Why Hello there, and welcome, thou groundlings, to our continuation of Kitchen Catastrophe’s Shakespeare September, with a cookbook review of Shakespeare, Not Stirred, by Caroline Bicks and Michelle Ephraim. I’m Jon O’Guin, the main writer and performer for the site. If all of this feels a little stiff and information dense, well, that’s how first acts go in Shakespeare: “Here are ALL OF THE NAMES, and THE LOCATIONS. Please Remember them.”
Cooking Up Something Special
It’s been a while since we reviewed a cookbook, so I’ll recap our judgment categories
Unity of Theme
Or you can use “PVUC” for short. Very short. Never use that phrase again, I was wrong to suggest it. Exile it to an island where it can learn sorcery, enslave a local creature, have said slave attempt to rape its daughter, and then later abandon revenge half-way through its plans because its daughter has fallen in love.
The Tempest is a weird play.
That that PVUC is banishéd (and yes, auto-correct, that joke only WORKS if you keep the accent mark. I should cut off your head with a golden axe!) let us discuss the merry lives of this book and whether I recommend it.
I tend to start with Voice simply because I’ve found it informs so many of the other choices: a too-polished book in terms of Production Quality with a more convivial or rustic voice ends up slightly off-putting, like a Stepford Wife. (Is there a singular for that?) Further, if you don’t know the voice of the work, how can you say if the text as a whole is unified with it? So, the voice of Shakespeare, Not Stirred is, and I say this with a great deal of fondness, “Slightly Drunk Aunt”. The authors are both PhD-holding academics, with YEARS of training with Shakespeare, and, as anyone who has had to fight through graduate education knows, YEARS of training with alcohol as well. As such, the text is very much like your English professor Aunt has gotten a little tipsy before trying to give you advice about life.
It’s wine-o-clock somewhere, ya know?
And it’s pretty fun, as well as surprisingly insightful at times, as we’ll get into a little later. Every recipe is tied to a character in one of the plays, and spends some time discussing the plight of that character, the troubles they face in their show, and how the recipe connects with them, and how that character’s troubles can connect with your life. For instance, Shylock’s Ducats is a recipe for a Goldschlager-based cocktail. If you don’t know the brand, Goldschlager is a cinnamon schnapps with edible gold flakes in it. Thus, we have a drink for a character whose play is HEAVILY rooted in money (Shylock is loaning to Antonio because he’s broke from loaning to Bassanio, Shylock’s daughter steals much of his money, etc etc), that is BEDECKED with gold: the drink itself is a mixture of lemon juice, sparkling apple cider, and Goldschlager in a martini glass with a gold-dusted rim. Meaning the end result will be a light golden liquid with floating flakes of gold with a gold rim. Money Money Money!
The authors throw in little asides during the recipes themselves that tie back into the riffs they build in the preludes in fun ways: “Dip the rim in gold dust (unless your daughter got to it first).” There’s also allusions to the play texts in some of them. It’s the kind of voice that I think is pretty inviting: it’s telling you most of what you need to know, while also making a couple jokes that won’t fully click unless you’ve seen or read the show.
I’m very much torn on this one. Because I can’t really say that the production quality is BAD on the book, it just doesn’t click with me, and I can’t figure out why. And what problems I CAN pin down feel very…well, they feel silly and trivial. The biggest one is the cover. I have a bunch of little nit-picks with the cover: it’s bigger than the paper, as most covers are, but…like, 2-3 millimeters MORE than I think it should be. I think because It’s such a small book (160 pages, maybe 5”x 6”) that I notice it. The cover is also a little sharp on the corners, it feels weirdly light/soft, and the outside channels a little too much of that Drunk Aunt quality I mentioned in the voice:the rest of the book is uses ONLY black and red ink, but the cover is a Robin’s Egg Blue, the cover uses a different art style than the rest of the book, and is bedecked with a an almost art-deco depiction of liquor glasses and toppings.
They say a picture’s worth a thousand words. So why did I spend a paragraph describing what I could just show?
And it just doesn’t click with me. I can see the logic, and the appeal, it’s just…well, it’s a little jarring with the internal unity of theme to me, and it frustrates me.
The only other complaint is that in some lighting the red ink doesn’t work so well. It’s a relatively light red, and it can blur into the cream paper in some lights, and then seem really sharp and aggressive in others. Which is, like I said, a pretty small complaint.
If the light’s saturated a little too amber-y, you’re going to get orange-red bleed, blurring the text…
What? I was a professional stagehand for several years, and helped multiple light designers. Hell, I’ve BEEN a light designer.
Unity of Theme
This is a knock-out round for this text, let me tell you. This thing is so unified in theme that it’s frankly kind of scary. The arrangement of chapters is based on the layout of the First Folio, the food sections of each chapter are titled “Savory Matters” as a reference to Hamlet. Every recipe, as I noted, includes discussion and allusion to the play and character the recipe references.
The ART of the book are from the Folger’s Shakespeare Library, edited to include more libations. There are sidebars littered through the chapters that more heavily focus on the themes and idea present in Shakespeare’s work, as well as the cultural context for those ideas and themes.
Red Solo Cups, the universal sign of an American party.
Many of the drink names/set-ups are similarly solid. Jacques’s famous “7 ages of man” speech inspires a 7 and 7 cocktail. The Vesper which (as a fun nerd aside) was invented in Casino Royale and is named after the love interest of that story shows up embracing a Nun’s character, now alluding to Catholic vespers, or evening prayers. A connection they strengthen by adding boba (tapioca pearls) and a lemon-peel cross in order to give the drink a Rosary. The puns alone are a panoply of possibilities.
I’m slowly coming to the realization that so many of these books don’t have great catapult scores because I’m so lazy. I’d have realized it sooner, except…well, I’m lazy.
In any case, I have to admit that I appreciate this cookbook more as an objete du arte or however that’s spelled, rather than as an actual cookbook. It’s much more valuable to me for the fun ideas and references than actually motivating me to make cocktails or snacks.
LIke, the IDEA of “Pulled out Eyeball” potato-and caviar snacks is MUCH more appealing to me than MAKING a potato- and caviar eyeball.
Which isn’t to say that there’s not great ideas to mine from it, or that the recipes aren’t great, merely that I’m personally more entertained by the book than impelled by it.
In short, while this book may not be the cock of the walk in terms of cocktail books, it’s certainly a solid stock for comedic schlock on Shakespeare’s tales. I personally recommend picking it up if you’re a Shakespeare nut, and cracking open its lacklustre shell to the rich meats inside.
MONDAY: IF YOU WANT TO REMEMBER THE NAZI GOVERNMENT OF FRANCE, JUST SAY VICHY. THERE. NOW I DON’T HAVE TO MAKE THAT PUN DURING THE CEVICHE POST.
THURSDAY: I DO NOT KNOW.