Playing With Your Food. My Food. Whatever.

Kage Baker set up a careful regimen of daily vitamins and herbal supplements in her early adulthood. These were designed to maintain a modicum of health for her, with a minimum of thinking about her body. She set out deliberately to thwart anemia, scurvy, respiratory infections and migraines – the things to which she felt an obsessed young woman in the writing trade might be most susceptible – and left the rest of her health to eating a balanced diet.

And it worked. For years and years, it worked. As Kage was an exquisite cook and enjoyed it to boot, her dietary arrangements were highly successful – and, speaking as the most frequent recipient, a delight in which to participate. She did good by doing well, in the kitchen; her cooking spanned three continents and several millennia of tradition, and we ate like especially lucky time travellers.

“People nowadays consider root vegetables to be boring. But then why do my medieval cookbooks have so many recipes for them?” she might muse.

“Because if you weren’t willing to eat turnips, you’d starve?” was my crass suggestion.

“No, some of these recipes show real class and imagination … let’s try some and see why anybody bothered to write them down!”

Which is how we discovered that carrots come in a literal rainbow of colours, each of which tastes better than the last; that turnips in cream with nutmeg and ginger taste like a hitherto-undiscovered heaven and have a texture like clouds; that parsnips can be baked in pies and custards fit to be fought over by small children. Potatoes, yeoman roots though they are, are the most boring of all root vegetables – unless you mash several of the coloured varieties together, in which case wonders like turquoise-striped mashed potatoes can be yours: “Parakeet potatoes!” crowed Kage in delight.

Kage revealed to me the delights of boiled puddings when she got carried away with the cookbook from the Aubrey-Maturin novels, Lobscouse and Spotted Dog. Spotted Dog is itself a weasel-worded euphemism, as we originally learned it as Spotted DICK: an innocuous, tasty boiled pudding with currents in it, whose only sin is in making people snicker. (“What part of the dog did you get?” inquired Kage, when first regarding the cylindrical pudding.) Anyway, she could make boiled puddings that amply explained the dessert fixations of 300 years of public school students and Royal Navy sailors. Her plum duff was especially good …

I’ve just returned from a doctor’s appointment; one of those where your doctor looks over the dozen pills you take with a certain dismay, and asks cautiously if you remember why she prescribed it in the first place … my doctor is very lucky, because I do remember. And because I do expend some thought on this, she listens when I argue that I don’t want certain drugs, and we manage to get on pretty well. There are things I learned years ago, with Kage, that work better than pills; and I like sticking to what works and doesn’t make me break out, change colours or sleep 20 hours at a stretch …

Kage fought anemia with beets and stout; migraines with feverfew; colds with echinacia. It all worked for her, and whether or not it was herbal efficacy or a world-class case of the placebo effect, I have no idea. All I know is, it did work. Which is all, really, that matters. Also, the side effects of beets are few and far between, which was also rather nice.

These days, I am hitting the beets pretty hard myself; lady problems all lead to anemia, I have found. Luckily, I like beets. I still take feverfew, too, as otherwise I really do come down with migraines – I honestly don’t care how it works, and if a fraction of an ounce of a (legal) weed will keep my head working, great! My doctors – who have trouble keeping track of all the actual prescription drugs I take as well – just shrug. They don’t know or care how this stuff works, either. If I’d rather eat dried fruit than drink dissolvable fibre, they don’t mind (and believe me, I would).

I can’t help wishing, though, that plum duff was a specific for something. That was wonderful stuff …

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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10 Responses to Playing With Your Food. My Food. Whatever.

  1. Roll a slice of duff in oats and groats, fiber surprise!

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  2. Kate says:

    Oh, yuck! I don’t want a fibre surprise! I’ll take my oats straight, like a grownup – besides, it’s another excuse for salt and butter!

    Like

  3. Tom says:

    Kate, *everyone* knows plum duff is good for Whatever Ails You. On with the duffery!

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  4. Mark says:

    I could never get behind beets… Too many years of mistaking Mom’s borscht for fruit punch left me scarred and grumpy towards those roots.

    On the other hand, I learned to enjoy chicken livers at a young age, and can do some pretty amazing chopped liver, liver pate’, and dirty rice…so I’ve got a constant supply of irony.

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  5. Kate says:

    Tom – luckily for me, Kimberly also has Obsessive Pudding Disorder; she compulsively makes steamed puddings. She has a proper pudding tin, and even puts charms in the things at Christmas. She has promised me a plum duff, huzzah!
    Mark – much iron is very, very tasty. Beets, though, require a specific recessive gene complex, I think. I have it, thank goodness. But liver, shellfish, spinach … I like ’em all. Except soybeans. Soya products (except for the legendary Ducats from Steak on a Stake) are icky.

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  6. Love spinach, hate beets, probably ruined for me in early childhood by my mother’s having no other knowledge of them except as they came out of a can. Nasty,. Ick, poo. I have yet to try any variety of them as a real vegetable. Hmm, might be worth considering.

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  7. Kate says:

    Beets are best chilled, sliced, fresh and as simple as possible. They have an earthy sweetness that is delightful. They’re also grand with any vinegraitte dressing, or with most bleu cheeses. They are a bit of a pain to prepare – gotta peel them, then roast, bake, boil or steam them – but increasing numbers of markets also sell them already peeled and cooked and packaged plainly. TJ’s, for instance, has lovely baby beets ready to eat and NOT out of a can!

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  8. Margaret says:

    I believe plums themselves have quite a lot of fiber – well, look who they become when they’re dried. Pears also, which pleases me a lot, as ths year’s crop seems to be especially good. Is pear duff a possibility? I’m off to the cookbooks…

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  9. Random thoughts…

    Placebo effects are fascinating. I love the recent evidence that they work even when you know you’re taking a placebo, or that 3 placebo pills work better than 2, or that a placebo shot works better than a placebo pill. (Neat infographic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yfRVCaA5o18)

    I discovered parsnips a couple of years ago. Holy hell, why are they not popular in the US? Roasted in olive oil with some garlic and topped with parmesan? Mmmmmm…

    I made smashed potatoes with purple potatoes once. They tasted all right (although I like the flavor of redskins better), but the effect was disquieting. I’ll have to try the turnip recipe you mentioned.

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    • Kate says:

      Yeah, disquieting is a good word for the coloured potatoes when mashed. But we sort of liked it; daft food can be hilarious. And with those purple ones, if you just slice and then parboil them, they come out lavender!

      Kathleen kbco.wordpress.com

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