Tracy Chevalier's Remarkable Creatures is an enjoyable, if not particularly exciting, book about two women fossil hunters in England in the 1800's. The women, of different classes, form an unlikely friendship, their love of fossil hunting drawing them together. I found this book less inspiring than Chevalier's other books (The Girl with the Pearl Earring, The Lady and the Unicorn) which gave a behind the scenes look at some of the greatest works of art. This was intended to give a behind the scenes look at the beginning of the discovery of dinosaurs and the concept of evolution, and I found this subject matter drier. To go with the theme of fossils, I made two kind of homemade crackers with herbs - the herbs - rosemary and sage - mounted on the crackers with egg white, look like fossils. These crackers are easy and delicious bites for a cocktail party.
Tracy Chevalier's Remarkable Features is about the discovery of fossils of extinct creatures in a British coastal town in the 19th century. The story is told from the perspective of two women - first young Mary Anning, a poor girl who was struck by lightening as a child. This event is credited with making her unusually adept at finding fossils on the beach of her hometown, Lyme Regis. Mary is uneducated and learn to fossil hunt from her father, who collected so called "curies" and sold them. The book is also told from the perspective of Elizabeth Pilpot, a middle class spinster, who comes to live in Lyme with her two unmarried sisters - forced to move to Lyme when their brother solely inherits their families modest fortune. Elizabeth is bookish and prickly and seemingly uninterested in finding a husband. She meets Mary and starts fossil hunting and studying herself. At the time the book is set, the idea of extinct animals was unheard of - people believed that God created the world and an extinct creature meant that God was somehow fallible. Therefore, Mary and Elizabeth's discoveries of the fossils of large extinct creatures was met with suspicion. As women, they struggled to be taken seriously. The novel involves some personal drama as well. But I found myself not invested in the characters and the novel lacked any real compelling conflict or suspense. It was a bit of a throwaway read and less enjoyable than Chevalier's previous books.
Herb Fossil Crackers Adapted from Martha Stewart's Hors D'Ouevres Handbook
As soon as I discovered the book was about fossils, I thought of doing some sort of pasta or cracker where a whole herb leaf would be pressed into the dough, creating a fossil like effect. Sage leaf seemed like the perfect shape and flavor for this kind of thing. Of course Martha Stewart had a cracker recipe that I adapted for my purposes. She has a recipe for a rosemary cracker and I adapted her cheddar cracker, adding the sage. These were super easy and very yummy - you can play around with the cheese and herbs, or even add ground nuts, like walnuts, too. Ingredients Cheddar Sage Crackers
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornmeal (I forgot to get this at the store and just used 2 extra tablespoons of flour, but I think the cornmeal would have made them even better)
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons very cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon milk
about 8 sage leaves for cracker dough and 20 more small sage leaves to go on top
1 egg white, beaten
1/4 cup all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon kosher salt
pinch of white pepper
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary, plus extra sprigs for garnish
3 teaspoons very cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup finely grated Parmesan
5 tablespoons sour cream
1 egg white, beaten
Directions: Most of the steps of these are the same, so I will just write up one set of directions, indicating when things are done differently. Combine the flour (and cornmeal) , salt, pepper and any spices (so cayenne and nutmeg) and the 8 sage leaves or chopped rosemary in a food processor and pulse till combined.
Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles a course meal.
Add the cheese and pulse till combined.
Then add the milk or the sour cream and process until the dough comes together and is well combined.
Transfer the dough to a clean work service and shape into a 2 inch wide log. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 24 hours.
When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325. Slice the crackers into 1/4 an inch slices. To attach the herbs, press the sage leaf or rosemary sprig into the top of the cracker and then brush with egg wash.
Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until the crackers are golden brown and firm in the center. Transfer to a rack to cook. Store in an airtight container. These don't have the shelf life of regular crackers, eat within a few days.