Thursday, September 10, 2015


For over a decade, Leslie Pietrzyk and I have enjoyed getting together several times a year at a local strip mall restaurant that is halfway between our two houses. These “literary lunches” always include lots of French fries, white wine, and great conversation.  Leslie has a stunning new prize-winning book coming out, and I’m honored to welcome my talented friend as my guest blogger today.

My first husband died many years ago, when he was 37 and I was 35. There’s really no need to state that this was a tremendous loss. In the midst of this turmoil, I didn’t realize that the death of a loved one brings along with it an additional thousand tiny losses, some of which are not immediately apparent. In my case, because I love to cook, and Robb (and I) loved to eat, it turned out there were recipes I could no longer make because eating and preparing those particular dishes made me sad.

My new book, This Angel on My Chest, is a collection of linked short stories about Robb and my experience of losing him, and originally, I thought I could never write about him, that it would be way too painful. And it was painful—I can’t deny that. The book blurs fact and fiction, so I was delving into some very real moments from our long-ago life together. But the writing process also rejuvenated me, reminding me that any love we find in life is all the more precious for bravely existing in the face of potential loss.

A lot of food seemed to end up in my book—including a recipe I had sworn to keep secret—so I decided I was ready to dig through my recipe file for some of those dishes I used to cook that make me think of him.

Here’s one favorite that will be perfect for the upcoming autumn, when my book hits the shelves. Welsh Rabbit seems almost too simple, but a meal centered around it can’t be anything but unbelievably decadent, since basically it’s a cascade of cheese dripping down bread. I love that the recipe feels plucked from another time and place, pre-gluten, pre-cholesterol, pre-calorie, pre-carbs. What restaurant would serve this dish today? I remember that somehow Robb or I had ordered an over-sized, wax-covered wheel of cheddar from Vermont—like ten pounds maybe?—and much of it ended up in this dish throughout a particular winter

This recipe is adapted from Gourmet magazine, which was one of my favorite magazines until it ceased publication.

Welsh Rabbit with Tomato
[They claim this serves 6, but the two of us never had a problem eating the whole thing…perhaps I shouldn’t admit this. We were young!!]

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2/3 cup beer [not dark]
A 13 ½ to 14 ½ -ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained in a sieve
10 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated coarsely [the good stuff! NOT pre-shredded in a bag! And yellow will be prettier than white. Order a giant wheel from Vermont, why don’t you?]
½ teaspoon English-style dry mustard [i.e. Coleman’s]
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
¼ teaspoon Tabasco, or to taste

18 1-inch slices of Italian bread [or baguette] or 12 English muffin halves, toasted
Flat-leaf parsley for garnish
Bacon as an accompaniment if desire [YES!!]

Melt butter in a 1-2 quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat. Add flour and cook, whisking, for 3 minutes to make a roux. Whisk in the beer and the tomatoes and boil the mixture, whisking, for 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to moderately low, stir in the Cheddar, the mustard, the Worcestershire sauce, and the Tabasco, and cook the mixture, stirring, until it is hot (but do not let it boil). Arrange 3 of the toasts or 2 of the muffin halves on each of 6 plates and spoon the Cheddar mixture on top. Garnish the Welsh rabbit with the parsley and serve with the bacon. Serves 6.
Marty says, "I made this (see photo), slathered the cheesy goodness generously on two toasted English muffin halves, and wolfed it down with a cold beer.  Fabulous!"
[By itself, this dish is perfection, but you could serve it with arugula salad, though that is pure speculation because arugula was barely “invented” back when I was making this dish regularly. Time changes, life moves forward, and I know that my second husband will also love this dish when I serve it to him one of these upcoming football Sundays.]

More information about This Angel on My Chest.
To read a story from the collection: “Ten Things”

Leslie Pietrzyk is the author of two novels, Pears on a Willow Tree and A Year and a Day. This Angel on My Chest, her collection of linked short stories, won the 2015 Drue Heinz Literature Prize and will be published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in October. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in many publications, including Gettysburg Review, The Sun, Shenandoah, River Styx, Iowa Review, TriQuarterly, New England Review, Salon, and the Washington Post Magazine. She has received fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Pietrzyk is a member of the core fiction faculty at the Converse low-residency MFA program and teaches in the MA Program in Writing at Johns Hopkins University. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia.

Of This Angel on My Chest, Kirkus Reviews wrote, “The author’s wit, clarity, and literary inventiveness dance circles around the omnipresent sadness, making this book a prime example of the furious creative energy that can explode from the collision of grief with talent and craftsmanship.”

Note from Marty:  The above review was a starred review.  Leslie also received $15,000 with her Drue Heinz Literature Prize.  Congratulations, Leslie!

Twitter: @lesliepwriter

No comments:

Post a Comment