A Welcome and a Definition

Culture Vulture: "A person with a strong, sometimes obsessive, interest in the arts." Culture Vultures spend a lot of time observing the world. This is where those observations come out.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Clarissa Explains it All

Unless you were an avid watcher of the Food Network between 1999-2003, you have probably never heard of Clarissa Dickson Wright, one half of the duo known as the Two Fat Ladies, stars of a cult cooking series by the same name. On the show, Clarissa and her partner in crime, Jennifer Paterson would travel around England cooking for in various locales. It was very funny and very British.

One of their signatures was making this hideous British food ladened with enough butter and cream to clog a canal. In the clip above for instance, they make kedgeree, a weird combo of fish, curry, rice and cream that was popular for breakfast (yes I said breakfast!) in imperial India. Sadly, Jennifer Paterson died rather unexpectedly in 2000 and the series was canceled.

I finally was able to get a copy of Spilling the Beans, Clarissa's memoir that came out a few years back. Even if you have never heard the name Clarissa Dickson Wright, the book is a fascinating read. Clarissa was born into an affluent family of power and money but was plagued by an abusive father. She became a barrister (a form of lawyer) just to spite her surgeon father. When her mother died suddenly, she took solace in alcohol and drank away a promising career and a large inheritance. After the life of her life died unexpectedly, she finally managed to sober up and worked as a domestic for various households (many less affluent than the one she grew up in). Cooking for a living brought her back to life, and created the second act of her life as a well-known cook and television personality.

To give you some idea how much Clarissa drank, years after she got sober she was diagnosed with ailments related to quinine poisoning. The quinine poisoning came from drinking tonic water, mixed with her gin. To get quinine poisoning from tonic water, you would have to drink gallons of it for years on end.

Clarissa doesn't pull any punches, she's mostly upfront about her issues. She's a little diplomatic with The Two Fat Ladies years and her relationship with Jennifer Paterson but that's seems to be the norm in these memoirs. Many people I think are afraid to "break the magic." Other than that, definitely worth a read, especially if you enjoyed the Ladies as I did.

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