Thursday, July 31, 2008

Losing My Mind?

This morning as I was driving to work, I thought I saw a polar pear in a field just outside Woodingdean. It turned out to be a white horse, but for a brief moment I was convinced. The worrying thing is that I wasn't in the least bit peturbed by this prospect, I just thought to myself "Oh look, there's a polar bear" and carried on driving. I really need a holiday.

Kylie Minogue at the o2

Last weekend I went to see Kylie at the 0² Arena - a major departure from my usual gig circuit of dingy pubs and muddy festivals. I hadn't been to a stadium gig since the early nineties (INXS at Wembley Arena was my last), and had forgotten what a strangely impersonal experience it was. Walking into the venue formerly known as the Millennium Dome, I felt literally nauseous surveying the 19,999 other punters lining its cavernous interior. I was there with Neel (who had organised the outing) and two of his other lovely fag-hags (and I mean that in the friendliest possible way ladies), Fred and Laura. Once we'd sat down and I'd had time to adjust my internal scale settings, I was soon infected by Neel's obvious excitement, and looking forward to witnessing what I'd been told would be an impressive show.

Descending onto stage like spiderwoman in her web, the diminutive pop princess embarked on a two-hour marathon of hits that included material from the new album, X, as well as many old favourites. The steep-sided auditorium and lack of leg room were rather prohibitive to dancing, but we did manage to bop around for a couple of numbers, including Love At First Sight - my own favourite Kylie tune. A veritable visual spectacular, the set included numerous costume changes and an impressive light-screen stage that made the 70s underlit dancefloor seem positively prehistoric. Flanked by a troupe of scantily-clad buff male dancers (she clearly knows her market), Ms Minogue exuded energy and charm throughout, leaping about deftly like someone half her age. Taking us all back in time, she finished on her first ever hit single, I Should Be So Lucky, which came out in 1987 - when I was in the last year of primary school. Back then, I wouldn't have been seen dead dancing to Kylie (I was on the verge of becoming a moody rock-chick), but have since realised that a slice of cheesy pop in the musical pie is well worth having. Apart from getting rid of the poodle perm and puffballs skirts, Kylie hasn't really changed much in over 20 years, and despite not having any real singing talent, has managed to sustain a successful career in the pop industry. You've got to respect that.

I very much doubt that I'll be repeating the experience any time soon (the claustrophobic tube journey back to London Bridge was enough to put me off forever), but it was good to be dragged out of my comfort zone for one night and mix with the masses. Hopefully it'll also make me appreciate the more familiar territory of muddy fields and obscure bands at Kendal Calling this weekend.

Photo from Mirror.co.uk

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

My Cupboard is Bare

When I originally took up the challenge of trying to write about food for a whole month, I thought it would be easy; cooking, food shopping and eating are some of my favourite pastimes after all. But I found that after two weeks, it was a struggle to find new things to say about my day to day eating, and various circumstances prevented me from indulging in any noteworthy extra-curricular culinary activities. So as you may have gathered, I failed the challenge. But it has still been a worthwhile exercise, that will hopefully lead to more foodie posts in future.

This weekend I am off to another music festival - Kendal Calling in the Lake District. I'm taking Ant with me this time, so I imagine that mealtimes will be much more regulated than my infrequent ad-hoc snack attacks at Latitude. And if the weather turns out to be as grim as predicted, we might even go off-site for a meal at one of the area's notable restaurants or gastro pubs at some point. Certainly a visit to the Lakes wouldn't be complete without a trip to the legendary Grasmere Gingerbread shop, whose distinctly moreish produce can only be bought (legitimately) directly from the shop, or via their website.


Photo by Frazgo on Flickr.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Pimm's!

One of the things I forgot to mention about Latitude - which certainly contributed to the civilised air of the weekend - was the Pimm's. Being the main sponsor of the festival, it was inevitable that they would be flogging the stuff everywhere, but I never imagined that we'd be walking the site round carrying a whole jug! Even without the usual trimmings (cucumber, strawberries, lemon, mint and a good glug of vodka being my personal preference), a simple Pimm's and Lemonade was just the ticket to revive our party-worn spirits on Saturday afternoon. There was even a Pimm's bus, which we walked past, but felt would be too dangerous to enter.

