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Mystic Cookies December 5, 2009

Posted by The Typist in books, literature, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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The novel Mystic Pig by Richard Katrovas is one of the great New Orleans books. You’re have to take my word for it, or you can plop down about $30 US to get a copy of the reprint from Oleander Press in England after conversion, shipping, etc. The story of restaurateur Nat Moore and the many loves of his life–his wives and his children and his secret love the artist Sandra–it is book as comically perfect and at times as Rabelaisian in its characters and their stories as John Kennedy Toole’s masterpiece, and as fine an exploration of the male psyche as anything by New Orleans native Richard Ford.

Pretty strong claims, I know, but no you can’t borrow my copy until I finish a slow, note taking re-read.

Among the books interesting points is the inclusion of many recipes presented as narrative descriptions of his characters cooking. Late in this short book (page 154 to be precise) he offers a recipe for made-from-scratch chocolate chip cookies complete enough that you could spread the book’s spine out on the counter and make yourself a batch. What is Odd (and we do like our Odd here) is that this recipe follows hard on behind a glorious 937-word sentence (and we do love our long sentences here as you have likely noticed, likely a result of our annual excursion to 1904 Dublin every June and an obligatory pass or three through Faulkner’s oeuvre, all of which seems to have rubbed off on us indelibly), this story-in-a-sentence a recollection by Nate of the novel’s critical moment, a revelation that appears to take all male readers by surprise but not the one women I know who has read the book, a scene so perfectly disturbing (yet without reveling in the gruesome details) that I may never eat chocolate chip cookies again as they have become inextricably linked in my mind with this turn of the plot.

Try them and let me know how they come out.

He fetched from the fridge unsalted butter, three eggs and some s cream that had languished behind the mayonnaise through at least two shop¬ping cycles so was probably getting used just in time. He checked for chocolate: he’d need unsweetened and semisweet, and he had plenty of the latter and no: as much as he wanted of the former, but that would be no problem. He pulled down the sea salt, baking powder, sugar, flour. He got down his favorite mixing; bowl; Marti had dubbed it the Green Monster. He plopped five tablespoons of the butter, about two ounces of unsweetened and three ounces of semisweet chocolate into the Green Monster, which he then placed on a double boiler at just a shade over medium heat. After about ten minutes, during which Nat knocked back the whiskey and poured another, the chocolate was smooth. Then he got the electric mixer and attached the paddle; he dropped in about a cup of sugar and cracked the three eggs over it and beat them on low for about four minutes. Then he dumped in the buttered chocolate and beat it all for about a minute and a half, then dropped in about a half-cup of flour, two pinches or salt, roughly a teaspoon of baking soda, and beat on low for about three minutes. Finally, he folded in about a third of a cup of the sour cream, and dumped the rest down the garbage disposal.

He pulled two cookie sheets from under the shelf to the right of the sink; the pots and pans were tossed in any old way, as his father would have characterized the clutter; he made a small racket extricating the flat racks from the junkyard mangle, and as he tossed back his whiskey he scraped cement-hard yellow-cheese char from one of the sheets with his thumbnail. He cranked up the oven to 350 because it had seemed to be heating a few degrees cooler lately and buttered the sheets before plopping two spoons of batter for each cookie, keeping about three inches between each double plop of batter. He baked each rack for twenty minutes, rotating the racks every ten.

What’s truly Odd is I type this my wife is frantically cranking out the Christmas cookies in the next room, a habit carried down from snowy North Dakota. Why do Irish/Scandinavian women from the upper Midwest make a German/Russian shortbread cookie called a Mexican Wedding Cake to celebrate a Mediterranean mythological holiday? All I know is that they are delicious, which settles the question for me.