Saturday, 28 February 2009

Bibliotherapy: What to read (and what to eat) when your husband leaves you for another woman

Here's my column in today's Sunday Telegraph. I feel that it should be accompanied by your recipes, given how many lovely people that contribute to this blog have already been sharing their heartwarming ingredients for what to eat while feeling heartbroken. It would be fantastic if you could post your recipes as comments at the end of this piece, so that other people can read them and find solace from them in similar circumstances. Vietnamese noodle soup, linguini with prawns, chocolate cake -- we've been talking about them together, and now let's get them written down, ready to be shared between Edinburgh and London, Minnesota and Melbourne, and everywhere and everyone else that reaches out with kindness, between the lines of this blog...

I'll start things off with a recipe for cherry cheesecake from Nigella Lawson. Nigella introduced me to the joys of cheesecake and Nora Ephron, and it's her fabulous cheesecake that is pictured above...

You might think that reading a novel is far less important than consulting a lawyer or a marriage guidance counsellor in these unhappy circumstances; but honestly, Nora Ephron’s Heartburn has much to recommend it instead. It’s a practical remedy in a ghastly situation – as cheering a voice as a dear friend in the dark hours before dawn, when you’ve been weeping into a pillow for several nights in a row.

Ephron wrote Heartburn in 1983 as a fictionalised version of the end of her marriage, a breaking point with particularly cruel timing, given that she was seven months pregnant with her second son. Her husband, Carl Bernstein (a Washington Post journalist famous for his part in uncovering the Watergate scandal), was, in reality, having a torrid affair with Margaret Jay, wife of the British ambassador to the United States. In her novel, Ephron turns her faithless husband into Mark, and Margaret into Thelma, and the whole messy situation into a beautifully written narrative.

As the author admits in an introduction to the most recent edition of the novel, over 25 years after its first publication, Heartburn is often referred to as ‘thinly disguised’. “I have no real quarrel with this description,” she observes, “even though I’ve noticed, over the years, that the words ‘thinly disguised’ are applied mostly to books written by women. Let’s face it, Philip Roth and John Updike picked away at the carcasses of their early marriages in book after book, but to the best of my knowledge they were never hit with the thinly disguised thing.”

In fact, ‘thinly’ is entirely the wrong adjective to apply to this great big heartfelt novel, filled with stories about marriage, guilt, love, loss, and how to make jokes, even when your world is falling apart. It also has an excellent recipe for Key lime pie covered with whipped cream to throw at a cheating husband; and another for cheesecake, which may not seem like the best cure for heartburn – it contains 12 ounces of cream cheese, 4 eggs, a cup of sugar, and two cups of sour cream – but trust me, cheesecake is tremendously good for heartbreak, along with a large helping of Nora Ephron.


GlassCurls said...

Is soup good for heartbreak? I'm not sure, although I know it's great for warming the soul, and making it is pretty theraputic too. So here's my favourite soup recipie - sorry if it takes up a gigantic space here!

Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup

1.4 litres (2.5 pints) hot vegetable stock
900g (2lbs) carrots, peeled and sliced. This can be substituted with pumpkin or squash
500g (1lb 2oz) sweet potato, peeled, washed and cubed
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 medium onion, finely chopped
50g (2oz) butter
300ml (half pint) orange juice
200ml tub crème fraiche
freshly chopped flat-leafed parsley

1. Heat butter in a pan, add onion and coriander and cook for 4 mins to soften
2. Add sweet potato, sliced carrot, stock and orange juice
3. Season, bring to the boil and simmer for 25 mins
4. Blend in a processor or a liquidiser until smooth, stir in half the crème fraiche and warm through gently
5. Spoon into dishes and sprinkle with parsley
6. Serve remaining crème fraiche separately

Anonymous said...

Love Nora Ephron. 'Something's Gotta Give' is my favourite DVD - the plot, the performances and of course the star of the show - the house. Property porn at its finest. I would recommend Mr. Ben and Mr. Jerry for heartbreak. It's a horrible, uncomfortable time for you, I hope all the suggestions go someway towards helping.

Justine Picardie said...

Oxford Reader -- soup is definitely therapeutic, and this one looks great for heartbreak.
Serenknitity -- I love Something's Gotta Give, as well. That house is so beautiful -- as is Keanu Reeves. I mean, who wouldn't feel better with the house by the sea and Keanu by your side?!

GlassCurls said...

Something better than Keanu .... Having Alan Rickman rescue you, bring your mother to your sickbed, and read you poetry? I wonder what I was watching last night?

Justine Picardie said...

What? Am intrigued?

Alice @ Jakesbarn said...

And here's my version of Chocolate Applesauce Cake - chocolate cake with a slightly intriguing taste, so that you keep going back to it to taste it again...not very good on the waistline! Just made it, and it's disappearing rapidly....

340g golden caster sugar
200g softened butter
200g hot, unsweetened applesauce (the last of the autumn's Bramleys, peeled, cored, cooked in a covered pan with a very little water till fluffy)
300g wholewheat SR flour (healthy?)
1 and 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
cocoa, to taste - I use 2 heaped tablespoons, which some might think excessive and others, quite modest
2 eggs, beaten
a good handful of raisins

Oven at 190-200C

Beat the sugar and butter together. Beat in the hot applesauce. Sift together the flour, bicarb and spices, and add it to the mix, with the beaten eggs. Fold in the raisins.

