…and “Crustula Vitae” (a.k.a. Lembas).
Since it is officially the birthday month of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, I figured I would close out my Hobbit-recipe-blog with the Colbert Questionert. In the future, I’ll just blog if I have an update on my cookbook work (so there could be years before I write another blog, lol…). I do agree with my fellow Tolkien lover, Stephen Colbert, that you can really get to know quite a few things about a person by reading the answers to his Questionert.
1. What is the Best Sandwich?
***I love MANY sandwiches, from a simple PBJ or grilled cheese to a club type of sandwich. But if I am ordering a sandwich at one of our favorite shops, I’ll usually get something like a Cubano, a Grinder, or a Muffuletta.
2. What’s one thing you own that you really should throw out?
***I maintain a fairly uncluttered existence. Probably some old letters should be thrown out.
3. What is the scariest animal?
***I don’t like ugly flying insects such as locusts, roaches, or especially grasshoppers. But a few years ago, we had a grasshopper invasion, which sort of helped me to deal with my fear. I don’t mind butterflies.
4. Apples or oranges?
***Apples. Only plain, never with peanut butter.
5. Have you ever asked someone for an autograph?
***I don’t recall ever asking anyone for one.
6. What do you think happens when we die?
***We become dust and energy, finally free from anxiety and pain.
7. Favorite action movie?
***Well, let’s go with Jackson’s Tolkien films, though I also love the Indiana Jones series.
8. Favorite smell?
***For sweet smells, I love cinnamon and vanilla. For savory smells, I love roasted garlic, and combinations of smells such as sesame oil, rice vinegar, and soy sauce.
9. Least favorite smell?
***Vomit. Goats. Goat cheese.
10. Exercise: worth it?
***Yes, though sometimes it is a struggle to keep up with it.
11. Flat or sparkling?
***Flat, cold water is my go-to beverage. If I drink wine (hardly ever), I do prefer it sparkling, like a Prosecco.
12. Most used app on your phone?
***I guess Facebook and Twitter.
13. You get one song to listen to for the rest of your life. What is it?
***For classical, I would choose something longer, like the Planets suite by Gustav Holst. For a rock album, I would choose Hit/Miss by Peter Gabriel. So, not just a song, because that would get old fast.
14. What number am I (Stephen Colbert) thinking of?
***Here is the correct answer: 111.
15. Describe the rest of your life in five words:
***Do the best you can.
AND NOW—I AM KNOWN.
EXCEPT—Colbert used to ask another question, so here it is:
16. Cats or dogs?
***I like both, though I have only ever owned dogs. I am more of a dog person, however.
(The following was not included in my original cookbook, but the text and recipe below are excerpted from Cooking for Halflings & Monsters: 111 Comfy, Cozy Recipes for Fantasy-Loving Souls as it is published today.)
From “The Lord of the Rings”—Elves
This final recipe is my version of the mysterious elvish food item Tolkien calls lembas. At first I was not going to bother making this, because lembas seemed to have sort of an elven magic (not as in Keebler) involved in their production that would be impossible to recreate in the real-world kitchen.
My decision not to attempt a lembas recipe was confirmed in April 2009, when I attended a lecture at UNM by the eminent Tolkien scholar, Dr. Verlyn Flieger. A member of the audience asked whether or not lembas could be a metaphor for the Eucharist, since through its consumption, the consumer finds strength and is sustained through hardship. Of course, no absolute conclusion was reached, nor could there have been. I believe this would be a fascinating topic for a conference paper or even a thesis. This would require research and scholastic writing which I am thankful I do not have to do anymore.
Yet old academic habits die hard, and thinking about this did lead me to consult Tolkien’s letters, which are always fascinating to read. Sure enough, Tolkien does discuss the matter of lembas, and he assigns spiritual significance to its consumption; it goes beyond mere physical nourishment. I don’t believe one can truly reproduce lembas exactly in the way Tolkien seems to be intending. Is it a bread, a biscuit, a cake, a cracker, a cookie? In some ways, he almost describes a treat that perhaps should be deep-fried, but I can’t imagine that Tolkien’s elves break out a deep-fryer to get that light brown exterior with a creamy interior; and anyway, he does say they are baked. I have a feeling Tolkien probably did not cook or bake very frequently, if ever. So I merrily composed all of my original recipes and made a conscious decision not to bother with the mysterious lembas.
However, a few months after I (thought I had) completed this cookbook, and after talking about the project with different people (mostly members of the UNM Hobbit Society), I realized it would be better simply to go ahead and interpret lembas in my own way. Everybody expected and hoped for a recipe. Then, of course, I had to come up with an appropriate name for them. I broke out the Latin dictionaries for a bit of research and settled on Crustula Vitae, or “Cookies of Life.” Crustula can also mean biscuit. It seemed a good compromise.
I doubt these will stay fresh for weeks, mainly because we real-world humans do not have the benefit of special leaves (part of that elven magic Tolkien mentions), so we can’t wrap up our crustula for longer storage. It’s more likely that this will never be an issue, because these particular crustula will probably suffer a more hobbitish fate and be devoured pretty quickly. They might not sustain you spiritually or on long journeys, but on those days when you are being “good on your diet,” you can wistfully remember eating these crustula; you can wish that you can eat them every day, and never have to think about calories in the real world. Now there’s a fantasy. If I were more poetic, I would compose a sort of ubi sunt (“where are they…?”) ode to crustula here. You’ll just have to settle for a recipe composition.
“Lembas (a.k.a. Crustula Vitae)”
- ½ cup soft salted butter
- ⅓ cup sugar
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon turbinado (raw) sugar
Set oven rack to the level right above the middle level. Preheat oven to 375°. Coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray or grease lightly. In a medium bowl, combine the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon. Add the dry ingredients and mix well. Add the cream and mix with your hands until fully combined and smooth.
Break off about a fourth of the dough and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll this out to about ⅛”. Cut 16 small decorations and carefully set these aside (I like to use a small star shape). Take the scraps and add to the other dough; knead a few times to incorporate. Divide this dough in half. Roll and pat 1 half to a circle measuring 6-7″ and ¼” thick on a lightly floured surface. Cut into 8 wedges. Repeat with the other half of the dough. Lay the decorations near the wider edge of each wedge. Spray all lightly with water. Sprinkle evenly with the turbinado sugar.
Lay each carefully on the prepared sheet. Bake 12-14 minutes, until they are very lightly browned on the bottom. Let stand on sheet 2 minutes. Carefully place on a rack. Store covered at room temperature. Makes 16.
As I thought of the ubi sunt trope in various literary works (including Tolkien’s…), suddenly I felt the urge to write a poem in Latin! Believe me, this has never happened before. Most likely, it will never happen again. And my husband Bob keeps telling me Latin is a dead language. Here is a poem for you, and fortunately I have included a translation.
Ubi sunt dies
quando edere poteramus crustula libere?
Heu! Sempiternum evanescunt.
Solum capilli cani et dolor articulorum,
exercitatio et inedia,
comitant nos nunc. Heu.
Where are the days
when we could eat cookies freely?
Alas! They are gone forever.
Only the grey hairs and the stiff joints,
the exercise and the starvation,
accompany us now. Alas.