When I recommended this book by Aimee Bender to a friend recently, they commented that I often read books with strange titles. There may be an element of truth in that, because I guess I am drawn to things that seem a little quirky from the outside. This book definitely fits into that category because I confess I read it exactly because of it's title. A sad lemon cake? That book's for me. I can tell you now, it was wonderful. The cake may have been sad, but as a reader I was happy, happy, happy.
On her ninth birthday, Rose Edelstein bites into her mother's lemon chocolate cake and it doesn't taste good. In fact, it tastes bad; it tastes of the emotions of her mother as she beat and whipped the cake up. Bad feelings of "absence, hunger, spiralling, hollows". In that one slice of cake, Rose can taste her mother's despair and anger and from that point on, food becomes a channel of unwanted communication. Rose's 'gift' enables her to discern the emotions behind most foods, especially baked goods. She is forced to witness her family's emotions that they believe hidden from her. As Rose's 'food psychic' abilities grow she discerns her mother's affair, heralded by an adultery-tasting roast beef. In the meantime her brother Joseph begins to retreat from the world and in a strange twist of plot, he disappears. Reminiscent of The Time Traveler's Wife it seems that geeky Joseph has developed a way to literally disappear into the furniture and for a time he comes and goes, before disappearing completely. In the cold light of day I'm not sure how this particular sub-plot doesn't stand out more, but somehow it works.
I've always thought that food made with love, cherishes and nourishes and that food made in anger, lies uneasily on the palate. This book made it a reality for me and I chomped down every delicious word.
When I saw this wallpaper recently I immediately began planning where I could put it. It's a MUST for me; not least because I used to work for Penguin Books and I have a very large soft spot for them! The 'Library' wallpaper is a collaboration between Osborne and Little and Penguin and the collage design features the vintage covers of literary classics by the Bronte sisters, Orwell and DH Lawrence. So if you can't find the real things, these would be a great substitute!
So, in just under a week it will be Easter Sunday, celebrated by Christians over the world, but also by those who worship at the altar of chocolate. Whatever your feelings about the origins of the celebrations, it is just that; a chance to celebrate with friends and family and that's always a good thing. Last year I hosted an Easter lunch for ten and this year I'm doing the same, numbers slightly larger tho' as one of the families has a new addition. In previous years, the weather has been gorgeous, sunny and warm enough to have drinks outside and certainly warm enough to accommodate an outdoor Easter egg hunt for the littlies; not so this year I fear. It's cold and currently snowing/sleeting and so I'm thinking it's going to be an indoors Easter this time round. Over the years I've collected a lovely little selection of Easter decorations which I'll bring out and use to decorate pussy willow twigs and ivy. I've also spotted this little corker which I'm going to have a go at for the table decs...
So easy to do... just empty an egg and paint the shell gold, thread a tulip through it and you're done.
As for the food, usually I like to do a slow roast shoulder of lamb, a nod to the paschal, but this year I'm ringing the changes with an all-in-one spring chicken roast, with petit pois a la Francaise to accompany it, followed by a variation on Eton Mess courtesy of Marco Pierre White. Then there'll be laughter and bubbly, chocolate eggs and tired children. We'll finish off by cheering on this year's Oxford v Cambridge in the annual boat race.
Anyway, despite the inclement weather, here are some Easter table settings to inspire you - the weather may smile on you elsewhere!
When it comes to comfort food, there are two camps; chocolate and carbs. I'm firmly in the latter camp, although there are times when only chocolate will hit the spot. For me tho', it's got to be a carb fest. I'm talking potatoes, or pasta, or stodgy bread stuffed with crispy bacon. It doesn't have to look good, in fact, now I think about it, comfort food isn't about the gourmet look, it's about taste not presentation. For some reason I find it more comforting to see a cottage pie that's leaked its sauce over the side, than a pristine gourmet dinner. I don't want to have to wait long for my comfort food either; the culinary hug has to appear quickly or my roving tastebuds will have found solace elsewhere (usually in a packet of crisps!). Here's a selection of a few of my go-to comfort foods...
This has to be one of my all-time favourites. The combination of carb and cheese, a bite of paprika and a crunchy topping is hard to beat. There are many recipes for this, but one I go to in times of crisis when I need a quick hit involves swopping the flour/butter sauce for a tub of creme-fraiche. Instead of making the usual roux, just heat the creme-fraiche, with mustard and cheese, pour over your cooked pasta and the bliss is all yours. The only addition I need is Heinz Tomato Ketchup. That's a must.
Now, let's get this straight first off. Shepherd's Pie is made with lamb, not beef! Secondly, the topping on this pie is spoonful after spoonful of mashy delight. The parsnips give a sweetness that is offset by the cumin seeds; couple that with the savoury denseness of the meat and there is no need for anything else. This particular recipe comes from one of my culinary heroes - Nigel Slater - who describes himself as a cook that writes. The thing about Nigel's recipes is that they almost read like a novel. Not for him a bland list of ingredient, but a whole story to accompany it; the who, what, where and why, and for me that's what makes the food special.