I've always thought that the herbal, faintly medicinal flavour of Pimm's would be well complemented by the sharp spiciness of ginger beer, but have never been bold enough to experiment with such a classic winning formula. Upon researching the precedent and etiquette of Pimm's mixology, I discovered that there were once many variations of the actual drink itself. The one with which we are familiar these days is Pimms' No.1 Cup, which is gin-based; but apparently they used to make other versions too, based on each of the popular spirits - including rum. Considering that gin is my least favourite spirit, and I still love Pimm's, it is probably just as well that you can no longer get hold of the rum variant, or I might find myself with a serious habit. Still, it can't hurt to dream about it....can it?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Musings on Latitude Festival 2008

I originally came up with the idea of going to Latitude Festival this year as a 30th birthday present for my friend Harriet - it was going to be a girlie weekend with just the two of us. And for me, my main summer holiday. Then we found out that loads of our other mates were also going, including Harry's boyfriend, so it quickly became a gang outing. I'd only ever been to festivals with a partner before, so it was a whole new experience for me being part of a mob of ten for the duration. Not that we spent all our time together - inevitably we wanted to see different things and ended up drifting off into smaller groups or going solo at various points, but we managed to meet up regularly, even without the help of mobile phones.

Daytimes were filled with gig-going and walking between stages (it's quite a big site to get round, though the scenery makes it more bearable), with the headline acts coming on at about 9.30pm. There was still plenty to do after the bands had finished, and each night held its own unique magic.
On Friday, Harry and I had our girlie bonding time, running around the woods, dancing, chatting to random people and sampling the interactive exhibits such as the Digital Funfair and the Bad Ideas Press (where you wrote down confessions and they published them). We were surprised to be the last back to the tents, as the sun was just on the brink of rising. I stayed out late (early) again on Saturday on my own (and had a ball) and on Sunday we managed to keep the whole gang together for a boogiefest in the cabaret and comedy tents that saw us dancing to Blur, INXS, The Gypsy Kings, Gloria Jones and Motorhead among other madcap tunes.

The whole weekend was a real adventure, and I couldn't possibly capture it all in a single blog, but here is a little taster...

--- Cultural Highlights ---

Martha Wainwright Seasick Steve
Sigur Rós, Martha Wainwright and Seasick Steve - © Rowan Stanfield

My second gig of the festival, on the 'BBC Introducing' Lake Stage, was Kyte, a youthful bunch of pretty boys with pretty tunes to match. Somewhere between Explosions in the Sky and Sigur Rós, and right up my street.

Undoubtedly the buzziest gig of the weekend (everyone was talking about it afterwards) was former hobo Seasick Steve, who brought us all together with his mischievous banter and infectious blues riffs.

We already have most of Sigur Rós's albums at home, but I had mixed feelings until seeing them live on Saturday night. I'd anticipated pretentious downbeat dirge, but was pleasantly surprised to discover magical euphoric symphonies. The whole Steam Punk garb was rather amusing too.

On Sunday night, I'd intended to go and see Tindersticks as my final gig while the others were at Interpol (why?), but accidentally went to the wrong stage (it had been a long weekend, OK?). All was not lost though, as I ended up stumbling across a fantastic little jazz funk band playing in a gazebo outside the cabaret tent, and stayed watching them instead - a much more fitting end to the festival for me. I was unreliably informed (by an overexcited drunken dad) that the name of the band was Sweet Pea, although I haven't been able to verify this.

I also really enjoyed Ken Campbell doing improv in the Theatre tent; Nic Dawson Kelly, Slow Club and Soko (all new discoveries) at the Sunrise arena; Beth Orton, The Breeders, Grinderman and Foals on the main (Obelisk) stage; and Howling Bells, Martha Wainwright and Noah & the Whale in the Uncut tent.

