Madame Babette Hersant composes the meal of a lifetime for Martinne and Philippa, daughters of a strict prophet, who save her from civil wars by taking her into their home. Her feast offers gratitude for their kindness and at the same time a defiant gesture displaying the glory of her culinary art. Babette’s Feast generously and lovingly explores how cooking a meal may reveal our deepest capacity for friendship and individual strength. I am not a refugee from civil wars, but many who are in this age I imagine right now anticipating the arrival of their guests, guests who through their friendship offer hope. These cooks look through the kitchen window, recheck the gazpacho, eye the clock, remind themselves when to put the roasting pan stuffed with sea creatures in the oven. Wait let’s backtrack. There was the fish. Red Snapper. Henry.
Henry the Red Snapper waits on the cooking board; meanwhile, it’s time to turn white onions translucent.
As I referenced in the last post, I’m using a Red Snapper recipe from Adán Medrano’s Truly Texas Mexican. Veracruz-style calls for many tomatoes, shining-red romas.
It’s my choice to add sweet potatoes.
Now olive oil, onions, garlic, those tomatoes, bay leaves, capers and olives swim together.
The glory of a jam-packed roasting pan. Red Snapper and shrimp. Everyone has their heads on.
The tomato mixture layers the bottom of the pan and the top of the fish.
Yes, the guests have arrived, so I open the oven set at three hundred and fifty degrees, then slide Henry and his friends in and close the door. The hosts and the guests drink and talk. In Babette’s Feast, brothers and sisters of this Protestant sect have agreed to honor the invitation but not enjoy the pleasures of the meal. Initially, conversation is a bit awkward. Not with our feast. All talk of Kuwait City, Mississippi, Antigua, food blogs, Trinidad, Minecraft, Brazil, working on novels, Paris, Houston, V.S. Naipaul, British Airways, marriage proposals, California wines, Francoise Hardy. And then, it’s time to plate and eat.
And plate again.
The hosts and guests cheer and clink glasses, then begin to eat and continue to talk.
Heads bow, heads raise. Voices lift then descend. Plates are cleaned, bottles emptied. A feast.
Afterwards? Well that’s a secret of the meal and the night, but let’s say it bears similarity to the end of the meal in Babette’s Feast. Here is that moment from the original source, Isak Dinesen’s story.
When at last the company broke up it had ceased to snow. The town and the mountain lay in white, unearthly splendor and the sky was bright with thousands of stars. In the street the snow was lying so deep that it had become difficult to walk. The guests from the yellow house wavered on their feet, staggered, sat down abruptly or fell forward on their knees and hands and were covered with snow, as if they had indeed had their sins washed white as wool, and in this regained innocent attire were gamboling like little lambs. It was, to each of them, blissful to have become as a small child; it was also a blessed joke to watch old Brothers and Sisters, who had been taking themselves so seriously, in this kind of celestial second childhood. They stumbled and got up, walked on or stood still, bodily as well as spiritually hand in hand, at moments performing the great chain of beautiful lanciers.
The night ends. Tomorrow more guests are due to arrive.