Just now I've baked it as a traybake, in the Aga small roasting tin which measures about 12 by 8 inches, lined with baking parchment - it took about 45 minutes to cook. And when it had cooled I topped it with an icing made of 125g dark chocolate and 125g butter, melted together.

I hope it would be good for heartbreak - it's made my cold feel better....

GlassCurls said...

I was watching Sense and Sensibility .... it has the two best lines ever: 'Give me an occupation, or I shall run mad' and 'There is nothing lost, that can't be found, if sought.'
Ahhh. I love Emma Thompson. And Jane Austen obviously.

Alice, that chocolate applesauce cake sounds dangerously divine!

kairu said...

Vietnamese "Pho" Rice Noodle Soup with Beef (adapted from Wild Wild East, by Bobby Chinn).

3 litres beef stock (preferably homemade, although my UK edition of Nigella Lawson's How to Eat gives some sources for good made stocks).

1/2 lb (225 g) brisket of beef or beef sirloin.

2 lb (900 g) wide rice stick noodles, soaked, cooked and drained.

2 oz (50 g) scallions, sliced thinly.
1 or 2 sprigs cilantro, chopped (can use more, if you like, or none, if you don't like cilantro).
1/2 lb (225 g) bean sprouts.
10 sprigs Asian basil (sometimes called Thai basil).
1 Thai chile sliced thinly (optional).
freshly ground pepper, to taste.
1 lime, cut into wedges.

Bring the beef stock to a bowl, then lower to a simmer. If you are using the beef brisket, place it in the hot stock and simmer for about five hours, or until tender. If using sirloin, freeze the steak until firm enough to slice easily into very thin slices. (In Seattle, Asian markets sell thinly sliced beef and pork for stir-fries and hot-pots, which makes things a bit easier). If using brisket, chill the cooked brisket and slice thinly.

When the soup and meat are ready, blanch the cooked and drained noodles in hot water until they are warm, then drain again. Divide between individual bowls (you want to use large, deep bowls) and arrange the slices of beef on top. Ladle the hot beef stock over the beef; if you are using those thin slices of raw sirloin, the heat of the soup will cook them.

Serve with the garnishes, squeezing the lime juice over your soup if desired. You might also like a squirt or two of hot sauce, or Vietnamese fish sauce. Serves six.

Perfect for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, for a hot day, a cold day, or a broken heart.

Justine Picardie said...

Such delicious recipes! Thank you! Am going to try them all this week...

kairu said...

Getting back to Heartburn (and other autobiographical novels) I think the test is whether the novel stands on its own, with or without the "frisson" of knowing the real-life events behind the novel. Of course it is amusing to know that in real life Nora Ephron poured red wine over Carl Bernstein's head instead of shoving a pie in his face. But the novel is moving enough without it.

I have a wonderful children's novel called The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt. Minna's mother, who writes children's novels, has a note taped over her desk that says "Facts and fictions are different truths." Even memoirs are patchworks of fiction, in a way, because memories are balanced between what actually happened and how we remember them.

Lou said...

I would recommend Golden Syrup Dumplings.I'm not sure if these are more of an aussie tradition.Maybe your treacle pudding is similar.Chances are you won't even have to go out to buy the ingredients.This might be handy if you are feeling a bit sad and reclusive or your head is too muddled to remember lots of ingredients!Also good for filling up hungry children...
Golden Syrup Dumplings
1 1/4 cups of self raising flour
30g butter
1/3 cup of milk
1/3 cup of golden syrup

Sauce:30g butter
3/4cup of brown sugar
1/2 cup of golden syrup
1 1/2 cups of water

1.Rub butter into flour
2.Add milk and golden syrup and stir until combined
3.Roll mixture into balls and drop into simmering sauce.
Sauce(Heat all ingredients in a saucepan until sugar is dissolved.Bring to boil and then reduce heat to simmer.

Serve with runny cream.

I feel like I am channelling my grandmother when I make these.

GlassCurls said...

I'm planning on making brownies on wednesday, so here is one of the recipies I plan on using!

200 grams butter.
200 grams bitter dark chocolate, chopped .
4 eggs
200 grams caster sugar
2 Tablespoons espresso or very strong black coffee
200 grams plain flour, sifted
Pinch of salt


1.Heat the oven to 180°1 gas 4.
2.Line a 25 cm X 20 cm baking pan or roasting tray with buttered foil or greaseproof paper.
3.In a heatproof bowl set over a pot of gently simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter, stirring until smooth. Remove from the heat and half-cool
4.In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar with a hand-held electric mixer until pale.
5.Beat in the coffee and then the half-cooled chocolate mixture. Fold in the sifted flour and salt.
6.Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. It should be crusty on top, but still a bit gooey inside. Leave to cool in the pan.
7.Serve warm as a pudding, or cut into smaller squares to have with coffee!

carole said...

