The latest episode of my podcast “Cooking The Books” is now available online for your listening pleasure, and it’s a good one! We’re talking demons, Ouija boards, the Catholic Church, Ozzy Osbourne…….and soup! So give it a listen at:
Well, I had to, didn’t I? It’s October. What other book could I possibly blog about other than The Exorcist, that classic tale of demonic possession, faith, and terror? I’d never read the book, though I’ve seen the movie many times, especially in October. The film hasn’t lost its shock value, though it’s not as terrifying as it was when I saw it as a young girl.
But the book is genuinely unnerving, creeping up with subtlety and giving you more insight into the characters than is comfortable. Chris MacNeil, in point of fact, is a much more likeable character in the book, though she is still somewhat irritating. Father Karras is even more likeable, particularly because his own crisis of faith and personal guilt are given much more attention and backstory.
Blatty’s writing is accessible – short sentences, everyday words, and concise narration – which makes it all the more powerful in telling this horrific tale set in Georgetown. This is even more effective when describing some of the more disturbing scenes – Regan and the infamous crucifix, her head twisting completely around, some of the more profane and filthy things she says, the priest falling down those vicious stairs – which really exist, by the way. See below, from my trip to Washington a couple of years ago. A genuinely creepy spot.
I think, at its heart, it’s a book about faith. Whether it’s faith in God, faith in the power of love, faith in science, or faith in the unknown, it’s the idea of believing in something greater outside of ourselves that is the thread tying it together. And then, of course, there was this passage. Of course you know what comes to mind when you read it.
They went to the Hot Shoppe. Chris ate a salad while Regan had soup (haha, of course she did!), two sourdough rolls, fried chicken, a strawberry shake, and blueberry pie topped with chocolate ice cream. Where does she put it, Chris wondered, in her wrists? The child was a slender as a fleeting hope.
So soup. Of course I made soup! You’re damn right I made soup! SPLIT PEA SOUP! This is the method that worked for me, based on this recipe from Allrecipes.com, and of course, with my own additions. Plan for about 4-5 hours prep and cook time total.
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 large carrots or 10 baby carrots, chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 lb. dried split peas
3-4 ham steaks, cubed
3-4 bay leaves
1 and 1/2 quarts chicken stock
1 and 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup white wine
3 tablespoons liquid smoke
2 potatoes, peeled and cubed
Melt the butter and olive oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add the chopped carrots, celery, onion and garlic. Cook and sweat them down for up to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a dash of salt to keep them from burning.
Add the peas, and stir around to get the vegetable flavors incorporated.
Pour in the chicken stock, the water, and the wine (how Biblical, right?), and give one good stir.
Toss in the bay leaves and the sliced-up ham chunks.
Add the liquid smoke, and season with salt and pepper. Cover, and cook on medium-low for 3 hours, stirring occasionally. The soup will thicken as it cooks.
For the last hour, check the texture of the peas. If they are still somewhat hard, turn up the heat and bring to a hard boil for at least 45 minutes. Taste for seasoning.
The potato chunks go in for the last hour, to soften up and break down. This also adds to the soup’s thick, unctuous texture.
Serve in large bowls and eat with gusto and the knowledge that, with a soup this good, the Devil surely cannot possess your soul. This soup is perfect for a chilly autumn day or if you need to start spewing at a priest. The power of Christ compels you, you know. #monstermenu
Being a fan of anything paranormal, I quite enjoyed Maledicus: The Investigative Paranormal Society, although there were some pretty gruesome parts, too. (And I admit that I was too damn hungry to pause for my usual book-and-food photo, so I improvised and did one with a glass of the wine I used in the recipe and the book itself……….see above.) I mean, I can handle horror and great scares, but I don’t do gore very well. Anyway, this book centers around three scholars who investigate paranormal goings-on. They have an investigative society, and it actually reminded me of the Chowder Society in Peter Straub’s creepy book Ghost Story, except that here, they take a much more active role.
The three scholars, Roosevelt, Jeremy and Sam, are all grieving in their own ways, and this is part of what bonds them and makes up the very interesting back story. They’ve formed the Investigative Paranormal Society due to their individual interests in the supernatural and when they’re asked to investigate a “haunting” of a teacher’s niece, they instead find that the niece is being slowly possessed by the evil spirit of Maledicus, who’s a true badass evil bastard whose spirit was trapped in a statue in Ancient Rome for his horrific deeds and whose sheer evil spirit is so powerful that whoever takes possession of the statue throughout history is then possessed by his nasty spirit to wreak havoc. And boy, does he!
Maledicus is pretty horrible in the book, and I had to skip over some of the more gruesome depictions of his torture methods. The characterizations of all the main characters are great, particularly the aunt Helen, but I like strong women. Charles French (you can see more of his writing here) is a really compelling writer, and his overall story hooked me quickly. My only real beef, and this is just my own style preference, was that the characters’ personalities were revealed very quickly in the narration. I prefer to slowly learn about characters through their actions, rather than have everything about them explained from the off. But that’s just me, and a minor complaint.
