Tacos with Pynchon, Burgers with Hemingway
In between drinking (Hemingway) and hiding (Pynchon), these two iconic writers were known to procrastinate in the way that many of us who write do: by chowing down. While stuffing our faces may partially delay the pain of composing, it’s not all duck-and-cover. Writing often requires mulling. As Umberto Eco notes, “Writing doesn’t mean necessarily putting words on a sheet of paper. You can write a chapter while walking or eating.”
A new discovery for me, by way of the Paris Review, is a site called Paper and Salt, a blog devoted to the love of food and literature. (Maybe I’ll start another called Windex and Waffles, which, granted, does not have quite the appeal of the former but I do tend to clean everything, and then EAT everything, when I have Major Writing to accomplish.)
Anyway, it’s pretty entertaining to hear about Pynchon and his love of Beer-Braised Chicken Tacos. Apparently, Pynchon could often be found
“wearing an old red hunting-jacket and sunglasses, doting on Mexican food at a taco stand.” Throughout the late 60s and 70s, Pynchon became a regular at El Tarasco in Manhattan Beach (It’s still open today, if you want to follow in his culinary footsteps). Neighbors would frequently spot him chowing down—the notorious hermit, lured into public by a burrito.”
Hemingway had his favorites, too. Among them was the humble hamburger, pan-fried, not grilled. Among his papers was found these explicit instructions for cooking Papa a proper burger:
PAPA’S FAVORITE HAMBURGER. There is no reason why a fried hamburger has to turn out gray, greasy, paper-thin and tasteless. You can add all sorts of goodies and flavors to the ground beef — minced mushrooms, cocktail sauce, minced garlic and onion, chopped almonds, a big dollop of piccadilli, or whatever your eye lights on. Papa prefers this combination.
1 lb. ground lean beef
2 cloves, minced garlic
2 little green onions, finely chopped
1 heaping teaspoon, India relish
2 tablespoons, capers
1 heaping teaspoon, Spice Islands sage
Spice Islands Beau Monde Seasoning — ½ teaspoon
Spice Islands Mei Yen Powder — ½ teaspoon **
1 egg, beaten in a cup with a fork
About one third cup dry red or white wine.
1 tablespoon cooking oil
What to do —
Break up the meat with a fork and scatter the garlic, onion and dry seasonings over it, then mix them into the meat with a fork or your fingers. Let the bowl of meat sit out of the icebox for ten or fifteen minutes while you set the table and make the salad. Add the relish, capers, everything else including wine and let the meat sit, quietly marinating, for another ten minutes if possible. Now make four fat, juicy patties with your hands. The patties should be an inch thick, and soft in texture but not runny. Have the oil in your frying-pan hot but not smoking when you drop in the patties and then turn the heat down and fry the burgers about four minutes. Take the pan off the burner and turn the heat high again. Flip the burgers over, put the pan back on the hot fire, then after one minute, turn the heat down again and cook another three minutes. Both sides of the burgers should be crispy brown and the middle pink and juicy.
** Spice Islands discontinued its production of Mei Yen Powder three years ago. If you don’t have any in your pantry, here’s how to recreate it:
9 parts salt
9 parts sugar
2 parts MSG
If a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon Mei Yen Powder, use 2/3 tsp of the dry recipe (above) mixed with 1/8 tsp of soy sauce.
Geez, all this writing about writing and food is making me hungry. Go. Eat something! And eventually, sit your butt down and write.