Disenchantment in Three Dishes

Emily Macdonald

When Romy believed in a life of mung beans and home-cultured yoghurt, she cooked The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. Reading the recipe, she imagined the potent broccoli spears standing in virulent green, their curled and congested heads bright and vivid on their tender stems. But the brown rice forest floor—blended with eggs, mint, garlic, dill, and cheese— turned to sludge, and the broccoli canopy slid sideways and discoloured as if the dish was hit by a mudslide and felling at the same time. She wondered if the cheese was to blame. The recipe said Swiss. She’d used an economy block of cheddar after cutting away some mould. Romy placed the dish on the table. There wasn’t anything else to eat.

The sardines were supposed to poke their tails out of the breadcrumb crust at cheerful angles as if they’d been washed up by the tide and were burying their heads in the sand. But the blend of iron and brine, bony fish and sodden bread was inedible. The tomato sauce underneath looked bloody and murderous. The friends—the kind who Instagram their plates—were loudly relieved when Romy declared the dish a disaster. They made jokes, rifting on the names of popular seafood restaurants—Unsexy Fish, J Shreekey’s and Sick Brine for Rick Stein.

Romy topped up the wine glasses, then returned to the kitchen and improvised a fresh herb and pea risotto. When she scraped the sardines into the bin, she wondered if it was time to find newer, kinder friends.

As a child, Romy made a birthday cake for her mother. She used self-raising flour and added extra baking powder with coffee grains for flavouring. The cake rose, triumphant, domed, and proud like a hooded mushroom springing from the earth. Mother tapped the crust before she sank the wishing knife in and smiled at the knock and echo. The cake was hollow, a pretender covering only hot air.

Romy no longer makes culinary mistakes. Foodie types covet an invitation to eat at her table. When the guests—flushed and grateful—list their way home, she licks over her winnings: the cheap wine she decanted into handsome carafes, the gluten-rich flour she used to thicken a sauce, the chicken stock secreted into a vegetarian dish.

In addled sleep, Romy fights through broccoli brush. She struggles, sinking into soup warm swamplands where fish scream at her from gaping red mouths.

She tells herself to stay calm, remain in one place. She shelters, taking refuge under a cap of pale fungus quills, but when she chooses a direction to walk in, it’s breadcrumbs she leaves on the trail.

(The Enchanted Broccoli Forest is a recipe by Mollie Katzen, published in a book by the same name.)

About the author: Emily Macdonald was born in England but grew up in New Zealand. Fascinated by wine as a student, she has worked in the UK wine trade ever since. Since going freelance at the start of 2020 she has started creative writing. In stories and in wines she likes variety, persistence, body, and enough acidity to add bite.

Photo by Thomas Griggs on Unsplash