The film of Heartburn is brilliant too, you could eat whilst watching the DVD, preferably in bed, not worrying about crumbs.
There is poetry anthology that I often turn to in difficult times, Staying Alive, pub. Bloodaxe. Good for when the concentration span is short.
It's a horrible situation, I am so sorry.

jaywalker said...

Nigella also has a very good "instant" Minestrone soup recipe which with crusty bread is very heart-warming.Instant Minestrone

1 x 400g can mixed beans (sometimes sold as mixed bean salad) or other canned beans
300g tomato-based pasta sauce of your choice
750ml hot chicken or vegetable stock
100g ditalini or other soup pasta
Serving Size : Serves 2–3
1. Drain the beans and put them into a saucepan with the pasta sauce and hot stock.
2. Bring the pan to the boil and then add the ditalini, cooking according to the instructions on the packet.
3. Once the pasta is tender, switch off the pan, remove to a cool surface and let stand for 5–10 minutes if you can bear to wait. The pasta swells in the soup and everything just gets better.

I hope everything "just gets better" for you.

Justine Picardie said...

Golden syrup dumplings are definitely new to me -- but the recipe is so tempting I want to try it right now. Unfortunately, it's midnight, and I have to be up in less than seven hours...
Kairu -- I love that quote -- must seek out the book. I think I shall pin it up above my desk. It's the principle upon which I base all of my writing; hence the shift between memoir and novels, and back again...

Damon Young said...

These are quick, simple and delicious - everything heartbreak isn't:

With best wishes,


kairu said...

Well, Justine, after all this I had to pull myself out of bed (where I had been just hovering on the edge of sleep) and find my own copy of Heartburn (it was on the very top row of shelves, between a copy of Les Miserables that a friend once dropped in the bathtub and To Kill a Mockingbird).

And now I have two words for you: mashed potatoes.

(I like mashed potatoes with turkey gravy, or with beef shortribs braised in Guinness with lots of onions, but most of all, I like them alone, just a bowl of mashed potatoes, soft and buttery and perhaps with a sprinkle of Maldon salt and a scattering of freshly ground black pepper).

Lou said...

Sorry Justine.Also forgot to add that after you drop the dumplings into the sauce,you need to cover the pot and simmer for about 30 minutes.

Anonymous said...

Lou: I am desperate to try those dumplings, though without the excuse of raw heartbreak and the hollowness it brings - I don't know that it would be wise. But what does that mean? Of course I'll try them. As for the biobliotherapy: I remember Meredith Daneman writing fantastically on this subject in her novel The Favourite (published by Faber yonks ago, and possibly now out of print) but of course the best is Heartburn. But it's the best about everything, not just betrayal and the aching, busted heart. I reread it a summer or so ago, and wanted to restart it the minute I'd finished it. But then I'm always hungry for Nora Ephron's words.

Juxtabook said...

I totally agree with kairu that mashed potato is serious comfort food.

At the lowest point in my life my husband and I were given the most enormous basket of fruit I have ever seen, with a pineapple on the top, and packets of seeds of change pasta and pasta sauce hidden inside. It was from my parents (parents worry about you eating when something dreadful happens) and it was just the thing. I just lay on the sofa eating peaches and kiwi fruit and it felt so restoring, as though my body was taking the strength up to get on with sorting the rest of me out. When we got fed up of the fruit we cooked the pasta. When I see a pineapple I still get a warm glow from the memory of the care shown me through the fruit.

Justine Picardie said...

Thank you, everyone. This might sound like a joke, but it's actually true: I have the most terrible heartburn tonight. I'm not sure if it's psychosomatic, or the body as a metaphor, or a broken heart, or simply... heartburn.

GlassCurls said...

I think you've baked too much Key Lime Pie, brownies, soup, noodles, Chocolate applesauce cake, Golden syrup dumplings and minestrone .... Although there might be a touch of the psychosomatic too.

kairu said...

I was thinking, last night, that cooking anything that involves pounding with a meat mallet or other blunt instrument, like veal scalloppine or Wiener Schnitzel or perhaps Chicken Kiev (or chicken Piccata) might prove therapeutic. I rather enjoy taking a boneless pork chop and beating it with the blunt edge of a heavy cleaver on both sides until it is twice its original circumference and almost thin enough to see through. Well, not quite, but you get the idea. It is immensely satisfying. I also have a recipe for croissants that requires much clubbing of the butter and dough with a rolling pin.

Bread-baking, with its repeated punching down of rising dough, is also quite fun.

Dorte H said...

Oh, can´t I have my cake and keep him? (if forced to choose, I am going to keep my husband, though - he does not bake, but he is a good cook).

Jane said...

Thought you might like to read this

Jane said...

Thought you might like to read this.

Justine Picardie said...

Love the womans room -- have just been for a visit there, and it cheered me immensely. Thank you! And I definitely need to do some bread pounding or steak beating in the near future, after a weepy evening of abject sorrowfulness...

Jane said...

glad you liked it, we love writing it and would be glad if you could pass on the link to anyone else you think would enjoy it.

Anonymous said...

Ephron graduated from Wellesley College in 1962 and worked briefly as an intern in the White House of President John F. Kennedy.

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