--- Encounters ---


The Cardiff crew

Not always wanting to see the same stuff as the others in my gang, I spent quite a bit of time doing my own thing, especially on Saturday, and ended up chatting to lots of strangers as a result. Everyone was very friendly and affable, and a jolly, conspiratorial atmosphere prevailed...

Some of the people I particularly enjoyed meeting: the dapper chap in the queue at the 24 hour supermarket, a fellow air-guitar hero at the woodland stage during my GNR mosh moment, a second well-coiffed young man outside the toilets and a couple of the more chatty fellow-photographers in the pit.

Most fondly remembered though are the entertaining Cardiff gang who invited me into their fold for the latter part of Saturday night, when all my friends were either MIA or asleep. What a lovely bunch.

--- Memorable Moments ---

Legs on Tree Piano Jam in Gazebo Nick in My Vest
Woodland artwork, piano jam and Nick in vest - © Rowan Stanfield

Being called "pretentious and gay" by a total stranger whilst taking photos of artwork in the woods on the first night.

Joining a spontaneous chorus of Bohemian Rhapsody with about 40 other people, all packed into a small gazebo with a piano.

Giving Nick my star-spangled vest to wear for the Julian Cope gig.

Moshing and air-guitaring to Guns n Roses at the woodland stage during Friday night's DJ set.

Coming up with the notion of a Jean Michel Jarre vs George Michael tribute band called George Micheal Jarre.

Having a good cry to the ephiphanic sounds of Sigur Rós.

Being surprised to find myself dancing to one of the more upbeat Sigur Rós tunes.

Writing a story in the woods with my new friend and fellow note-keeper, John.

Playing table tennis (badly) outside the Digital Funfair with Sheldon.

--- Overheard ---

Cat Lady Harry with Headphones Son on Shoulders
Cat lady, Harriet in headphones and father-son moment - © Rowan Stanfield

Festivals are always a great place for people-watching and eavesdropping. Latitude was no exception, with its eclectic mix of punters providing plenty of material for my notebook. Here is a selection of snippets heard and said during the course of the weekend. Interpret them as you will.

"You could ride a badger with a worm on a stick"

"I'm scarred and hard on my mental insides"

"Watch my guy ropes, bitch."

"Rowan is a mentally insulting frisbee"

"She's like a sassy combination of PJ Harvey and Rolf Harris"

"Why don't you be Kirsty?"

"Don't get me started on poached eggs"

"I thought I was at Latitude but I'm on the fucking Death Star"

--- Missed It, Missed Out ---

There's no way you could possibly do everything at Latitude, but I was particularly disappointed to miss:

Buzzcocks playing during Mark Lamarr's DJ set on Saturday night. The tent was full when we got there, so we went to the woods instead.

Photographing Nick Cave - my camera battery died just as Grinderman came on, and we only had one song in the pit.

Tindersticks. I went to the wrong stage, dur! There was so much else going on that I also annoyingly missed Anya Marina, Ida Maria, I Am Kloot, Mark Thomas, Emmy the Great, Sebastien Tellier (who I heard was amazing), Phill Jupitus, Marcus Brigstocke and Midnight Juggernauts all of whom I had planned to catch, but somehow didn't.

But Latitude was only festival two of five this summer, so there are plenty more musical delights to come over the next few weeks. Next stop, Kendal Calling...

In Need of Sustenance and Sleep

So, the mobile blogging thing didn't quite work out as planned. Due to jammed networks and patchy coverage at the festival, it took a while for messages to get through, and by Sunday I gave up trying and left my phone in a locker. The food wasn't as inspiring as I'd hoped anyway - consisting mostly of burger and noodle vans, there were no nice foodie tents to hang out in like at Green Man. The best meal I had all weekend (unless you count a smoothie as a meal) was a veggie curry on Sunday night, just before my (fantastic) final band of the festival. But more on Latitude musical highlights to follow - today's priority is to get myself a hearty lunch and catch up on some sleep before sitting down to edit all my photos and write something coherent about the weekend.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Festival Carbs Fix

Spicy potato wedges with sweet chilli sauce, eaten whilst listening to Seasick Steve.

