A day after Halloween, I am rereading some classics from my childhood and I thought it would be fun to focus on one of my favorite scary books from when I was quite young, and one that still has an effect upon me to this day. Childhood fears are less insidious than those we learn as adults, but I’d argue they have more influence on on us as grown-ups. There are so many books that were pivotal in my life when I was a kid, still figuring out who I was and what I liked. I always had a taste for the dark and spooky stuff – still do! – and loved any type of ghost story, tales of witches and warlocks and vampires and monsters, and especially haunted houses. Jane-Emily fits the bill, in spades.
Jane-Emily scared the bejesus out of me when I was a kid. I think I was about 10 when I discovered it in my elementary school library and I was hooked. I must have read it 10 times when I first checked it out, and it was a perennial check-out favorite during my time at Sweeney Elementary (and I now own two vintage copies of it.) There was also something very Gothic and romantic about it, set as it was in the 1900s in Massachusetts, embodying a timeframe and way of life about which I knew nothing and so of course, I loved it. t also made me never, ever, EVER want to have a reflecting ball anywhere near me. And we all know how much I love anything spooky, so if this book had that effect on me, you know it’s a good read.
Jane is a young girl in 1912 Massachusetts, living with her maternal grandparents and her aunt Louisa after her mother and father were killed in a mysterious accident. She and Louisa go to spend the summer with her paternal grandmother, Lydia Canfield, who lives with her maid Katie in a big, somewhat mysterious house about 30 miles away, complete with large, elegant rooms, an attic filled with toys and dress-up clothes, and an enormous reflecting ball in the garden. Jane starts to feel the presence of her long-dead aunt Emily – her father’s younger sister who died as a child – and a series of truly creepy and eerie occurrences start to happen.
You know it’s a good book when you can read it in your 40s and still get creeped out and want the lights on. That’s how well this book is written. Emily’s spirit is horrendous, spoiled and spiteful and it’s alluded to that she, in some way, may have contributed to the death of Jane’s parents, as well as her own father. Jane begins almost to channel Emily’s spirit, unconsciously recreating a poem Emily wrote, seeing Emily’s reflection in the reflecting ball in the garden – very eerie – and having a general sense of all the awful things Emily did when alive. When Adam, who was Emily’s playmate when they were children, begins to court Louisa and they fall in love, Emily begins to torment them from beyond the grave, as well. I don’t care if this book was written over 40 years ago, and for kids. It’s still scary as hell.
My young girl heart was also taken by the romance in the book, because what 11-year old girl doesn’t once in awhile dream about a tall, dark and handsome man taking her to a romantic dinner overlooking the ocean, which is exactly what happens in this book. In one of my favorite scenes in the book, Adam takes Louisa on a first date to a restaurant on a peninsula overlooking the water. If that doesn’t sound romantic to you, you need your head examined. Anyway, they have a wonderful dinner together and Adam shares more about Emily’s childhood and what a spoiled little beastie she really was.
The restaurant was on the tip of the little peninsula just below Lynn, and from our table we could look through large open windows at the quiet water of the bay. We had lobster Thermidor, and a fresh, crisp bread and a salad, with delicious hot coffee.
The traditional way of making lobster Thermidor is by cooking a live lobster in boiling water until it is bright red. No can do. I am not squeamish about what I eat, but I can’t actively be the one to kill a poor lobster. So instead, I bought lobster tails, which in addition to being far less expensive, have much tastier meat. I mean, if you’re a cold-hearted lobster killer who has no qualms about cooking a live one, you rock on with your bad self.
4 5-oz. lobster tails
1 tablespoon butter
2 shallots, finely diced
1/2 cup sliced bella mushrooms
1/3 cup cream sherry
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup fish stock
1/4 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh or dried tarragon
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Pre-heat oven to 400F, and cut the lobster tails up the center to expose the white meat within.
Drizzle with olive oil, and bake for 15-20 minutes, until lobster meat is opaque and cooked. Set aside to cool.
In a large sauté pan, melt the tablespoon of butter and cook the shallots until translucent.
Add the mushrooms and cook until they release their juices, then splosh in the sherry and cook until the liquid has reduced, about 2-3 minutes.
Cut the rest of the lobster’s underside tail shell down one side and then the other and remove, then take out the cooked lobster meat. But don’t destroy the lobster tail shells, because that’s what you’ll use to present at the end.
Chop the lobster meat into bite-sized pieces and set aside.
In a large skillet, melt the remaining tablespoons of butter until foamy, then add the flour one spoonful at a time, first stirring then whisking until you get a thick, paste-like texture. Toss in your chopped mushrooms, the chopped tarragon, and pour in the fish stock and stir until it thickens into a lovely roux.
Season with salt and pepper, add the cooked lobster meat and stir to mix, then spoon the mixture into the lobster tails.
Turn up your oven broiler to high, and top each filled lobster tail with Parmesan cheese.
Broil the tails for about 20-30 seconds, or until the cheese melts and bubbles and browns. You’ll be able to tell by the wonderful nutty scent of the cheese.
This is a delicious and decadent meal. It’s not difficult but it will take you some time, so do it on a leisurely weekend when you have time to enjoy the process. The results are well worth it, and anyway, you have to splurge in life every once in awhile, right? Otherwise, you might as well be a vengeful spirit like Emily and who the hell wants that?