I had read this book several years ago when it was first released and loved it. I particular enjoyed the humor, which was due in great part to the main character, Don Tillman’s voice. His approach to the world and life was logical, linear, and frequently hilarious. And yes, sometimes, I was laughing (only in my mind, of course) when he wasn’t. Don is a genetics professor at a university in Melbourne Australia. At the age of 39, he decided that it was time to get married, so he began what he called “The Wife Project.” Don recognized his social awkwardness and developed strategies to help him navigate ordinary social situations. The following passage illustrates his thinking when he shares his first meal with Rosie:
I remembered the basic rule of asking a woman to talk about herself. Rosie had already raised the topic of dealing with difficult customers in a bar, so I asked her to elaborate. This was an excellent move. She had a number of hilarious stories, and I noted some interpersonal techniques for possible future use.
What becomes troubling to Don after he started spending more time with Rosie, was the frequency with which he began to act driven more by instinct than logic. His life became chaotic as he attempted to fit those instinctual responses into his very logical life. For example, when he and Rosie were drinking at Jimmy Watson’s (a real place near the campus of the University of Melbourne) and he saw Gene, his best friend, with a woman who was not his wife, he became rattled. So, when the waiter offered him a table, instead of saying no, as he should have, he accepted it, resulting in him having to freeze the food he had bought at the market that morning for his dinner, and deal with the resultant loss of nutrients caused by freezing fresh food. As troubling as illogic is to Don, ultimately, it saves the day.
There were a couple of scenes that didn’t ring true, like Don and Rosie’s visit to Max Freyburg’s office in New York, and the scene at the ball where Rosie “… pointed at me [Don} in a stylized manner…It was the signal that Olivia Newton-John gave to John Travolta in Grease to commence the dance sequence…” But overall I laughed a lot and was completely charmed by Don.
When Rosie doesn’t recognize a line from the movie “The Bridges of Madison County” that had brought her to tears on the plane from New York, it reminded me of this very beautiful song from the musical version by Jason Robert Brown, one of many men with three names with whom I’m infatuated. We saw it a couple of summers ago in Williamstown and Jason Robert Brown was in the lobby after the performance. I was too star struck to speak to him, but if I remember correctly, my lovely husband got his autograph for me. Kelli O’Hara, who was slated for the role of Francesca was pregnant and could not fulfill the commitment to Williamstown, but Steven Pasquale played the photographer, and Kelli opened with him on Broadway.
It has to be lobster salad, right? According to Don’s “Standardized Meal System,” every Tuesday dinner is lobster, mango and avocado salad with wasabi-coated flying fish roe and crispy seaweed and deep-fried leek garnish. Fortunately, I am typing this on a Tuesday, so there’s a kind of neat symmetry going on here. The author kindly included these remarks at the end of his Acknowledgments:
“Don’s lobster salad is based on a recipe from Teage Ezard’s Contemporary Australian Food. Perfect for a romantic evening on a balcony with a bottle of Drappier rose Champagne.”
I googled “Teage Ezard” and his website came up, with the following:
THIS IS THE RECIPE FEATURED IN GRAEME SIMSION’S THE ROSIE PROJECT.
Graeme chose the recipe because he and his wife have made it on several occasions: “it’s probably the most complicated thing we’ve ever cooked more than once – but the results are worth it.” Graeme is a founder of wine distributor Pinot Now and recommends a wooded Sauvignon Blanc, like Domaine A from Tasmania, as a great match.
Crayfish, Mango and Avocado Salad with Wasabi Flying Fish Roe, Soy and Bonito Dressing and Crispy Seaweed Salad
1 live medium crayfish (about 1.5 kg, or 3.31 lbs.)