Festival Breakfast

Blueberry smoothie and a cup of tea from the Smoothie Criminals van.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Cheese and Pickle Rolls and Crisps

Kindly provided for tonight's supper by Nick. Saved me about twelve quid.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Leftovers Lunch

I'm off to Latitude festival this weekend, so needed to use up all the fresh veg in the fridge, which would otherwise no doubt be neglected in favour of toast/chips/takeaways in my absence. Luckily the combination of little gem lettuce, baby courgettes and cherry plum tomatoes worked really well as a delicate salad, bulked out with butter beans and new potatoes. I tossed the whole lot in a dressing made from leftover humous with balsamic vinegar, pesto, fresh tarragon and olive oil. It made enough for last night's dinner and my packed lunch today. The mobile blogging seems to be working OK, apart from the shonky formatting which will have to be tweaked on my return. So as long as there is a signal out in the wilds of Suffolk, and I am not too distracted by all the excellent entertainment going on around me, I should be able to provide regular updates while I'm away.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Cup of Tea and a Cake

Whenever the other half and I are out shopping, it's an unspoken law that we have to stop for a cup of tea and a cake at some point along the way. If it takes too long to get to that point, it can quickly become a very vocal law on his part, and spoil the whole outing. So I try to make sure these essential sustenance stops are well-planned and slotted in at the appropriate interval. Favourite refuelling stations in Brighton include Puccino's, Bill's, Komedia, Moments, Wai Kika Moo Kau and of course the Sanctuary. In Lewes, the cosy Needlemakers is the best. When we're away on holiday, the pursuit of the perfect refreshment pitstop becomes an even more serious business, and can easily preoccupy our collective thoughts for the better part of a day.

This outstanding table of cakes (beautifully photographed by Ant) was discovered at Café BeanGoose (I know - brilliant name!) on Holy Island during a tour of the North East a couple of years ago. The beverage selection was just as abundant, making for one of the best cup-of-tea-and-a-cake episodes in our ongoing saga. At the very opposite side of the planet, Zippy's of Nelson (New Zealand) comes in a close second with its cool hippy vibe and artistically served coffees. The Haga area of Gothenburg in Sweden is the epitome of European café culture, awash with mellow little venues full of yummy mummies and their bright babies, it's where we first discovered that it is perfectly acceptable (if the Scandies do it, it must be ok) to have a cinnamon swirl and a bucket of tea for your lunch. A trip to Belgium wouldn't be complete without scoffing at least one lot of waffles a day, and the best we have encountered so far (I challege you not to salivate) were in a little backstreet, not very touristy, place in Bruges.

Outside of Europe (and some English-speaking ex-colonial countries), the tea and cake culture is harder to come by, though if you are prepared to experiment, there are some interesting variations around. A mug of steaming spiced chai accompanied by teeth-achingly sickly sweets on a beach in India can really raise the spirits, as does a cup of stimulating Brazilian maté tea with a slice of the wonderfully named bolo de rolo, or something equally soothing. But you can travel the world in search of the best cup-of-tea-and-a-cake combo, and find, like Dorothy before you, that there really is 'no place like home' to enjoy a freshly baked bun and a brew.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Dandelion & Burdock

Legend has it that St Thomas Aquinas invented this curious drink from the first ingredients he found when wandering the countryside after an intense night of spiritual reflection. To me, it is a deeply evocative taste associated with childhood, when it was a favourite beverage, along with other popular 70s/80s fizzy drinks like Tizer, Cream Soda, and various Corona 'fruit'-ades. Corona were the best because they offered a 10p bounty on returned bottles, with which you could then buy yourself a decent sized bag of candy sticks or some other lurid confection.