This is a fusion of golden crisp batter, soft meaty sausages, and smooth onion gravy. What's not to love. The secret here is to buy the best sausages you can afford, whisk up the batter and put into a very hot oven.
If you've got time, a pile of creamy mash is the perfect accompaniament to mop up the gravy, but if you're just too sad to wait, then just tuck in straight from the pan.
My final offering today is the humble egg. I love eggs. They're always quick to eat, versatile and can be combined in a huge variety of ways with other ingredients, but when it comes to comfort, for me it has to be a simple boiled egg with marmite soldiers. This could be the quickest comfort food recipe around. Four minutes to boil your egg. Done. I like my egg cooked for slightly longer as I can't bear the runny white of egg when it's not quite done. My toast has to be well-done, almost burnt and then buttered whilst hot. A final scraping of Marmite is all I need to make this comfort perfection.
I first came across Robert Frost as a teenager. I had to study his poetry as part of my A-level studies and I remember when I first read this, such was its impact; in my mind's eye I was walking through a wood where the paths diverged and I could feel the agony of decision...this way? that way? no this way.. I think we're all like that sometimes, undecided, and from time to time I do look back on the decisions that I've made and wonder how it would have all turned out if I had taken the other road. Then I remember, that everything now is just as it should be. I took the road that was right for me then and that's all that matters now.
A while ago I posted this about Gray Malin's photography. There's something about his use of symmetry and blocks of colour that keep drawing me back. As the UK braces itself for yet more snow this week, Malin's new photos from his trip to Switzerland seem very apt. I'm not sure we'll be able to match this amount of snow, or the glamour of Zermatt, so instead we can gaze upon these:
All of these photographs and more can be bought as prints from here.
This time last year I posted this in honour of the March Hare and the advent of Easter. This year I want to show you these amazing dolls created by the designer Alice Mary Lynch and currently on display at Temperley London
Alice was a local girl,(to me!) training at Kingston University, London before going on to work for John Galliano, Christian Dior and Sonia Rykiel. She honed her craft in their studios full of stitching, beading and embellishment and thrived in the theatre of their catwalk shows. Her latest whimsical creatures are made from vintage textiles and crystal beads. She says ''I love imagination and humour, people who have their feet on the ground whilst dreaming, the poetry in everyday life. I like a certain vulnerability whilst standing strong, 1930's cabaret, dark shiny and mad, and silent films. I like the circus, the colours when the lights go down, the trapeze artist making an entrance. I like it behind the scenes, there are stories there too, and toys and childhood and history on our doorstep.''
All these gorgeous hares come in a box frame and can be made to order...they don't come cheap but they are a one off. For more information contact the designer directly.
I have a friend who always reprimands me when I say 'Mother's Day'. Apparently it's really Mothering Sunday, and Mother's Day is a derivative for commercial purposes! Whatever it's origins, I'd just like to wish all you wonderful Mums out there a happy day with your families.
I hope you feel cherished, spoiled and greatly loved...
I guess everyone dreams of a space they can call their own. Most of us can squirrel away a corner in our home and some of us are lucky enough to have a room all to ourselves. I don't wish to be greedy, but what I really want isn't a corner, or even a room tucked away at the other end of the house. I want a Shepherd's Hut. Used predominantly in the late 18th to mid 19th century, they were the temporary home of the Shepherd when the sheep were lambing or the flock was far from the farm. As the hut was never meant to be a permanent home they were pretty sparse inside. There was usually space for one man, his dog and the occasional orphaned lamb. There is also some evidence from surviving original huts that some had a stove built in too for warmth. Nowadays most people use them as an extra guest room, or glamping accommodation, but I would have it as my office and hideaway from the world. I'd have a wood burning stove, bunting, a squashy leather chair to read in, soft cashmere cushions and rugs underfoot. On top of the stove a kettle would boil merrily and tucked away
at the far end, my lap top and a few treasured possessions; a place to work, dream and hide.
I loved, loved, loved this book. Think fairytale for grown-ups; magical, enthralling, captivating. Like any good fairytale though, it has a dark side...
Based on a Russian fairytale, The Snow Child tells the story of Jack and Mable, a childless couple living in a homestead in the brutal wilds of Alaska. Jack is slowly losing his battle with clearing the land and Mable is unable to move on from losing her only baby many years earlier. We first meet Mable as she contemplates suicide by drowning herself in the nearby frozen river; The silence between the couple deepens and it seems their marriage and way of life is under threat, until one moonlit night when the snow falls and they re-discover their tenderness for each other. In the throes of these feelings they build themselves a small snow-child, even thinking to give her gloves and hat. In the morning their snow child has gone, a small set of footprints lead away from the pile of snow, the only thing left of their endeavours of the previous night.
Over time the couple catch glimpses of a small girl, even a handprint left on their window in the ice. Until, one magical day, the snow child arrives in their cabin.
The prose completely captures the feel of the wild Alaskan landscape, the space, the harsh winters, the loneliness, but also its intense and fragile beauty. I'm waiting with baited breath for the next book from this talented writer.