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This Week

This has been a strange week. Up and down weather. Lazy and very busy days.

I read ‘The Mistaken Wife’ by Rose Melikan, ‘Welsh Legends and Folk-Tales’ by Gwyn Jones, and ‘Ratcatcher’ by James McGee. I’ve also been reading a lot of poetry but mostly in mixed collections.

I’ve tried to describe what is going on with my rather confused mess of a life over here. I’ve also posted my reasons for not putting my poetry online anymore. I am thinking at the moment about writing a couple of poems specifically for the blog though.

I’ve reviewed ‘The Good Table’ by Valentine Warner over on the Huffington Post UK blog. I put a few pictures from my Shropshire holiday online.

Work has been up and down for some very boring reasons, once again I need to write a to-do list. And then do everything on it.

In other very important news I bought some Toffee Nut syrup from Starbucks. Now I never need to leave the house again. Plus, I am seriously considering using all of next week to do a very full write-up of my time in Shropshire. You have been warned.


Further Adventures In Search Of Perfection

Further Adventures In Search Of Perfection – Heston Blumenthal
Bloomsbury/BBC – 2007
Photography: Andy Sewell

Alright then – time for a bit of honesty. I was fully expecting to hate this book. I didn’t, not even a little bit. I loved it. I will say that it is not a recipe book by any stretch of the imagination, there are only eight recipes in it (although each has many component parts) and most of them take the best part of a day to make. I am never going to make any of the recipes in this book. I like a good hamburger but I am not going to spend 33 hours (33!) making one. So a different approach to reviewing this…

First off, yet again, I am reading book two first. I have a staggering ability to always miss book one of a series. I don’t think this was any disadvantage – Blumenthal occasionally references book one but not in any way that hampers reading of this book.

Now, here is the thing that amazed me most: I read this book cover to cover. I can’t remember the last time I read every single word of a cookery book. It’s not a recipe book but it is all about the food. Each recipe takes about 40 pages and there is a history, plus lots of detail on the research that went into the final product, all of the testing and then a *very* long recipe.

Some of the component parts of the recipes I will take note of, such as Blumenthal’s way of preparing an acid butter, but mostly the recipes were the least interesting part of this foodie book. It has made me very keen to get my hands on more of his less technical recipe books.

The writing in here is wonderful, it is clearly connected to the television series of the same name (which I didn’t watch – not a fan of TV really) but that rarely impinges on the style. Each story is easy to read and compelling, something very impressive for a cookery book. The recipes he chose to look at were well varied and made for interesting stories and where he came across a hitch in the plan it was all written down honestly.
A hugely original book, all about the journey to find the food rather than simply the recipes themselves. Not great if you want to replenish your stock of recipes but a wonderfully fulfilling read that I would recommend to all foodies.

Off to find book one…

This Week

This week I’ve not posted much, same as the two weeks before that. There are a lot of little reasons for that falling under one big umbrella reason – I’m not sleeping. I’ve never been a great sleeper but the past month or so I’ve only been getting a few hours a night and never really catching up. So I’m exhausted. This means my brain has shut down.

I have still managed to get quite a lot read. I’ve been reading ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ by Ransom Riggs (liked it, wouldn’t read it again) and ‘The 10pm Question’ by Kate DeGoldi (didn’t live up to the hype but a good enough read overall) for my YA bit. ‘A Shadow in Summer’ by Daniel Abraham (really enjoyed the start, lost interest towards the end but I’ll keep going with the series). Then I read ‘Unclean Spirits’ by M.L.N. Hanover which is the pen-name of Daniel Abraham (very enjoyable, read in a day but not as clever as his other series). ‘Days Without Number’ by Robert Goddard (wonderful, love his books) and ‘Through Violet Eyes’ by Stephen Woodworth (very smart, ordered the next in the series straight away) topped up my thriller quota. I’ve just started Kushiel’s Scion by Jacqueline Carey and I’m liking it so far but goodness it is a long book!

I am still trying to get cookbook reviews done – I’ve done a few that need typing up and I have got a new review on the Huffington Post UK blog for The Good Cook by Simon Hopkinson.

I am dithering about my next poetry project and am fighting hard against an idea in my head that is determined to be prose. I don’t usually write prose but I have tried to force it into poetry and drama (my usual media) but it is not working. It might be prose but if I decide to have a go at that there needs to be thought and I will seek advice first. Prose scares me, have you noticed?

