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Food by VICE

Cooking with Sylvia Plath Was Exhausting

I left the butcher store with a $93 leg of lamb that weighed in at 7.1 pounds—the exact weight of my son at birth!—and set home to cook my Plath-inspired dinner so I could blog about it. After devouring the meal, the only remnants of the night included...

by Kelsey Osgood
Jun 23 2014, 4:25pm

Photo by Kelsey Osgood

Finally, as spring approached and my little darling children, Django and Eyelet (twins!), were set to begin their Quaker-Sufi immersion learning summer program for toddlers, I knew the time was ripe to begin a project I had so long ago set on the shelf: a new blog documenting my attempt to replicate meals made by Sylvia Plath! After the big decisions had been made (Tumblr or Wordpress? Minimalist or Brutal Simplicity?) it was time to get started on my mission statement, which I knew would be important when it came to attracting readers. So often friends of mine—hip, ambitious moms and aspiring poetesses and chefs just like me!—reacted to my blog idea with suspicion and/or a crass joke. Sylvia Plath, and cooking? Wasn't she a masochist? Didn't she hate food, and flowers, and life? (I won't mention the oven references.) Mais non, I tell my misguided playgroup moms. In fact, she was quite an aesthete! Plath loved Paris, heels, sketching curious kittens, tanning, and, above all, making glorious feasts for her loved ones.

A gourmand since early childhood, Plath even had her literary foil, Esther Greenwood, down a cupful of caviar at a fancy literary luncheon in The Bell Jar. "I'm not sure why, but I love food more than just about anything else," Esther says. "No Matter how much I eat, I never put on weight." ("What a biatch," says my friend Marielle.)

Last year, after I read The Fault in Our Stars with my YA book group (SOBBING), I devoured The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, and was totally blown away by her wonderful descriptions of food: blueberries "bathed in cream," "warm glutinous cheese-curded macaroni," everything "boiled and bubbled savoury, steaming and delectable." Even the tuna salad is "lush" with mayonnaise. There were menus for basically any event you might want to host: a dinner party for your new neighbors, a backyard movie projector party (hello, buttered popcorn bowls!), hangover breakfasts, family dinners at the seaside cottage, Parisian themed baby showers, nights home alone with the kids. I decided right then and there to devote myself to making the food that she made, and immortalizing her prowess as the domestic goddess of Court Green.

Hey, it worked for Julie Powell.


A raw leg of lamb I locally sourced from my artisanal butcher!

First step, a visit to my local market: a newly opened, eco-friendly Whole Foods. As I munched on a mozzarella arepas from the Colombian "street cart" near the prepared foods section, I pondered the day's menu: fried sardines atop boiled string beans, roasted potatoes and carrots, complete with gorgeous green stalks, a lemon meringue pie for dessert, and the coup de grace—a seven-pound leg of lamb, roasted in the oven for hours. My collaborator and bestie, Stacey Slate, freelance mushroom forager and all-around foodie, was shopping for half the ingredients, while I was tasked with the others. For the graham cracker crust of the pie, I went with Nabisco because of its slightly retro packaging. For the beer, Narragansett, as a nod to Plath's Bostonian heritage. I was careful not to kick any crying children as I barreled toward the check-out line, my basket filled with carrots, eggs, crackers, beer, and green beans. For the lamb, I stopped off at a specialty butcher shop closer to my brownstone. The counter guy's eyes widened in a vaguely erotic fear as he heard me ask for one leg of lamb, bone in, about seven pounds. At that, he disappeared for approximately 15 minutes, and I thought to myself that perhaps he was downstairs slaughtering that baby lamb right now. No matter—sacrifices must be made for re-tweeted blog entries. The leg weighed in at 7.1 pounds—exactly what my son, Django, weighed at birth!—and cost me a whopping $93. My blog readers better appreciate this.

Because she had a larger kitchen and a better supply of cooking accoutrements, we decided to cook in Stacey's kitchen. I was overwhelmed by all the picturesque china goods, perfectly placed mason jars lining the windowsills and adorably mismatched plates and platters. What a plethora of jpegs I would be able to choose from when designing my post! We set out all our ingredients on the table, and then began to compile a list of adjectives to describe the leg of lamb: monstrous, threatening, profound, ungodly, behemoth, and, of course, colossal. I noticed that the bone sticking out from within the sheath of meat resembled the head of a small penis. Stacey did not agree. The recipe we were using (shamefully, Emeril Lagasse) called for us to massage lemon juice, rosemary, and crushed garlic into the lamb, which we did with vigor. We stuck the lamb into the oven and set the timer. Then we turned our attention to the lemon meringue, which could be left to cool while we made the other dishes. Stacey told me to crush the graham crackers into a bowl to make crust while she dealt with lemon curd, which required carefully timed mixing and whisking. I watched her delicately separate the egg yolks while I crunched the graham crackers like shells of peanuts with my hands. When I was done, she said I could mix in the sugar and butter, which she had melted into a miniature Pyrex dish, and then just wait while she did the things that required more finesse. It occurred to me that she might be coopting my project, that I might be, in fact, the Anne Sexton to her Sylvia Plath: taller, sloppier, less educated and way less domestically inclined. But I'M the blonde one, I thought bitterly. "Thief!––/how did you crawl into,/crawl down alone/into the death I wanted so badly and for so long," I quoted from heart. I skinned the carrots surgically, like they were baby's fingers, and watched as Stacey expertly removed the sardines from their tin coffin and dredged them in flour.


My gorgeous lemon meringue pie.

When she opened the oven to check the lamb's temperature, the surf of a tiny sea moved in my ear. We admired our creation—a monolith to death, decorated with tiny rivulets of blood where we had cut into the flesh to see if it was done cooking. We paired it with the beer (she didn't partake, so I had all six) and HRM Rex Goliath pinot noir, named after a giant 47-pound rooster.

As we washed the dishes with organic soap, I watched a cold dark settle into Brooklyn. I felt bile rise in my throat. Looking down, I noticed a droplet of lamb's blood now marred the toe of my ballet flats. Viciousness in the kitchen! I walked like a somnambulist over to the oven, toward the baking tray sprinkled with fronds of burnt rosemary. The loin sat there sadly, all the edible meat having been sliced off and consumed. I poked it—flesh, bone, there was nothing there.

Note from the Author: This is a piece of meta-fiction; I am not a mommy, let alone a mommy blogger, a foodie, or in a YA reading group. I did, however, spend $93 on a leg of lamb.

Noisey Blog
Sylvia Plath
Whole Foods
home cooking
food blog
Esther Greenwood
The Bell Jar
leg of lamb