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Posts Tagged ‘Virginia Woolf and food’

In her essay “On Cookbooks: Collections and Recollection,” Alice Lowe travels through BloomsburyCookbook_title_26523the decades, from her first casseroles to Julia and Jacques, from Betty Crocker to Virginia Woolf.

In it, she shares her love for Woolf and her thoughts on Woolf and food.

Here’s a teaser: “My time in England launched and nurtured my interest in Virginia Woolf; my retirement has enabled my studies and published work on her life and writing. Books by and about Woolf have increased as cookbooks decline. The Bloomsbury Cookbook: Recipes for Life, Love and Art weds literature and artwork by Woolf, her sister Vanessa Bell, and others of the legendary Bloomsbury circle, with anecdotes and stories, recipes and repasts both real and fictional. I haven’t allocated it to a shelf yet—is it a Woolf book or a cookbook?”

Visit Alice’s blog to read the rest.

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The Guardian reports on the cooking exploits of writers, including Virginia Woolf, by quoting a post published on thecottage loaf Paper and Salt blog on Woolf’s 131st birthday that provides some detail about her experiences in the kitchen.

Bread, particularly the traditional British double-decker cottage loaf, was her specialty. And even her cook knew it. Cook Louie Mayer is quoted describing how Woolf taught her how to make the dough, knead it, shape it and bake it. Her memories are included in Recollections of Virginia Woolf.

Was Woolf’s baking advice helpful or snobbish? Was Woolf’s interest in cooking and baking a relaxing diversion from writing or a betrayal of her feminism?

The Guardian article gives Angela Carter‘s views on both issues. Post your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Read more about Woolf and food.

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Photo by Roberta Rubenstein

Virginia Woolf scholar Roberta Rubenstein offers this Woolf sighting and a photo to illustrate it: The London restaurant, Zizzi, 33 Charlotte Street, London, features a 12-foot wall mural of a couple dancing. Below them is this famous Woolf quote:

One cannot think well, sleep well, live well if one has not dined well.

Woolf’s assertion is one of several comments printed on paper napkins at the restaurant, which features excellent Italian food, according to Rubenstein.

The mural is likely a product of the restaurant’s “Fresh Talent” initiative, which commissions artists to produce their art inside the chain’s restaurants.

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Van Gogh is Bipolar is an unlikely name for a restaurant. And Virginia Woolf’s Tears is an unlikely name for a soup.

It’s an organic turkey soup with chopped green apples and thinly sliced purple cabbage that aims to alleviate depression and compulsive behavior.

The Woolf dish, along with others named after famous people, is made with ingredients that restaurant owner Jetro Rafael says affect mood and produce happy hormones. On the list are salmon, honey, cabbage, nuts and tea.

The unconventional restaurant with the unusual theme is located in Quezon City, Philippines. It’s so unconventional that it only serves 12 diners per night, and those 12 diners place their own orders, bus their own tables and pay their bills on the honor system.

If they are lucky enough to find the place open. Right now, the restaurant’s Facebook page has an alarming red banner that reads “Closed for now” over its profile photo.

Perhaps the owner and his chef are busy blissing out on happy hormones.

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I was delighted to see Paula’s post with Woolf sightings in cookbooks. Many people would think it unlikely to find Woolf associated with cooking and the enjoyment of food, recalling her as an anorexic who took little pleasure from eating.

But in fact, just as she was lively and outgoing when she was well compared to the depression and anxiety that accompanied her sporadic mental illness, so too, she had a vivid appreciation for food, in both her personal enjoyment and appreciation of it and her use of it in her novels and essays, letters and diaries.

This was the premise of my paper at the 2010 International Conference on Virginia Woolf , “’A Certain Hold on Haddock and Sausage’: Dining Well in Virginia Woolf’s Life and Work.” In my research, I waded through several volumes on the psychological analyses that attributed her eating disorders to mental illness and/or childhood trauma and found them narrowly focused on her dysfunction at the expense of her artistry.

I chose to focus on Woolf’s own words instead, and there are so many to choose from. In 1907, she wrote to her friend Nelly Cecil, “Why is there nothing written about food—only so much thought? I think a new school might arise, with new adjectives and new epithets, and a strange beautiful sensation, all new to print.” She proceeded to do that throughout her life.

The reason bouef en daube has been immortalized in literary cookbooks is because it is one of the most sumptuous and sensuous dishes described in literature, and the meal at which it was served is the pivotal point in the connections among the Ramsey family and their circle of guests. E. M. Forster said of this scene that, “Such a dinner cannot be built on a statement beneath a dish-cover which the novelist is too indifferent or incompetent to remove. Real food is necessary, and this, in fiction as in her home, she knew how to provide. She put it in because she tasted it.…”

Food descriptions in The Waves are mouth-watering. Consider Neville’s “delicious mouthfuls of roast duck, fitley piled with vegetables…,” the butter oozing through Bernard’s crumpet, and Susan plunging her hands into the bread dough. And in Orlando, the phrase “good to eat” is used because there isn’t a word for “beautiful.”

Someone commented that if only there had been an Alice B. Toklas to chronicle Woolf’s feasts and private pleasures; well, Woolf was the consummate artist, and she brilliantly recorded them herself. I haven’t even touched on her own cooking and eating, which I believe to be the “proof of the pudding” about Virginia Woolf ‘s love of food, but I’ll cook something up for next time.

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