My latest drama project is something that came to me in a very round-about way (long story I shall share later) and I am only a few hundred words in but I’m already enjoying it. [Background: I translate plays from German to English. For examples see here] The main difference is that it is much longer than I am used to with scripts. I usually work on plays that, when translated, are about 15,000 words long which gives about an hour and a half. This one is looking to come in at twice that, maybe even three times. An interesting thing about translating from German is that word counts are no use at all. Because the way in which German builds words and uses syntax it is almost impossible to guess at how long a translation will be in relation to the original piece.

I am also working on marketing my business and telling as many people as I can manage. There will be a post all about that on here soon enough.

In short: not a lot is happening but it is still too much to do on four hours sleep!


The River Cottage Year

‘The River Cottage Year’ – Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Hodder and Staunton – 2003
Photography: Simon Wheeler

There is a lot of introduction in this book which is hardly surprising considering the amount of food philosophy that goes into Fearnley-Whittingstall’s cooking. It’s not just a food it’s an attitude and a lifestyle. The book is set out month-by-month emphasising the quality of seasons that we get in Britain as well as the benefits to people that you gain by seasonal eating. There is an introduction to each new month with a contents list as well. At the front of the book before the main recipes start there are seasons charts showing what is in season when for meats, veg, fish and fruits. This bit alone is brilliant and would be especially useful if you’re mainly shopping in supermarkets where it can be hard to tell now what is really at its best.
There are some nice splash pages dotted through the book showing a number of steps in a specific recipe. The photography is generally excellent and really nicely styled to match the tone of the book overall and the recipes specifically.
One thing that I found annoying was that there are no ingredients lists for the recipes – I’m a very organised cook (no surprise to anyone who knows me) and I like to get everything out ready to cook when I start. If nothing else, at least check that I have everything for a recipe in the house, this is much harder without a list all in one place. The font is not the easiest to read but it certainly isn’t too bad although recipes very often cross over pages so you can find yourself flicking backwards and forwards while you are cooking.
There are lots of quite different flavour combinations but at the same time quite a lot of the recipes are really very tame almost to the point of being quite dull. I found the monthly round-ups at the start of each chapter a bit tired and not something I would sit down and read through once. Having said that I love my copy of Tessa Kiros’ ‘Twelve’ which has something similar and I find myself reading each new month as it comes around year after year, I have a strong suspicion that I would do the same with this book. My favourite recipes were the Kale and Chestnut Soup, the Wood Pigeon with Red Wine and Raisins and the Chocolate and Chestnut cake.

Apples For Jam

Apples for Jam – Tessa Kiros
Murdoch Books – 2010
Photography: Manos Chatzikonstantis

I am a huge fan of Tessa Kiros’ recipes however this is easily my least favourite of her cookbooks. It is organised by colour and so is very difficult to navigate. The contents page at the front has almost no information but the index is well done. Page numbers could have done with being clearer, especially as you almost always need to use them to find a recipe from the main index.
The layout of the recipes themselves is much better with a clear separation of ingredients and the main text as well as clear headings. As with most of Kiros’ cookbooks there are little anecdotes in among the recipes which are nice enough to read but if you aren’t a fan of biographical details in cookery books they are very easy to avoid.
There is a very Italian style to a lot of the recipes, which is not at all surprising and for me was very welcome. I love Italian cookery and the warmth of that region really comes across beautifully. At first glance the recipes don’t appear to be very original but they are mostly classic recipes that Kiros has improved upon which makes all the difference.
The recipes are brilliantly written with a very good balance of basic and more challenging as well as a nice rounded combination of sweets, savouries, meats and veggie dishes. A few of the ideas are a bit too long and overly complicated to fit into the family theme I think but as I am not a family cook I wouldn’t like to say for certain. Most of the ingredients used were easy to get a hold of and there are several store-cupboard meals that can be done easily as well.
There are a good number of pictures in the books although there could have been more if the non-food ones had been replaced with photographs of the recipes. The food has been wonderfully styled and matches the philosophy of the book perfectly.
My favourite recipes were the Baked Pumpkin with Butter and Brown Sugar, the Baked Ham and Cheese Bread Pudding, the Mince and Potato Croquettes and the Chocolate Toffee Nut Squares. There was a huge number of recipes in ‘Apples for Jam’ that I will be trying out, a lovely collection altogether.
As with ‘Food From Many Greek Kitchens’ this is a book fully of great recipes but awfully put together. I love the ideas but it’s incredibly awkward to use.