Dandelion & Burdock disappeared off the scene for a while, becoming something you would only find in healthfood shops, by virtue of its supposed detoxifying properties. It's been making a subtle comeback recently, popping up alongside ginger beer in more upmarket pubs and cafés. I found this Fentiman's-branded version at the Blackboys Inn on Sunday. Though it lacked the syrupy texture of its undoutedly additive-laden ancestor, the robust herbal flavour was as strangely alluring as ever. I've never tried using D&B as a mixer, but would be tempted to try it with something aniseedy like Sambuca or even Absinthe - is that wrong? I think the reason this combination springs to mind is that I automatically associate Dandelion & Burdock with another distinctive childhood flavour, Army & Navy Sweets. Again, these are something you don't see around so much these days, except in vintage confectionery shops where they still sell sweets from jars by the quarter.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Jo's Cherry and Almond Clafoutis

There's been a distinct lack of sweet things so far in this month of food-themed posting, so I thought it was about time to rectify that. I do love a pudding, or a cake; or even, if I'm really depressed, a whole unadulterated block of marzipan. I have stopped baking so much at home unless we have guests, because we only end up eating the whole batch ourselves and feeling terribly guilty about it. So it is a welcome treat when I go to someone else's house and am presented with a homemade cake. Especially if that house is Jo's, and the cake happens to be a cherry and almond clafoutis.

The knee-weakening creation you see pictured here was one of three puddings offered at our first barbecue of the season over at Jo and G's place on Saturday. There was also a classic Victoria sponge with fresh cream and jam filling and a deliciously dense chocolate cake (which you can see in the background). I thought it only polite to at least sample the vegetable and haloumi kebabs first, but really I would have been happy just to gorge on dessert. Luckily everyone else had stuffed themselves with burgers and sausages, so there was plenty of pud for me when the time came. They were all delicious, but the (apparently very labour-intensive) cherry clafouti was definitely the best of the three - the light crumbly franzipan and juicy fresh cherries complemented each other beautifully. The recipe that Jo used was from an unknown cutting, but I found this one online, which sounds close enough. I might give it a go myself when I have a free afternoon, but if you should beat me to it, be sure to save me a slice.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Ben Parker at the Blackboys Inn

Today we drove out to a country pub we'd never been to before - The Blackboys Inn, just the other side of Ringmer on the B2192. It's quite a quirky place, with lots of little nooks and crannies, and a couple of exterior barns/function rooms - one Moroccan-themed and the other painted bright red with wacky modern art on the walls. We ate our lunch in the main part of the pub, which is fairly traditionally decorated and cosy. The staff were evidently still recovering from a big wedding there the day before, and things were a little frantic behind the bar. I chose one of only two vegetarian options offered - a sweet potato and zucchini (or courgette) risotto. It was well presented, and looked promising, but turned out to be disappointingly bland. At £10.50, I would have expected something much more flavoursome and imaginative. Even more upsettingly, it was spiked with very finely chopped celery, the one vegetable I cannot abide. I thought I would give the puddings a go, in the hope that the kitchen might redeem itself, but after waiting for 15 minutes I decided to cancel my order.

We didn't want to miss the start of the gig for which we'd specifically come to this neck of the woods, which was being held in the barn (the red one), known as 'The Room', next door to the pub. We'd come to see Ben Parker (left), of Ben & Jason fame, who was doing an acoustic set as part of a monthly programme (called 'Second Sunday') at the venue. After a couple of excellent warm-up songs from the host, DrBoKarma, and his daughter, Ben started his set with an old Ben & Jason number - reducing both Ant and I to tears instantly. B&J's second album Emoticons was very much the soundtrack to the 'courting' era of our relationship, and hearing music from it evokes some deeply emotional memories for us. The rest of the show was a mixture of new solo material and other B&J stuff, all delivered with the same spine-tingling gusto that we've come to expect from this incredibly talented and charismatic musician. It was wonderful to see Ben on top form in such an intimate setting, and his breathtaking performance more than made up for the bad lunch beforehand. He also very kindly gave us a (now quite collectible) 7" single of 'Romeo & Juliet' after we told him that it was 'our song' - what a sweetie. Come back again soon please, Mr Parker.