Peel of 1 orange, roughly sliced
Peel of 1 lemon, roughly sliced
½ head celery, sliced
1 teaspoon white coriander seeds
½ bunch of coriander
½ bunch dill
1 cup rice wine vinegar
Sea salt to taste
Mango and Avocado Salad
1 large or 2 small heads of white witlof (endive)
1 tablespoon hazelnut oil
Salt and pepper
1 large ripe mango
1 ripe avocado
Squeeze of lemon juice
100g (3.9 oz.)somen noodles
1 tablespoon peanut oil
Soy and Bonito Dressing
½ tablespoon dried dashi (cooking stock, buy instant dashi)
2 tablespoons dried bonito flakes
1 tablespoon very hot water
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
40ml (1.35 oz. or 2.7 tablespoons) Japanese rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sweet soy sauce (kecap manis)
150 ml (5 oz.) peanut oil
Juice of ½ lemon
Crispy Seaweed Salad
1 L vegetable oil (for frying)
2 leeks (white part only) cut into 6cm (2.36 inches) lengths
1 sheet nori seaweed
3 teaspoons tobiko (wasabi flying fish roe)
To kill the crayfish, place it in the freezer for one hour, where it will go to sleep. Place the orange and lemon peel, celery, coriander seeds, fresh herbs, vinegar and salt in a large 5 litre (1.3 gals.) cooking pot. Fill three-quarters full with water and bring to the boil. Plunge the crayfish into the rapidly boiling stock, then cover with a lid and turn off the flame. Let the crayfish sit in the hot stock for 25 minutes, then drain and allow it to cool. Once the crayfish reaches room temperature, refrigerate it until completely chilled.
When the crayfish is cold, pull the tail section away from the head. Use a pair of sharp scissors to cut the inner shell of the tail to get to the meat. Carefully draw out the tail flesh in one piece and reserve. Remove the legs from the body. Break each joint then pick out the meat using a skewer or crab-pick. Cover and refrigerate both tail and leg meat until ready to assemble the final dish.
Mango and Avocado Salad
Slice off the base of the witlof then pull away the individual leaves, discarding any which are damaged. Finely slice each of the leaves lengthwise and place in a mixing bowl. Dress lightly with hazelnut oil and season with salt and pepper.
Slice off each mango cheek and use a large spoon to carefully scoop out the flesh. Dice into bite-size pieces and reserve. Slice the avocado in half lengthwise, remove the stone and carefully scoop out the flesh. Dice into bite-size pieces, toss in a little lemon juice to stop it browning and reserve.
Bring a small pot of salted water to the boil and cook the somen noodles until al dente (about 3-4 minutes). Tip into a colander and refresh under cold water to stop the noodles cooking further. Drain well, then tip into a bowl, toss with peanut oil and reserve.
Soy and Bonito Dressing
Dissolve the dashi and bonito flakes in the hot water to form a paste. Allow to cool completely. Place the egg yolk, mustard, vinegar, sweet soy sauce and prepared dashi paste into a food processor. Blend to a puree, then slowly add the peanut oil until the mixture emulsifies and thickens, Stir in the lemon juice and reserve.
Crispy Seaweed Salad
In a medium pot or a small deep fryer, heat the vegetable oil to 180 degrees. Cut the leek in half, lengthwise, then shred it finely into hair-like strands. Fry in the hot oil until it turns golden brown, then remove with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent paper. Allow to cool, then season with salt and store in a dry place until needed. Cut the nori sheet in half and shred it finely into hair-like strands. Reserve until needed.
Using a very sharp knife, slice the crayfish tail meat into rounds. Depending on size, it should yield between 18-24 slices. Roughly chop the crayfish leg meat and put in a large mixing bowl with the witlof, mango, avocado and somen noodles. Pour over dressing and combine gently. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Place three Chinese soup spoons on each plate and divide the salad equally between them. Top each little mound of salad with a slice of crayfish tail meat followed by a teaspoon of wasabi flying fish roe. Finish with a pinch each of fried leek and nori.
I will not be making this dish. Good luck to those brave enough to hunt down all the ingredients. I did make the conversions from the metric system in parentheses.