One of my favourite stories. The moral is: books are good. Or books will get you bitten by a snake. Or, the best books have recipes in them.
Once, on holiday in the south of France, an adder slid into the cool tiled house. It curled up like a family pet next to my dad, who was reading the paper. He looks down, calm, folds up the paper. Tiptoes out of the sitting room and shuts the door. While my mother screamed and stood on a chair like a classic cartoon – in another room entirely – my father went to get a spade and a pillowcase.
Because in my favourite children’s books of all time, about Frances the Badger, her greedy chauvinist friend Albert the Badger is really good at catching snakes. With a spade and a pillowcase. (He also likes to eat lobster salad sandwiches.)
Unsurprisingly, our snake is not up for pillowcase fun. It slides into a hole in the wall, lurks while the hole is filled up with cement, then eats his way out again. One sluggish white ghost-snake, belly full of cement, finally submits to the spade treatment. I think my dad goes back to reading the paper.
I wish he was still around to help me wrangle snakes. Or start my own business. Even just write a killer cover letter. I guess Albert the Badger and I will have to hang out instead. The book’s description of his normal school lunch is one which my father would have thoroughly enjoyed:
“What do you have today?” said Frances.
“I have a cream cheese-cucumber-and-tomato sandwich on rye bread,” said Albert. “And a pickle and a hard-boiled egg and a little cardboard shaker of salt to go with that. And a thermos bottle of milk.
And a bunch of grapes and a tangerine. And a cup custard and a spoon to eat it with.”
Do I need to tell you how to make a sandwich? The most important thing, from the illustrations at least, is the napkin and tablecloth, maybe a tiny vase of flowers. You set out all your elaborate lunch particles with care, try everything and make it all come out even.
Albert’s cream cheese, cucumber and tomato sandwich on rye bread
serves one badger
(cheese spread from the uber-healthy 101 cookbooks)
2 tbs cream cheese
1 tbs butter, softened
pinch salt / pepper
dash of paprika
1/2 tsp mustard
2 small pickles / gherkins, chopped finely
1/2 small shallot, also chopped finely
1 firm tomato
2 slices rye or seedy wholegrain bread
chives for decoration
Vigourously mix the cream cheese and butter. Add salt pepper, paprika and mustard to taste. Stir in the shallots and pickle. Slice the cucumber and tomato as thinly as possible. Spread cheese spread over the bread, top with alternate slices of cucumber/tomato. Add a fine drizzle of olive oil, if you like, and a sprinkle of chives.
Optional: hard-boiled egg, tangerine, cup custard.
*This is us, in France. I am gnawing on a baguette, obviously.