Posts Tagged books

May 14 2013

Food Glorious Food

Share your favourite recipe. Talk about the best cocktail you’ve ever tasted. Or maybe share you fave restaurant experience. Lets talking about food!

This is going to be a tricky one simply because there is so much to say. I suspect I might actually struggle to get this down in a clear and coherent fashion because I simply have so many thoughts and they all race to get to the front.

So where do I start? From the beginning. I have no particularly strong memories of food from my childhood. I’m certainly not one of those people who can claim to have been passed a great legacy of family cooking. That’s not to say my family are not good cooks – far from it, but it was never an aspect of life that really impacted on me as a child. There are a few excepetions however – little gems of memory that stick out for me and come to the surface every now and then.

  • Gravy
    I have the impression that this was instigated by my dad, but I have no real evidence for that, it’s just a feeling. We always had ‘proper’ gravy with a roast, not made from cubes etc. The reason I know this to be the case it that I always got the job of standing at the stove stirring the gravy until it thickened. I have very strong memories of the cream roasting tin we had, with a ridged bottom that made getting all the sticky bit s off a bit tricky and you had to stir very carefully to stop the gravy sticking.
  • Coconut Macaroons
    About the only thing I really remember making, either with the rest of the family, or sometimes on my own – probably with supervision. Always shaped using an egg cup.
  • Dripping
    This is, I think, largely a northern thing. I always looked forward to visiting my paternal grandmother in Yorkshire. For many reasons, but one of the key ones was that she always had a supply of dripping, and a teacake with dripping and salt was a treat that would drive me giddy with pleasure. I recently went to a funeral in Yorkshire and the buffet included bread with dripping. It was like being 10 all over again.
  • Andy’s House
    When I was growing up I spent an inordinate amount of time at my best mate’s house. Days, even weeks on end. They really were like a second family for me, and in fact for a short period while we were ‘between houses’ I lived in a caravan in their garden. Andy’s mum was (and is) a very good cook, with a great talent for those big family meals where you have a dozen people sat around a table, 8 different dishes and second and third helpings for everyone. I loved that house, that family, and their food. We never really had a big garden, but they had a huge garden and would grow their own fruit and veg which was a real treat. I suspect I rather took advantage of their hospitality, but I certainly never got that impression from them. They were incredibly welcoming and kind to me.

While I never had a strong sense of cooking, I was perfectly able to feed myself, and when I went to university I didn’t really struggle. Although let’s be honest, like most students I largely lived on a diet of toast, baked potatoes and takeaways.

The real revelation for me came as a result of a chance change at work. I was working in a pub, doing a minor management role, largely the back office admin – stock taking, ordering, that sort of thing. Our chef left for another job, and the manager asked around for anyone who would take on the role temporarily while they sorted out a permanent replacement. Somehow I ended up volunteering, and had the job for about a year. I absolutely loved it. In culinary terms it was nothing fancy, fairly standard pub grub – pies, burgers, steaks and so on. There was a slight Mexican slant to the menu, so we did burritos and chimichangas and so on. The key thing is that is was all ‘home cooked’, we didn’t buy in any pre-prepared dishes and made everything from scratch. While we didn’t make anything very complicated, it really did give me the confidence to cook and really inspired me in my love for cooking, and everything connected with it.

I only did that job for a year, but the passion I felt there has never left me. I am always trying new ideas, new recipes and new ingredients. I love getting recipe books and going through them to get ideas, even if only for a single ingredient or treatment. I’m not really the most adventurous cook, but I do try to push my boundaries and try new things. Particularly if I’m eating out. I will always try and have something that I wouldn’t or can’t cook myself. Offal is a particular favourite. We don’t eat out that often, but we always try and find somewhere particularly nice when we do. Most recently this was a trip to ‘The Scran and Scallie’, the new gastropub opened by Tom Kitchin, who has been responsible for the two best meals I have ever had. The previous one was at his first restaurant, The Kitchin. A well executed dish can amaze me, and the simple liver dish I had on my visit to The Kitchin took my breath away, it was simply perfect.

I am well aware that I can’t cook at the level that professional chefs can, but that doesn’t stop me from being fascinated by what they do, why they do it, and how they do it. I love reading biographies of chefs and stories based in the trade. Even more general writing about the catering industry has me hooked – I also worked part time as a waiter for several years which may explain that interest.

I have also done a short cookery course at night school for Italian cooking, and am hatching a plan for a week long course in Glasgow for my fortieth birthday.

I could never work as a full time chef. It is incredibly hard, stressful and often monotonous work. I do understand why some people love it, and are constantly inspired by their work, but that’s not for me. I like to relax with my cooking. I spend hours dotting around the kitchen doing various things and will quite happily while away a few hours making a bolognese sauce. It doesn’t feel like a chore to me, it’s how I relax and spend my time.

If anyone has any recommendations for good food writing I would love to hear them. I have, of course, read most of the big names, but that doesn’t mean I will have read them all so I’m always eager to find new writers with passion. Anthony Bourdain, Jay Rayner, Michael Ruhlman, that sort of thing. I just love anything about cooking.

I almost forgot to link to my own food page, where I have documented various recipes that I have tried. I have kind of got out of the habit, so I need to get back to it, but you might find it interesting.


May 12 2013


Are you a collector? Maybe a bit of a hoarder? Tell us about something you like to collect. Or if you favour minimalism, perhaps tell us why?

If you’ve read my previous post then you probably know where this is going. I collect books. Until recently that meant the physical books, but with the advent of ebooks I now collect them electronically more than physically.

