Sunday, November 27, 2011

When Too Much Plenty Is Never Enough

Have I raved enough about Yotam Ottolenghi's book Plenty in my life? Probably not, because I could happily discuss it at length every single day and still not be sick of it. It is billed as vegetarian food for non or part-time vegetarians, but the actual vegetarians I know who use the book seem to be pretty happy with it too!

Everything I have cooked from it has turned out beautifully. Because one of our favourite topics of conversation at the bookshop is "Guess What I Made From Plenty Last Night?" I know that several other recipes I haven't cooked also work well. Anyway, here are my favourites (in no particular order):


"Caramelized fennel with goat's curd". Is there a word in that sentences that does not sound utterly divine? And what if I add the words dill, lemon zest and a touch of black pepper?

The recipe for "Fried butterbeans with feta, sorrel and sumac" has actually turned into my most produced standby meal. I follow the basic principle but mix up the ingredients depending on what is to hand. I almost always end up stirring through some quinoa and often replace the feta with Greek yoghurt.

The "Puy lentil galettes" (which I always make minus the galettes) are amaaaazing. Just the right balance of sharpness and creaminess and greeny freshness.

And the one recipe I keep looking at but have yet to make? Shakshuka. It looks incredible, but as it is a breakfast dish, I feel it demands a special occasion (ie a free weekend with no busyness but when I am not too tired to cook up a feast on Saturday morning. This occasion has yet to occur).

Seen here is the double page image of Shakshuka from the book that has my mouth drooling and my stomach rumbling every time I look at it. I promise to report back!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Big Orange Splot

As a child I had a book called The Big Orange Splot (Daniel Manus Pinkwater) and I loved it. I recently tracked a copy down and had it for my bedtime story last night. I still seriously love it; the central message is about individuality and self expression, and how happiness can come from standing up for one's personal vision. Looking at the book with a bookseller's eye was a bit of a shock though, because it's... um... terrible! It breaks almost all the rules; there is too much text on some pages, the illustrations are a little amateur and the rhythm and pace of the text is completely off. But I loved it as a kid and still love it, even though I can see it isn't nearly as polished and clever as a kids book must be today to get anywhere.

It doesn't seem to be aimed at a specific age group which these days is like a mortal sin in a kids book but I remember loving it for a long time. I might be imagining this but I seemed to like it for different reasons and to understand new layers of the story as I got older. It seems a pity that a book like this just would not exist today because there isn't any room for it in the sea of primped, sculpted and pitch-perfectly crafted children's literature.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Pining For New York

Season To Taste by Molly Birnbaum is best described as a book that brought me joy. It was wonderful to read: an interesting, well-written, well balanced mix of personal experience and factual detail. Birnbaum has taken her experience of losing her sense of smell and made it a truly wonderful read.

It reminded me of Not Eating Out in New York by Cathy Erway which I also loved. Both are full of beautiful, clear writing and food descriptions, and both make me want to go to New York. Sadly, I think I'll have to settle for being wistful about travel for a while yet.

Not knowing anything about the author, I was worried it was going to be one of those books I hate - the type written by somebody who has one book in them. That is, a person who isn't really a writer but happens to have experienced something extraordinary that gets turned into a book. The problem with these books is that they have been re-written so much by an editorial team that they usually end up sounding hollow and bombastic at the same time. As is rather obvious from my earlier comments, I needn't have worried AT ALL!!

I loved reading about somebody who made it through a life-altering experience with new skills, new direction and new hope. I loved learning some of the science and data behind taste and smell, and I loved experiencing life through an intense focus on sensations I often ignore.

Both authors I have mentioned in this post have wonderful blogs that can be found in the "Browsings" sidebar on this blog, or - a one time special for readers of this post - here:
Molly Birnbaum
Cathy Erway


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

King Brilliant

Ed King is ----King Brilliant! I have never read anything by David Guterson (he of Snow Falling on Cedars fame) and had always assumed he wrote soft, desolate, beautiful, thoughtful books. I think this assumption was based purely on the title of Snow Falling on Cedars, which sounds like a line from a haiku poem. Well, it turns out that Guterson writes sassy, tight, clever shit. Who knew? (probably everybody except me).


What I found most particularly brilliant was the final denouement, which is stretched out over a tense 50 or more pages. The reader knows the ending, (even before reading the book, as it is on the blurb) but waiting for the characters themselves to discover it is excruuutiating!!


... I wonder what this dude (formerly of the band Lynard Skynard) thinks of the fact that there is now a book with his name as the title? ...

It was a book that made me think about genetics, the meaning of family, technology's role in our lives... but it wasn't a 300 page lecture, it was a great, nuanced, story.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Back In Print

I finished Higland Fling last night. It has been out of print for several decades and was only just republished last year. It was the one Nancy Mitford fiction title that I hadn't read and, as expected, it was just delightful.
Hooray for for Ms Mitford!! [Must use small words here to look good down side of pic] ... There is a carelessness and a breeziness in her writing that makes it feel very fresh and un-laboured, as though the whole thing were somebody telling a story to a friend over coffee, or a very rough first draft- almost stream of consciousness. I know this style is not to everyone's taste but I relish it. It was her first novel and while it is possible to see developing complexities and polish in her later work, Highland Fling is still a lovely book to read; very funny in parts, sharply observed and concisely written. .
While I spent months tracking down and waiting for Highland Fling to arrive I was also anticipating the republication of three Stella Gibbons titles: Conference at Cold Comfort Farm, Westwood and Starlight. Conference was ok. It was rather like a movie sequel where they can't get any of the original actors on board. The ho-hum-ness makes you remember how fantastic the first one was, and you admit it was loyalty to the memory of this that made you even remotely interested in the sequel. I didn't have great expectations so I wasn't really disappointed. Some elements were great but overall it seems to have dated pretty badly. Nevertheless, I was still keen to read Westwood and I am so glad I did. I drove Tallboy nuts by flopping about and sighing all over the apartment and saying things like "oh, wow" and "it's so lovely!". Reading Westwood was like drinking a cool, crisp glass of water on hot, stuff day. I was in such raptures over it that I have just bought Starlight which looks to be another great read.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Cocktails and Cordials

Heavens to Betsy, a month since my last post! It may look as though I have abandoned my blog but as a matter of fact I have had one of those disappointingly persistent viruses that made me feel like death warmed up and hung around for weeks. I have quite a backlog of reading material to discuss so I think I’ll tackle it in a few stages.




I’ve read a couple more kids books – I feel like a bloody champion as a result but I just realised that actual kids read this stuff all the time so I guess it isn’t all that impressive. Something else that isn't all that impressive is the ability to italicise mysteriously disappearing form my blogger dashboard. Please excuse.

Marcelo In The Real World by Francis X. Stork is one of the most amazing, remarkable, moving books I have read in a very long time. Ostensibly it is written for a teen audience, and while I think teenagers and even advanced 11 or 12 year olds would love it, it felt like an adult read to me. There was nothing a younger person couldn’t manage in it but it was so insightful and oddly charming that I think a lot of adults would get a lot from this one.



Fancesca Simon’s The Sleeping Army was quite enjoyable but not something I would rave about. It is basically a story about a young modern girl in a world identical to ours except Christianity died out and the prevailing religion is that of Norse myths. Freya finds herself transported to Valhalla and forced to undertake a quest for the Gods. It could really tickle the fancy of any kids who are keen on history, probably for 8-10 year olds. But comparing it to Marcelo is a bit like comparing a glass of cordial to a cocktail of Frangelico, pear juice and a dash of lime.