As I think I mentioned earlier, I recently turned 40, and also Shakespeare recently turned 400 years of deceased, and since these events were a mere week apart, I thought I would take the opportunity to get our reading group together again after a long hiatus and read the last Shakespeare play left to us – Hamlet!
I apologise in advance for these photos – the timing meant that we did our reading in the late afternoon / early evening, and so the light was not auspicious for recording all the food. But I do want to keep some record of the event, so here goes…
We started with a typical Danish Smørrebrød, for which I made pumpernickel bread, dill sauce, a quick red onion pickle, hard boiled eggs, seeded rye cracker-bread and caraway biscuits, and added to this smoked salmon, wild mushroom and smoked trout dips, and three kinds of Danish cheese (a blue, a feta, and a Fontina). My friend G also brought oat rolls, to round things out.
The caraway biscuits and pumpernickel bread both came from Scandilicious, and were pretty good, though the pumpernickel bread was very heavy. I have a feeling it is supposed to be, though.
After this bracing and thematically-appropriate purpose, we moved onto the play, and the main course.
I decided that certain soliloquies really called for a traditional French dish, which is a shoulder of lamb, cooked slowly for nine hours until you can eat it with a spoon. This recipe is from The French Slow Cooker, incidentally.
As we had several people with mutually exclusive allergies, I also did the roast chicken with rosemary, garlic and potatoes, from Diana Henry’s Cook Simple.
With all this meat, I needed a salad, so I returned to the Green Kitchen cookbook, which usefully had a fennel and lentil salad in it, which I thought would nicely balance all that rich meat.
And of course, I couldn’t resist coming up with a suitable dish to represent Polonius’s ultimate fate – I made a very simple casserole of vermicelli, mixed with spiralised carrots and zucchini, and then baked with cheese. It was a little on the plain side, but disappeared flatteringly fast.
That pretty much got us to the end of Act 3. By this point, the opinion of the table was that the play would be significantly shorter if the male characters were less fascinated by the sex lives of their female relatives. Also, I was beginning to wonder if it was even possible to know what Ophelia was thinking, since we only ever see her in conversation with people who she pretty much has to go along with. (T, who was playing Ophelia: “She’s thinking exactly what she has been told to.”)
It was time for dessert.
It is just possible that I got a little carried away with dessert, but there were just too many lines in Hamlet that were crying out to be turned into dessert-themed puns. Naturally, I had to make gingerbread men (I used the recipe for ginger biscuits from Scandilicious, and it was fantastic).
Then, of course, I had to make some tangerine biscuits in the shape of skulls, iced in white and painted with food colouring by my friend E.
I have a feeling that this was not quite the sort of painting that Shakespeare had in mind, but it was awesome nonetheless. I wanted a warm dessert, and I’ve been getting quite good at Tarte Tatin recently, so that was a must.
(Also, I served it with whipped cream, for who would bear the whips and scorns of time…?)
I made a lemon and rosemary yoghurt cake, because it was easy and yummy, and apparently I was still worried there wouldn’t be enough food.
I then decided that I needed to make religieuses, which was a bit of a foolish idea, because they are tricky at the best of times, and I was making a lot of other stuff, and my wrist wasn’t happy about this. It turns out, though, that you can do a lot of the work of making chou pastry in the food processor, and you get really nice chou buns. Of course, I then slightly mucked up my crème patissière (which I had flavoured with violets – but they withered all when my father died – and roses – O rose of May!), so that it was too runny, and my icing for the little nun-buns was also runny, and so my religieuses looked pretty disgraceful.
They were tasty, though.
Of course, this left me with a lot of egg-whites, which pretty much required me to make meringues. I flavoured them with passionfruit powder, and piped them out as rather messy-looking ghosts.
And that was, as I think you will agree, quite enough food, really.
A suitable ‘great feast’ to end nine years and hundreds of hours of reading, organising, and of baking. Over the years, we’ve had guest readers from Colombia, Germany and Canada, and have lost regular readers as they moved away to England, the USA and Darwin. We’ve butchered many an accent (though no worse, I think, than Shakespeare himself did, to judge by Henry V), found endless innuendo, most of which was probably intentional, and undoubtedly missed more. We’ve read a furiously gleeful Julius Caesar in the wake of John Howard’s downfall, and have read Twelfth Night on Twelfth Night – and at other times, too. There have been moments where a speech has fallen into the sort of silence that only comes from great acting, and others when we have all been so hysterical with laughter that nobody could speak at all.
And now, we are done.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
Thank you to Andrew, Angelique, Annette, Anna, Brett, Carlos, Cate, Elise, Geoff, Geoffrey, Gillian, Heath, Hilbert, Isabelle, Jika, John, Les, Loki, Melissa, Marian, Merrian, Nada, Patricia, Rebecca, Rhiannon, Shakira, Tanya, Ursula, and anyone else I may have forgotten who has read with us over the years. It’s been amazing and stressful and brilliant and inspiring and exhausting and wonderful, and taken all in all, we shall not look upon its like again.