For more info on Ben Parker, visit his myspace page: www.myspace.com/benparkermusic. And if you don't already own Emoticons, go and buy it now from Amazon - every record collection should have a copy.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Sussex Gastro Pubs Series: Lunch at the Thomas Kemp

What is now The Thomas Kemp in Kemp Town has been through several incarnations before becoming the civilised bar/restaurant it is today. I first remember it as the Burlington - a slightly seedy grunge bar, which was then bought by the now (thankfully) defunct Polar Bar chain - never quite right for the sophisticated surroundings of the village. We have no shortage of decent pubs, and several nice restaurants in Kemp Town, but The Thomas Kemp has filled a noticeable gap between the two. We rarely go there of an evening, though it does seem to have a fair few events going on. But it's a good lunch venue for when you fancy something a bit fancier than pub grub but not quite as posh as Blanch House. The ever-changing menu is imaginative and well executed, with plenty of vegetarian options on offer. Decorated with antique map wallpaper, it is light and airy, and you can even see the sea if you sit down the front end, which we did today.

I ordered the red pepper and sweet potato soup (pictured), which came with lovely hunks of freshly baked french bread. Also pictured here is Ant, tucking into his mackerel with chilli sauce, salad and rice - which I'm told was very good. We both treated ourselves to a beer, and sat reading the paper for a bit before popping across to Bona Foodie to pick up some cakes for afternoon tea later. I love wandering down to Kemp Town on a Saturday, because you can get most things you would need without all the hassle of ploughing through town, and you usually bump into some familiar friendly faces along the way. Today our lovely dentist was on the table next to us in the TK. He looks so much younger in his weekend clothes, it was quite perturbing!

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Kitchen Shelf

I can't believe I've been writing solidly about food for over a week now, and only given the most passing of mentions to my beloved cookbook collection. Much of my cooking is done ad-hoc without reference to a specific recipe, but books do play an important part in my culinary life. Before I learned to cook properly, I used to rely heavily on a few simple recipe books, which became well-thumbed during my university years. The Student Vegetarian Cookbook (now out of print, but there are plenty of alternatives on offer) still gets used occasionally for late night munchy attacks, and The Penniless Vegetarian was recently donated to a friend who decided to give up meat, but served me well it in its day.

These days I tend to pore over the more luxurious illustrated volumes, finding inspiration and comfort from the mouth-watering pictures and florid descriptions from foodie-evangelists like Nigel Slater and Nigella Lawson. Nigella is a particular heroine of mine and her How to Be a Domestic Goddess is my absolute bible for baking. Her cupcakes (p. 39) are virtually foolproof, quick as you like to make, and always a crowd-pleaser at parties. Being, as I am, an aficionado of trifle making, I can also particularly recommend her unconventional but wondrously indulgent 'Passion fruit, Mascarpone and Meringue Trifle' (p. 151), which was the original inspiration for my own banana, rum and chocolate variation. Speaking of unusual variations, I couldn't mention Nigella without thinking of her 'Nonconformist Christmas Pudding', as featured in Feast (p.69). Don't tell people it's got chocolate (and a LOT of booze) in it beforehand, just enjoy watching their faces as the blissful realisation arrives.

You can always tell my favourite recipes from where the pages have stuck together from having ingredients spilled on them, and the 'Lime and Chocolate Cheesecake' (p.145 - great dinner party dessert) from Nigella Bites is probably the most amusing example of this. Nigella's mentor (and mine) Nigel Slater, reads more like philosophy than cookery - you can dive into his Kitchen Diaries or Appetite and salivate over the passionate descriptions of every day dining for hours, without any intention of making something. Even his (excellent) autobiography, Toast, tells of a fairly traumatic childhood in which a love of food provided constant consolation. As well as converting me to the ways of frittata-making (p.54), Nigel's Real Fast Food can be credited as the originator of my now legendary (in Ant's eyes anyway) Welsh Rarebit (or 'Rabbit' as he calls it, p.272).

