Friday, March 09, 2007

Friday Five: Food Writers

1. Ruth Reichl "Tender at the Bone"
I decided I wanted to visit New York watching Robert De Niro in "Falling In Love." And once I finally made it to NYC, I couldn't stop visiting! A city gets under your skin, into your blood. And of course, I made my pilgrimage to the Rizzoli Bookstore on 31 West 57th Street. Luckily I'd located it on my map beforehand, but on the morning thought it best to ask each cop for directions. They loved an English accent almost as much as I loved asking them for directions... poor fellows! And whilst Robert De Niro wasn't actually in Rizzoli's, this gem was.

                                                        "At a very early age, Ruth discovered that, "Food
could be a way of making sense of the world. If you watched people as they ate, you could find out who they were." Her deliciously crafted memoir, Tender at the Bone, is the story of a life determined, enhanced and defined in equal measure by a passion for food, unforgettable people, and the love of tales well told... a remembrance of Ruth Reichl's childhood into young adulthood, redolent with the atmosphere, good humour, and angst of a sensualist's coming-of-age."

Never was a truer word spoken. If you click on the following link, you should be taken to the first few pages of the opening chapter, The Queen of Mold. Hover the cursor over the book jacket, then from the menu offered click on "excerpt." There I stood, in Rizzoli's, in full pilgrimage mode, reading this book. When I burst out laughing a page and a half in, I knew I was taking this little bit of New York home with me. And with this book began my love affair with well written stories gathered around a cooking theme.

Dimitris and Damocles live in the same block of flats, on the same floor. They share a love of cooking, and, it soon transpires, a lover - Nana. What follows is the story of a contest, as each sets out to conquer Nana's willing palate by outperforming his rival in the kitchen. It is a bizarre and comic duel, fought with sea-urchin salads, stuffed vine leaves and delicacies from all corners of the Aegean, to win the consummate femme fatal.
"You don't happen to have a little something for me to nibble, do you? I can't stay long, I promised my husband I'd have supper with him," she said, lying in spite of the delicious smells that by now had overwhelmed the flat. Damocles promptly sped off in the direction of the kitchen and returned with a small bowl and teaspoon.
"And Nana, her nostrils twitching lustfully and her eyes half-closed (the lids labouring under the burden of many layers of mascara), whispered, word perfect, "What is it? What is it? Corals. Sea-urchin corals, drowning in a spoonful of Aegean water.
""The recipe? Give me the recipe," demanded Damocles, prompting her next ritualised response.
""Take ten sea urchins, place them in a small bowl, mix them with two blasts of the Etesian winds and add a drop of lemon juice.""
3. Elizabeth David "Christmas"

I begin my Christmas preparations with this slim volume. That the Guardian reviewed this book thus,
"When you read Elizabeth David, you get perfect pitch. There is an understanding and evocation of flavours, colours, scents and places that lighten up the page,"
owes a lot to the skill of ED's gifted editor, Jill Norman.

4. Nigel Slater "Real Cooking"
His language is gastro-porn of the top-most-shelf variety, and my first reading of this book in Waterstones took my breath away. If you thought all we are doing is roasting off a chicken, Nigel has other ideas;
"Good housekeeping is often at odds with good eating. An overzealous hand with the clearing up, springing up from the table and throwing too much, too soon into the sink, can destroy in seconds what is so important to the intelligent cook. The glorious dripping and jelly that will enrich a sauce, the gelatinous bones, sucked or not, that will make a glowing golden broth, not to mention the crunchy, sticky bits of skin and potato stuck to the pan that are a treat for the greedy."
5. Jamie Oliver "The Naked Chef"

I watched him on the telly one night, making a salad of mixed tomatoes (p34), then radish and fennel salad (p37), then baby spinach, fresh pea and feta cheese salad (p41), and recognised this moment as a culinary epiphany; and began to make salads as Alice Walker described years before,

"my brain light; tossing this and that into the pot; seasoning none of my life the same way twice; happy to feed whoever strays my way."

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