Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Portrait of a Lady

This is my entry for Novel Food.
Its a little scene between Ralph Touchet and
Isabel Archer in the The Portrait of a Lady
by Henry James.

"There's no reason we shouldn't stay here--if you don't dislike it. It's very warm; there will he half an hour yet before dark; and if you permit it I'll light a cigarette."

"You may do what you please," said Isabel, "if you'll amuse me till seven o'clock. I propose at that hour to go back and partake of a simple and solitary repast--two poached eggs and a muffin-- at Pratt's Hotel."

"Mayn't I dine with you?" Ralph asked.

"No, you'll dine at your club."

They had wandered back to their chairs in the centre of the square again, and Ralph had lighted his cigarette. It would have given him extreme pleasure to be present in person at the modest little feast she had sketched; but in default of this he liked even being forbidden. For the moment, however, he liked immensely being alone with her, in the thickening dusk, in the centre of the multitudinous town; it made her seem to depend upon him and to be in his power. This power he could exert but vaguely; the best exercise of it was to accept her decisions submissively which indeed there was already an emotion in doing. "Why won't you let me dine with you?" he demanded after a pause.

"Because I don't care for it."

"I suppose you're tired of me."

"I shall be an hour hence. You see I have the gift of foreknowledge."

"Oh, I shall be delightful meanwhile," said Ralph.

I don't think that Isabel Archer ever got to eat this little meal.
I think Caspar Goodwood showed up and ruined her evening.

However, I did try to make some muffins for her.
This recipe comes from Joan Clibbon's Cooking the British Way

1 lb. plain flour 1 teaspoon salt 1 oz. yeast (I use a packet of the dry yeast) 1 teaspoon sugar 1/2 pint warm water (please remember a British pint is 20 oz.) Sieve flour and salt. Cream yeast with sugar and a little water. Mix flour with yeast mixture and 1/2 pint warm water to a rather slack dough. Cover and prove for 2 hours. Divide into eight portions, shape into round balls and leave to prove on a floured board for 20 minutes. Cook on a greased hotplate or girdle, for about 7 minutes on each side.

Some people can still remember the pre-war London Muffin Man who would tour the streets in the afternoons with a large tray of muffins on his head, and ringing a bell to announce his wares. This popular character has long since disappeared, but there is nothing to prevent your enjoying your own home-made toasted muffins, spread with plenty of butter.

I love it when I get to use my cool scale and weights.

Here they are proving.

Here they are on the "girdle". I found it hard to control the heat.
And they sort of blobbed up a bit.

I couldn't complete the meal for Isabel because I can't really poach eggs.
So I decided to make her some Lady Grey tea. The little blue specks
in the tea are dried cornflowers. I highly recommend this tea.
It smells wonderful.


Simona said...

How very nice. First of all, I love Portrait of a Lady, and the scene you present us is lovely: it tells a lot about Isabel and Ralph. Then there is the nice tidbit about the Muffin Man. I am sure Isabel would have appreciated your offering of freshly-made muffins and Lady Grey tea. Thank you.

Lisa said...

This is great. I love the excerpt. Did you see the movie version of the novel? I thought it was very well done. Your measuring/weighing equipment is very impressive, too! Anyway. Now I want a warm muffin oozing with butter, and a cup of Lady Grey.

Heaven on Earth said...

Actually I did see the movie version and for the most part liked it a lot. I think it captured the essence of the book n the end.

librariane said...

Neat! I've always wanted to make English muffins at home--I'm sure they taste much better than commercial ones.