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 …