Anyway, Michael Bruno is one of Roosevelt’s oldest friends and a Catholic priest in the book, and when Roosevelt asks him to take part in an exorcism attempt to forever rid the world of Maledicus from the body of the little girl, they do it over a delicious Italian meal, which of course, includes a bottle of Chianti. As well it should!
Marcelo’s was a small Italian restaurant located approximately halfway between Bethberg and St. Bernard’s College. Since both Father Bruno and Roosevelt enjoyed Italian food, it was a natural meeting place for the two men……….They had finished their main courses: Bruno ate Scungilli Alla Marinara, and Roosevelt had Shrimp Scampi. They were sharing a bottle of Chianti. Roosevelt poured another glass for both of them.
Shrimp scampi is a funny play on words, because the word “scampi” is one of the Italian words for shrimp, so you’re having shrimp shrimp when you eat it. I just love a cute foodie play on words, which is probably why scampi is my favorite shrimp dish to make. I cooked this version, using rosé wine, and it was DELICIOUS! And the best part is you can drink the rest of the wine with the meal! Win-win. Anyway, this is the method that worked for me.
3 lbs raw shrimp, shelled and deveined (enough for 5-6 people)
8 cloves of garlic, 4 grated and 4 thinly sliced
5-6 green onions
1 teaspoon sea salt
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup rosé wine
1/2 stick unsalted butter
Fresh parsley for garnishing
Slice the garlic into thin slivers.
Do the same with the green onion.
Gently saute in a pan with the butter, olive oil, and salt.
Add the wine and the juice of two lemons and let simmer another few minutes, until the sauce reduces and thickens.
Toss in the shrimp and let cook until they are pink. Don’t overcook them or they’ll be rubbery. And who wants to eat a rubbery shrimp? Not I!
Serve over Basmati rice that you’ve cooked in chicken broth, and garnish with the parsley and lemon slices. The sauce is divine, and with that much garlic, you’ll be certain to ward off any evil spirit, even one as god-awful as Maledicus!
Both a novel of psychological suspense and genuine supernatural horror, A Head Full of Ghosts is head case of a book…..pardon the pun. I love a book that cleverly uses meta-fiction, and this one definitely refers back to itself in such a funny way, by use of social media. (Speaking of which, there is a funny pic at the very end of this post used on one of the most popular social media sites out there, so keep reading for a good laugh.)
The advent of reality TV, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all the others, has turned us into a society where every moment, thought, insight, and personal experience is documented for an audience of millions of strangers. We get validation for every aspect of our lives when we get likes or follows or retweets. This book takes it to an entirely new level, similar to how social media is used in my previous blog The Last Days of Jack Sparks, but here, it documents not just the possession and mental breakdown of a person, but an entire family.
The book is the story of 13-year old Merry and her memories of her sister Marjorie’s psychological breakdown and subsequent possession – and the TV crew that documented all of it and relayed it to a television audience of millions. Merry is telling the tale in flashback at the age of 23, and recalls her parents’ terror and frustration at Marjorie’s condition, their increasing dire financial straits, and the questions that inevitably arise from such a horrific combination of scenarios.
Is Marjorie truly possessed by a demonic force? Is she mentally ill? Is she just playing with their heads? Is it child abuse? What makes this book so addictive is that you are never quite sure what is going on. Is the narrator reliable? Who is wrong and what is right? Perception is reality, but then……what constitutes perception? Age? Seeing only what we want to see?
It’s not so much horrifying – though it is definitely that – as it is uncomfortable. The unease and terror sneak up on you slowly, gradually, disturbingly, and as I got closer to the end, I found myself racing through the pages to see what was happening. If you’re a fan of psychological terror, supernatural horror, and a well-written story that makes you question your own perceptions, this book will definitely send you on a twisted ride.
In one early scene, Merry is pondering an odd memory of her parents going away for a rare weekend, and wonders if they are leaving because of Marjorie’s behavior, or because of her own strange preference for pasta.
“Away was the only word the four-year old me remembered. I had no concept of time or distance. Only that they were away, which sounded so weirdly menacing……..I was convinced they went away because they were sick of my eating pasta without spaghetti sauce. Dad had always grumbled about his not believing that I didn’t like the sauce………”
I love pasta, but of course, it must have some type of sauce. This passage left quite a bit of leeway for cooking, so I decided linguine in a butter-lemon sauce with a creamy lemon chicken piccata was in order, to scare away all those ghosts in my head. This is the method that worked for me, serving 6 people, based on The Pioneer Woman’s delicious recipe. And yes, with requisite tweaks by me. You’re welcome.
12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, pounded quite thinly (great for stress relief)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup flour
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup white wine
Juice of 2 whole lemons
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup capers
1/2 cup fresh basil, finely chopped
2 lbs fettuccine, or any long pasta of your choice
Fresh parsley for garnishing
Lemon slices for garnishing
In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the butter and the olive oil. Salt and pepper the chicken thighs, and dredge each one in flour. This is a messy step, so an apron is advised.
