For those of you that don’t know, in addition to loving literature and food, I’m a big art nut. Illustration especially. I love Art Nouveau and the Pre-Raphaelites, as well as a lot of contemporary work. Carson Ellis, for example, is incredible. So is Lane Smith. But for me—nothing compares to Arthur Rackham, whose delicate line drawings and pale washes of ink are ethereal and lovely.
My first Rackham encounter took place, fittingly, in London. I stumbled across a print shop tucked away in a windy bit of Charring Cross and was immediately assaulted by a charmingly bossy woman who—horrified by my never having heard of Rackham (he’s something of a British institution)—spent the better part of two hours providing a detailed biography and showing off her collection of first edition prints from the various books he had illustrated. I remember feeling pretty enthralled, though whether by the artwork or just through pure intimidation I’m not sure. I bought one, needless to say.
While the Rackham I bought that day ended up going to a friend, I’ve spent quite a few years now building a small collection of my own; I’ve got an incredible Puck of Pook’s Hill and a lovely Gulliver’s Travels, just to name a few. Still, while those are great, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens by J.M. Barrie has always been the holy grail of Rackham books, at least for me, so I was beyond thrilled to find a copy last summer in The Barrow Book Store in Concord, Mass. While not the first edition folio I drooled over on my last trip to the U.K., it’s still quite old, and the illustrations are perfectly preserved under their sheets of vellum.
Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens is technically Barrie’s second work about Peter Pan, but really is only an adaptation of his first – The Little White Bird. It tells the story about how Peter escapes his house as a one-week-old infant (he can fly, because babies were birds first, duh) and through the use of a nest-boat made by his bird friends, travels between the Island of the Birds and Kensington Gardens, where he plays all night with the fairies. It, like so much of Barrie’s work, is hilarious and tender, with wise old crows quietly planning for retirement and daffy fairy queens holding drunken galas. And while it can’t be considered a true prequel to Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, as Peter is one week old and there’s no Captain Hook or any of that jazz, it’s totally worth a read.
Finding this book was one of my favorite moments of 2013, and so it’s fitting, I think, to pair it with one of my favorite achievements of last year – making my first cheese, a creamy ricotta.
Making cheese has always been something I’ve been too intimidated to do. It reminds me of chemistry, and I was awful at chemistry, but one day I was obsessively reading Ashley Rodriguez’s terrific blog, Not Without Salt, and was struck by this post discussing fear. Fear of writing, fear of trying, fear of making cheese! It was one of those eerie, slightly narcissistic moments that makes one feel as though they’re being spoken to directly. I was called you see, and so I had to answer. I got up right at that moment, ran to the grocery store, and made this cheese. It was as easy as she promised, and as delicious.
While you can eat this ricotta out of the bowl with a spoon (and I have), it’s also great on just about everything, dolloped onto pizzas, smeared onto fresh fruit, stuffed into pasta…. I could go on. As an accompaniment to Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, though, I think of something a bit simpler, a bit sweeter. When I read this book I can’t help but imagine a sun-flooded Scottish nursery housing a child of some impressive lineage. He will be sitting down to tea, or luncheon, or one of those many midday meals the Brits seem to take so seriously, and as his nurse reads him the story of Peter Pan he’ll help himself to milky tea and toasts slathered with rich jam and fresh ricotta cheese. While this sounds like a pretty great midday snack for a royal tyke – it sounds like an even better breakfast for me. Sure, I’ll swap out the milky tea for some black coffee, but the rest of it is good as-is—and is a pretty killer way to start a Sunday morning.
Incredible, Creamy, Wonderful Ricotta Cheese
Modified just a smidge from the recipe provided by Ashley Rodriguez on Not Without Salt, who adapted it from Ina Garten.
3 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons lemon juice (Ashley uses vinegar—that work’s well too)
Place the milk and heavy cream in a saucepan over medium heat. Now. Forget the old adage and watch the pot, you don’t want it to boil over. Turn off the heat right after the liquid comes to a boil and stir in your lemon juice (or vinegar). Allow the cheese to sit for a minute or two. You’ll see the curds begin to separate from the whey. Pour your cheese into a colander lined two sheets of cheesecloth, and let it strain for about 25 minutes or so. Add salt.
Eat with everything.
Peter Pan Toasts
Spread toasted bread with ricotta and the jam of your choice, I used red currant.
Drink: Coffee or tea
Listen to: this charming ditty