Being a near-lifelong vegetarian (25 years and counting), many of the books in my collection are unsurprisingly meat-free. A fairly recent addition, and quickly becoming the most frequently used, is Leiths Vegetarian Bible. Unlike many of my favourites, this isn't heavily illustrated, but is a brilliant reference when you need to know what do do with an unusual vegetable, or have to conjure something at short notice from what you have to hand. The original veggie guru, Rose Elliot, has numerous volumes available, of which the quaintly retro Rose Elliot's Vegetarian Kitchen is the most comprehensive. Helpfully organised by season, it also includes an entire section on how to 'do' a complete vegetarian Christmas, from nut roasts to party finger food. I have used the Christmas cake recipe (p.280) for the last few years, and found it most satisfactory.

Even Dame Delia (she isn't, but it sounds good) has published a collection of all her meat-free recipes, which includes some excellent soups (try the 'Tuscan Bean & Pasta with Rosemary' on p.37) and a 'Food for Friends' section which is ideal for dinner parties. The 'Warm Lentil Salad with Walnuts and Goats' Cheese' (p.46) is especially good for that ever-growing contingent of wheat/gluten intolerant guests. For something a little more exotic, I tend to reach for the World Food Café Cookbook (mentioned in my previous post) - a sort of travel diary-come-recipe book, with beautiful photography from all corners of the globe, and a wealth of colourful veggie food to match. Madhur Jaffrey's Eastern Vegetarian Cooking covers everything you could ever need to know about curries and the like, and for a more homely approach to global cuisine, Linda McCartney on Tour has some interesting and easy to follow recipes, such as the Vegetable Kichdi on page 101.

Long out of print, but still available secondhand is Alan Hooker's Vegetarian Gourmet Cookery, a 70s classic passed down to me by my biggest culinary influence, and maker of the best cakes ever - my mum. I love to picture her conjuring up perfect soufflés, dressed in some billowing floral batwing ensemble (á la Margot from The Good Life), and serving them up on one of those kitsch hostess trolleys. I'm sure nothing of the sort ever occured, but the idea amuses me. After several deflating attempts, I gave up on soufflé-making years ago, but have occasionally made use of the many nut roast recipes in this vintage tome.

I love receiving cookbooks as gifts, especially from those fellow-foodies with whom I regularly exchange cooking tips and recipes. The lovely Jo (who could give Nigella a run for her money in both glamour and baking stakes) recently added the delectable Green & Black's Chocolate Recipes to my shelf, from which I have already had some success with the 'Cape Ginger Tipsy Tart' (p.105).
Michel Roux's extremely useful Eggs was a Christmas present from my brother, who also incidentally taught me that the best way to make a decent chilli is to pour a whole bottle of beer into it. At the other end of the kitchen shelf is a selection of food magazine back issues - mostly Waitrose Food Illustrated, with the odd delicious and all 12 issues of my gift subscription (thanks Ant!) to New Zealand magazine Cuisine, which we discovered when travelling there several years ago. It's a brilliant mag, and I would have kept the subscription going, but found it frustrating reading about recipes for the wrong season and restaurant reviews for places I could never visit.

The kitchen is overflowing with cookbooks, but there are still so many more I desire. I guess it's time to put up another shelf...

My kitchen shelf, as a handy Amazon widget:

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Spicy Sweet Potato Stew



It's supposed to be summer by now, and yet the last few days have felt distinctly autumnal - all blustery winds and driving rain. This makes me uneasy, as I am off to a festival next weekend and I NEED it to be sunny. Coming home from work last night, I was in need of something heartening to raise my spirits, so what better than a sweet and spicy stew to put a little sunshine back in the soul? This was made up as I went along from the sparse selection of vegetables left in my fridge (half a leek, half a pepper and a sweet potato), and those trusty cook's staples that I would never be without - namely tinned tomatoes, veggie stock, tinned beans, red lentils, minced garlic (I am far too lazy to chop it myself), tomato puree and chilli. Just chuck it all in as illustrated, simmer for 30 minutes and serve with brown rice or big hunks of rustic bread. If you are uncomfortable with this sort of freestyle cookery, I highly recommend the World Food Cafe cookbook for a whole host of similarly comforting and colourful concotions. Oh, and be sure to make enough for two nights, as it's even better the next day - I'm looking forward to my second helping after yoga this evening.