Increase the heat to high, and cook the thighs in the skillet for about 10 minutes on each side. You want them nice and browned. Remove and set aside.
Saute the shallots and chopped basil for about 5 minutes in the chicken pan juices.
Lower the heat to medium low, and pour in the broth, the wine, the lemon juice, and the capers. Stir together and simmer for 10 minutes.
Add back in the browned chicken pieces and pour in the juices they’ve accumulated on their platter. Pour in the capers, cover, and cook on low for 25 minutes.
Remove the chicken pieces, then pour in the heavy cream, stir together, and taste again. Serve over linguine and garnish with lemon slices.
We ate this fantastic dish with roasted grape tomatoes and mushrooms, and a gorgeous chocolate mousse cake, in honor of my sister’s birthday.
As you can see, she is addicted to Snapchat filters. Dork that she is.
Thanks to CHC for the photography!
October winds to a close, and all the spooky, scary things that went bump in the night are on their way out, ushering in the holiday season.
The supernaturally-themed book that I raced to the October finish line is a new favorite, a little gem of a novel which I’ve already read twice and thoroughly enjoyed. The Demonologist tells the story of a man’s desperate search to save his daughter from the clutches of a demon, or possibly The Devil himself. It’s written in sparse prose that make it all the more frightening to read, both from a psychological viewpoint and from the fear that it might all be true, after all. Hell and demons and all of it.
I don’t believe in demons, in the sense of little horned creatures running around, wreaking havoc with their pitchforks and offering people deals for their souls. I don’t believe in Hell, in the sense of a place where you burn over a spit for all eternity. What I do believe in is that demonic forces come from that dark, shadow place within all of us. Every light has a dark. There has to be an opposite – otherwise, how would we know what truly is, if there was nothing to compare it to? As far as Hell goes, I don’t think any literary or Biblical hell could match the hell of not being able to escape one’s own thoughts or deeds. I know from dark and painful personal experience that when your mind is in a loop of pain and anger and hurt and frustration and inability to do anything, that is hell right there.
In The Demonologist, you can feel the main character David’s anguish, his terror, his anger and his frustration from the start. Haunted persistently by what he deems depression since childhood, and what turns out to be far more scary than mere sadness, he is in the midst of a divorce when a mysterious woman supposedly employed by the Catholic Church arrives at his office one afternoon to offer him a trip to Venice to see something unusual. David is, you see, a professor and scholar of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, the epic poem about Lucifer’s fall from heaven that presents Hell and all the dominions and demons therein as fairly sympathetic characters. David takes his daughter Tess with him, and before the horror begins, they share a lovely meal overlooking the Venetian canals, in a restaurant very appropriately named for what’s to come.
“You know what they call this restaurant?” I say. “Il Settimo Cielo. Guess what it means.” “I don’t speak Italian, Dad.” “Seventh Heaven.” “Because it’s on the seventh floor?” “Give the girl a kewpie doll.” “What’s a kewpie doll?” “Never mind.” Lunch arrives. Grilled trout for me, spaghetti alla limone for Tess. We eat ravenously……..
Having not eaten trout in years, because of lingering trauma from enforced camping and fishing as a child, and being forced to eat trout that still had those aggravating little bones in it I was leery. But I discovered a recipe for bacon-wrapped grilled trout. Because what, I ask, does bacon NOT make better? This is the super-simple method that worked for me, based on my recent skill in grilling salmon stovetop, and this method from Epicurious.com.
1 one-pound steelhead trout fillet, cleaned, deboned but with the skin on one side
1 lemon, thinly sliced
Handful of fresh rosemary
7-8 slices of thick-cut, smoked bacon
Salt and pepper, to taste
Heat a stovetop grill to medium high. Make sure it is well oiled. Place the lemon slices on the top of each fish fillet.
Put 2-3 rosemary sprigs on top of each lemon-decorated fish piece.
Flatten your bacon slices with the flat of a knife, just to lengthen them a bit and help them cook faster.
Wrap 2-3 slices of bacon around each piece of lemon-rosemary garnished fish.
Grill each piece of fish turning frequently, so that the bacon crisps up, but the fish doesn’t burn. You will need to go by eye and nose. At one point, I covered the fish with foil and cooked for a good 10 minutes, just to steam.
Plate and serve with some roasted lemon-garlic-Parmesan cauliflower, which you will have made earlier in the day, to save yourself hysterics from trying to roast and grill at the same time. Oh, the horror of it all! You can also add some wild rice with flaked almonds, which may soothe the wild beast in your heart.
The fish is delicious, tender and flaky with the added flavors of lemon and bacon and rosemary creating a savory, tasty, and harmonious dish, which may kick the demons and ghosts in the teeth. Here’s hoping.
Have a safe and fun and happy Halloween!