I do still buy physical books. Cookbooks seem to work better in a physical format. I still buy the Discworld books as hardbacks because I have them all. But in general, I am quite happy getting an ebook.

To be honest my books were starting to take over our house a bit, so it’s maybe no bad thing that I (somewhat to my surprise) was impressed by the Kindle and now read most of my books that way. I did have around 3000 books at one point, taking up a large part of two rooms in the house. I gave away a load to charity, but have kept anything I think I’m likely to read again. I do still like browsing for secondhand books, which is a market that the ebook industry is going to struggle to replace.

I love giving books as gifts, and receiving them, and a good book to me is like an old friend. You can go back to them time and time again, they always have something interesting to say, and they grow with you.

May 11 2013

Book Love

Tell us about your favourite book. Or maybe give us a top 5 of the books that changed your life.

There is absolutely no way I can just pick one favourite book. Even a top 5 is going to be tricky but I’ll do my best.

I read a lot of books, always have. At one point I had a collection of around 3000 books, but since I got a Kindle I have cut that down quite a lot. I have quite eclectic tastes, though I obviously have my favourite genres. I’ve already mentioned one book that changed my life in a previous post – One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich – so I won’t mention that one again and highlight five other books that have been influential for me for one reason or another, hopefully some books that people may not have come across.

  1. Duncton Wood by William Horwood
    This is a book that I remember being passed around my family. I have read it half a dozen times and loved it every time. It is often described as Watership Down with moles, and while I can see the truth in that, I don’t think it really does justice to the grand scope of the book. It’s actually the first book in a six part saga, but stands on its own as a great tale. The writing is evocative, delicate and powerful, and William Horwood really creates a whole world and populates it with a such wide range of characters that you totally get drawn in. I always recommend this book to friends. It is quite long, but actually a very easy read and is simply magical.

    Duncton Wood is the story of a quest into the nature of love and greed, oppression and freedom, courage and corruption – of a quest, finally, into the nature of grace and the power of the spirit.

  2. Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
    This is one of the shortest books I own, but also one of the most powerful. I must have bought dozens of copies of this books as a gift for various people, because I love it so much. It is the kind of book that stays with you through life, and I have never forgotten the first time I read this. It has themes of philosophy and spirituality, but never in a heavy-handed way, and while it was probably aimed at a juvenile market, I think most people would find something to take away from this book.

    Jonathan Livingston Seagull tells the story of a bird determined to be more than ordinary. This is a story for people who want to follow their dreams and make their own rules. This is a fable about seeking a higher purpose in life, even if your flock, tribe or neighbourhood finds your ambition threatening (at one point our beloved gull is even banished from his flock). By not compromising his higher vision, Jonathan learns the meaning of love and kindness.

  3. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
    This is one of the first books I remember my dad buying for me. I actually got the original Earthsea trilogy – now expanded to four books. This is fantasy, but in a more personal and thoughtful package than is often the case. It is probably the book that really turned me on to fantasy, and again it is one that I come back to time and time again. interestingly, my dad was never a big fan of fantasy, so I’m not really sure why he bought me this book – possibly simply because it was a trilogy and so would keep me occupied for longer. I don’t really care why – it was a great gift.

    The island of Gont is a land famous for wizards. Of these, some say the greatest – and surely the greatest voyager – is the man called Sparrowhawk. As a reckless, awkward boy, he discovered the great power that was in him – with terrifying consequences. Tempted by pride to try spells beyond his means, Sparrowhawk lets loose an evil shadow-beast in his land. Only he can destroy it, and the quest leads him to the farthest corner of Earthsea.

  4. Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian
    This one is a bit different, because I am aware that some people simply don’t like this genre of books and so sometimes don’t recommend it to people. Historical fiction is easy to do badly, but Patrick O’Brian is a true master of the genre. I love this book, and the other 20(!) in the series. I have read them all several times and have the audio books as well. However I do have very personal reasons for loving this books because my dad also loved it, and it gave us a common interest. Not that we really needed another one – we actually had very similar interests, but it really did bring us closer and for that I will always be grateful. The books have a strong moral sense, a sense of humour and great characterisations. this book alone created a love of sailing ships for me, and I have read many other books since that have been selected purely because of the inspiration that this book gave me. The Russell Crowe film was actually based more on a couple of other books in the series rather than this one, so the story isn’t very similar at all, but that is no bad thing – the story is gripping.

    The opening salvo of the Aubrey-Maturin epic, in which the surgeon introduces himself to the captain by driving an elbow into his ribs during a chamber music recital. Fortunately for millions of readers, the two quickly make up. Then they commence one of the great literary voyages of our century, set against an immaculately detailed backdrop of the Napoleonic wars. This is the place to start–and in all likelihood, you won’t be able to stop.

  5. Flatland by Edwin A Abbott
    Possibly not a book that is going to appeal to the mass audience, this was another favourite shared by me and my dad. An allegorical tale based in a 2 dimensional world, it opened my eyes to how writing about science and mathematics could be fun and interesting and creative without losing the underlying rigour. It really is a classic of science writing, and has inspired a generation of writers.

    Classic of science (and mathematical) fiction — charmingly illustrated by author — describes the journeys of A. Square and his adventures in Spaceland (three dimensions), Lineland (one dimension) and Pointland (no dimensions). A. Square also entertains thoughts of visiting a land of four dimensions — a revolutionary idea for which he is banished from Spaceland.

  6. So there you go. I could go on and on. I could easily do five biographies or five science fiction novels that have changed my life, but I have tried to pick slightly less well known books, and to keep it tight. Only five.

    It was very hard.