Saturday, June 20, 2009

Books and Food

Certain things go really well together: songs and campfires, kids and puppies, crusty bread and cheese. Today, I've been thinking how well two of my favourite things complement each other: books... and food.

One of my earliest memories is of reading while perched in next-door's mulberry tree. I still have my tattered copy of The Swiss Family Robinson, by Johann R.Wyss, many of its pages smudged with fading purple. How decadent it felt to lazily reach out and pop a mulberry into my mouth while my Swiss heroes watched a boa digest a donkey. It never occurred to me to wonder at the amazing range of animals living on the castaways' island - I swallowed every encounter with as much relish as the boa.

When I was a university student I discovered the wonderful marriage of books, cheese, and red wine. My text of choice in those days was poetry. I would read aloud from Baudeaire's Les Fleurs du Mal, convinced that I finally understood the meaning of life. The more I quaffed, the more atrocious my french accent became, but it didn't matter. A bite of strong cheese, a sip of claret and my book were all I needed.

I guess there comes a time in everyone's life when they look for comfort. Books have been my solace more often than I can count, and that solace is definitely doubled when combined with ... chocolate! Making a square of creamy sweetness last for a whole chapter can take my mind off flu symptoms, wasp stings and probably bubonic plague, though I've not yet tested it. Comforting books for me are old favourites, hoarded for re-reading in times of trouble - any historical romance by Georgette Heyer, novels by Mary Stewart, Dick Francis, Desmond Bagley, Barbara Kingsolver.

Sometimes, it's not so much comfort I need as cheering up - the time I recently wore my shirt inside out on a trip to town comes to mind. If you want to take your mind off a conviction that you're losing your marbles, try my prescription: books and food. To raise my spirits, I chose one of the funniest books ever written - Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome. Because it's so funny, I teamed this book with food that was unlikely to be snorted - kalamata olives, fresh basil pesto, slices of turkish bread, char- grilled vegetables. (Last time it was pumpkin soup, and that's when I learnt about the snorting!)

Eating and reading go together in so many ways. Some children's books have wonderful scenes revolving around food. My students used to love Enid Blyton's Faraway Tree books. There were magical lands at the top of the tree where things were made of candy, or you could indulge in any treat you wanted. Then there were not-so-great food items, like sardine ice-cream! Kids really enjoy discovering the food inside books - like Possum Magic by Mem Fox, where they eat Anzac biscuits, pumpkin scones and vegemite sandwiches. A lesson in Aussie culture and a picnic, all wrapped up in a children's picture book. Why not keep an eye open for other food scenes inside your books, and base a picnic around them?

So there you have it, my paean of praise to food and books. It's amazing how many of my life's memorable moments seem to have revolved around the gentle art of reading and eating at the same time.

What comes to mind for you, with food and books?

{This post is also my entry into the
Scribbit June Write-Away Contest which has the theme of Food.}


Photo credit:http://www.flickr.com/photos/31157339@N00/349790449/

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