The Book Cook From Melba to Molly Ellen Clifford

You know those books that steal your sleep? The Facades, by Eric Lundgren is one of those. At first blush it is the tale of a self-appointed detective, who possesses the best hard-boiled moniker one could wish for: Sven Norberg.

Good ol’ Norberg is searching the town of Trude for his missing wife, an opera singer by the name Molly. His moll? Hmm. The Facades begins with Norberg walking the city streets of Trude, a town taken from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities.

But this is much more than a noir novel with elite cultural references-although there are plenty of those, from opera to philosophers. This is a journey down the rabbit hole (yes I am giving you a hint as to next week’s book) into a special kind of madness. Plus, the public library plays a huge role.

In the almost surreal, nearly apocalyptical town of Trude, things are amiss. I say almost surreal because the state of things in Trude dangerously close to the reality these days. Which is to say that in Trude, the library has been shuttered due to budget cuts. A band of renegades are holding down the fort while gun-toting librarians guard the entrance. How far are we from that?

By the way, just imagine that you told someone there was a place near them where they could get pretty much any book, cd or dvd they desired, and even have those things delivered to the branch near them if their local branch lacked what they wanted. If you told someone this was all available FOR FREE, they’d wig out. Guess what, it’s called the library. It’s real, people.

Back to the book! Norberg believes at one point that the librarians may know the truth about Molly, who is proving harder to find than Waldo in a room of spectacled hipsters. We all know Waldo was the first hipster. The mystery of Molly is just one of the things that keeps the pages turning.

I feel like I am going to give up too much if I go on. Suffice to say that The Facades is a compelling read that will make you question the nature of reality. You’ll wonder, what is truth? What is just your perception? It may inspire even more existential angst than the character of “nobody” I tackled last week.

To accompany your reading, have a dessert in honor of the missing opera diva Molly. Story goes that Peach Melba, a classic dish of poached peach halves, ice cream and raspberry sauce, was invented for the opera singer Nellie Melba. My riff is a roasted plum in a wine-thyme sauce (it is always wine time), topped with ice cream and/or Reddi-whip (because I’m sorry, you can’t beat that stuff), and a blackberry-almond sauce.

Please just trust me on the flavor combo. It works. This is a dessert for one. As you read you can eat it and pretend that you are Norberg, languishing by yourself in the absence of Molly.

Actually, that’s awfully sad. Scratch that. Just eat it and enjoy. Oh, and you will have extra sauce to use at your own discretion-i.e. grab a spoon.

Plum Molly

For sauce:

  • 1 cup blackberries
  • 1/4 tsp. almond extract
  • ¼-1/2 cup water
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar

For plums:

  • butter
  • 1-2 large red plums, halved lengthwise and pitted
  • ¼ Tbsp. water
  • ½ cup red wine (a berry-rich one preferably, I used a pinot noir, or if you like sweets, cut down the sugar and use sweet vermouth)
  • 2-3 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar (or more to taste)

To serve:

  • vanilla ice cream and/or whipped cream
  • extra blackberries and thyme sprigs

Make the sauce first. Add all ingredients (start with ¼ cup of water, you can add more towards the end if you want a thinner sauce) to a small pot and heat until simmering. Cook, partially mashing berries and stirring periodically until a nice syrupy sauce is formed, and the berries partially broken down. Remove from heat.

Next up, plums! Butter the bottom of a small deep dish, just big enough to hold your plums. Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place water, wine, thyme and sugar in a small pot over medium heat and stir just to dissolve the sugar. Pour into the buttered dish and add plum halves, cut side down. Baste with the wine mixture. Put in oven for about 15 minutes, then flip the plums cut side up, baste again and continue to roast, basting occasionally until soft and easily pierced with a fork. Use your common sense on this one. How long will really depend on your oven and the size of plums. Get em’ good and…roasty. But not falling apart.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer plums to a plate. Add a scoop of ice cream and/or some whipped cream. Go ahead and be like me and throw some Reddi-whip on there. Because it is good, that’s why. Pour the blackberry sauce over. Garnish with extra blackberries and thyme sprigs. Also, this may sound crazy but a bit of salt and pepper are kind of delightful on this. Try it without first, but if you are into culinary adventure, give it a whirl.

Salt and pepper and Reddi-whip. This is how we roll.

One last note: In full disclosure, I know the author of The Facades. But I live in LA where everyone and their mama is writing and creating things they share with me all the time and I only share with YOU things I genuinely love.

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