This post was inspired by Eric Peterson's novel The Dining Car. I wasn't sure to expect with this book, but I loved it and promptly read the sequel, Sunshine Chief. I will share a recipe from that soon.
On the Page
Named The Dining Car because the protagonist, Horace Button, is a Falstaffian gourmand who refuses to ride on an airplane. Instead, he traverses the country in a luxurious railroad dining car. The narrator, Jack Marshall, is a once-famous college football star whose career was curtailed by an injury. He now works as a bartender on the dining car along with Button's personal chef.
The story, told through Jack's eyes, looks at the absurd life of rich, eccentric, alcoholic journalist. But, despite Button's numerous idiosyncracies, we fall in love with him for his wit and charisma. Some of the situations are so ridiculous that you can't help but chuckle. Case in point: Button is scheduled to meet his newly orphaned niece, Jane, and the board of his magazine suggests he give her a teddy bear. Intended as a good photo opportunity to make Button more likeable, it's botched when he buys a talking Smokey the Bear toy by accident. To try and feminize the bear, they dress the bear in a hat and a dress. At the hand-off, the bear's sound mechanism malfunctions and Button, who is more than a little tipsy, laughs hysterically. Observers recount Button laughing at a Smokey in a dress and the report spirals into him being anti-LGBTQ. Oye.
The characters are a hoot and the food and drinks are deliciously decadent. I would read the book just for what he eats and drinks!
"Great food is both spiritual and carnal. It’s the chef’s job to be the aggressor, to seduce the guest with her food—the way it looks and smells and tastes on your tongue, the way it feels in your mouth. I’m sorry. This must sound pretty stupid" (pg. 159).
But it was actually Jane's age-appropriate commentary about some of the dishes that sent me to the kitchen. At one point, she refuses to eat the quail on her plate. "'You need to eat,' Horace said. 'I feel sorry for the quail,' Jane said. 'You feel sorry for the quail?' 'What if she’s a mother?' Jane said. 'Who will sit on her eggs and hatch the little quail babies?' 'The quail is dead,' Horace said" (pg. 276).
In another exchange with her uncle, Button is telling her about a true culinary genius. "'His proficiency with escargots, for example, is legendary.' 'Es-car-go?' 'Snails.' Jane wrinkled her nose. 'People eat snails?' 'Snails are a wonderful delicacy. You remove them from their shells and bake them in sizzling garlic-herb butter, then put them back in the shell for serving.' 'The poor snails. What if they get put back in the wrong shell?' 'It’s immaterial, since the shell is strictly for viewing pleasure. I happen to know the cooked snail is perfectly happy to be infused with butter and heading for the gastronome’s gullet. It’s his raison d’être. Any shell will do'" (pg. 200).
Any Shell Will Do
Actually, in this case I couldn't even find my escargot shells! So I borrowed an escargot dish from a friend.
1 can escargot
1 cup butter, room temperature
2 shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 Tablespoons herbs, minced (I used a mixture of parsley, cilantro, and rosemary)
4 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
salt and pepper
Rinse the escargot under warm water. Pat dry with a paper towel. Set aside.
In a small mixing bowl, combine the butter, shallots, garlic, herbs, and lemon juice. Mix all ingredients well with a small spoon. Lightly season butter with salt and pepper.
Scoop a small amount of herb butter in hollow of the escargot dish or into each shell. Place the escargot on top and put another dollop of butter on top. Cook snails for 12 to 15 minutes. Top with more butter, if desired. You can never have enough butter with snails, I think!
Serve snails with toasted pieces of baguette or crackers.