nice to look at a picture, and fondly remember.  

Why not look at another picture? If you don't care for a strawberry coffee flip on the pontoon boot, have a piece of cheesecake and ordinary coffee on the pier.

Admire the swans.

Admire the ducks, too. They were simply an ordinary family of mallards, except that Mother duck had a broken or at least a game leg, and yet persevered in caring for her seven ducklings. Here, she observes their foraging technique.

Some days, especially on vacation in Michigan and whether you have made a coffee strawberry flip or no, it must rain. Never mind. It makes a good excuse to relax on the porch, be cozy, and continue with that  book.

Or, one could plan one's next shopping trip. South Haven, Michigan, near our Cottage on the Lake, is a fairly well-to-do town so it is possible to find there, in a little antique shop, a stack of Limoges plates. One must have them. True porcelain. One can see light through it. Aren't they pretty? I wonder whose they were.

Then the sun may come out, after the shopping and the rain. 

Incidentally, the book in question is F. W. Kenyon's The Emperor's Lady (1952), a novel based on the life of the Empress Josephine  Not bad -- lots of dialogue. My purpose in bringing it along on les vacances was to do leisurely research into the lady's taste in food and wines, so that the putative first chapter of The Meals of Heaven might be "A Champagne Supper with Empress Josephine." Unhappily, amid all the dialogue there is little in this novel about the things Josephine was famous for (well, except that) -- I mean her gardens, her chateau of Malmaison, her entrancingly sweet and pleasant personality, her 13,000-bottle wine cellar. There is scarcely anything at all about the food she ate. Why do fictional characters so rarely eat? I shall have to carry on researching elsewhere. As luck would have it, a few years ago the French national museum which her home now is put on an exhibit called "La Cave de Joséphine: Le Vin sous l'Empire à Malmaison" (Josephine's cellar: Wine under the Empire at Malmaison), so one may begin researching sooner than one thinks. A staffer from a British newspaper reviewed the exhibit; it is from those notes that we learn about Josephine's 13,000 bottle cellar, and her predilection, it seems, for Bordeaux over Champagne. Perhaps we'll want to retitle that first chapter. And here she is.

Now I know nothing of this painting. It shows up as an out-of-copyright image file under "Josephine-Napoleon" on Wikipedia, identified only as XIX century, "Author [sic]: Sconosciuto" (Unknown). The image, in turn, links to an Italian language website called Maria Antonietta: il forum officiale, which is what it says, a forum for people to write -- in Italian -- to their heart's content all about "l'epoca di Maria Antonietta" (704 topics, almost 22,000 replies) or "Arte, moda, e musica" (203 topics, over 8,000 replies). Josephine of course fits in the general epoca, since thanks to her husband Napoleon she was the next sovereign lady after Marie Antoinette to occupy a position like queen of France. Anyway if anyone in these forums explains anything about the painting amid all that Italian, I certainly can't find it. The most I can understand in the article on Marie-Josephe Rose Tascher de la Pagerie is the phrase about the young Josephine's family facing una difficile situazione finanziaria, after the uragani (hurricane? there was one, biographies in English say so) destroyed their home on the island of Martinique in the 1760s ....

From that, to life with Napoleon, rose gardens, wild spending, the chateau of Malmaison, and half a dozen men on a string at any one time. This is why I like the painting. It is just the lady's ungainly, relaxed pose which, oddly enough, lets us glimpse how fascinating and even commanding a type she may have been. All eyes are on her -- except Napoleon's -- and she knows it, is used to it, and absolutely does not care. And is still interested in the festivities around her and planning to have a further good time herself. She reminds me of a friend of mine, who is indeed fun to be around.

Does she look the type to start her day with a strawberry coffee flip? If it pleased her, yes.

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