When you spend a lot of time talking about food, your friends begin to think you know something they don’t. That’s when the recommendation requests start coming in: for restaurants; recipes; the best thing to bring to a picnic, housewarming, boss’ birthday. This should be fun—flattering, even. But I must have read too much Lewis Carroll as a kid, because instead I feel myself becoming the Red Queen, my culinary commands spoiling someone else’s good time:
‘I know what you’d like!’ the Queen said good-naturedly, taking a little box out of her pocket. ‘Have a biscuit?’
Alice thought it would not be civil to say ‘No,’ though it wasn’t at all what she wanted. So she took it, and ate it as well as she could: and it was very dry; and she thought she had never been so nearly choked in all her life.
Reading Through the Looking Glass for the first time, I saw the Red Queen as everything I disliked about adults: brash, pushy, imposing her will on people less powerful than herself (Every teenage invocation to “Stop telling me what to do, Mom!” was directed partially at her.) As her creator, you’d think Carroll (or Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, if we’re calling him by his real name) would have seen her as a warning. But instead, he was more like her than he’d probably care to admit.
For one, he was also really into biscuits. They formed the core of his diet; after a 9 a.m. breakfast, Dodgson would subsist almost entirely on them for the rest of the day, occasionally pairing them with a nip of sherry. Even when visitors asked him over for a meal, “he assured [them] that he never took anything in the middle of the day but a glass of wine and a biscuit.” He’d often bring his own wine too.
But, taste for biscuits aside, Dodgson also shared the Queen’s worst habit. He believed he knew best, especially where food was concerned. (Besides his Spartan diet, he was also a convert of “Whiteley exercisers,” a 19th-century training regimen bizarrely akin to today’s TRX.) In a classic Red Queen move, he imposed his habits on the children he cared for. According to his nephew, “When he took a certain one of them out with him to a friend’s house to dinner, he used to give the host or hostess a gentle warning, to the mixed amazement and indignation of the child, ‘Please be careful, because she eats a good deal too much.'”
Biscuits are an especially appropriate food for Alice fans, even if you didn’t know about Dodgson’s personal affinity for them. Feeding off the popularity of the book, the author agreed to license his characters to appear on a line of products. But instead of toys or clothes, he made … biscuit tins. He bought 300 to distribute among his own friends—then voiced disappointment in the quality of the biscuits they contained. (They’re now coveted collectibles, but I’d advise against eating the original biscuits.)
When I first read the Alice books, I imagined the Red Queen’s biscuits as the kind I would get at KFC, buttery and flaky and completely forbidden by my anti–fast food parents. Little did I know that Dodgson was referring to the British version: water crackers that are more likely to be eaten with cheese than fried chicken. Crackers, too often, are neither flaky nor buttery. At best, they’re boring; at worst, they turn to dust in your mouth, Alice-style.
These are not the Red Queen’s crackers—unlike classic water crackers, they include healthy doses of olive oil and sea salt, both additions that Dodgson likely would have frowned upon. But Red Queens need to be defied sometimes, and we’re all adults now, so go ahead and use them liberally. I recommend it.
(Adapted from Gourmet)
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
2 tablespoons chopped rosemary, plus more for garnish
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 450°F with a heavy baking sheet on middle rack.
2. Stir together flours, rosemary, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Make a well in center, then add oil and 1/2 cup water and gradually stir into flour mixture with a wooden spoon until a dough forms. Knead dough gently on a work surface.
3. Divide dough into 3 pieces and roll out 1 piece on a sheet of foil, as thin as possible. Press clusters of extra rosemary leaves into dough and sprinkle with sea salt. Poke dough all over with a fork.
4. Slide foil onto preheated baking sheet and bake until crisp, pale golden and browned in spots, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.
5. Repeat with remaining dough in 2 more batches. When crackers have cooled, break into rustic shapes.