The Friday Five – my birthdays in cookbooks


Bring on the cake!


Lets face it, I’m pretty good at birthdays now. I’ve had more than a few, and I guess friends and family have got the hang by now of my interests and likes! In fact, writing the blog has definitely helped them out, with some of my posts being less than subtle hints! So, as it’s nearly that time of year again, thought I would review those books I’ve received at different times, from different people, and across many different types of food.


Delia's Summer Collection


Delia’s Summer Collection – my mum and dad bought me this one, and it’s even signed by Delia. Think Mum went to what was then Georges on Park Street in Bristol to meet her. I still cook from this each summer, the pan fried halloumi cheese being a standby, and the coconut ice cream still one of my faves. I don’t look at the publication date, it makes me feel old. But this book is timeless. And the photography is still beautiful and evocative of the best summers even now.


Cupcakes from the Primrose Bakery – this one came from BFF and her fella, I can’t imagine why! We’ve had some fabulous afternoon teas together, and I’ve baked one or two cakes for them over the years. These are good cupcakes, not over fancy ones in my book, ones where taste of cake is as important as the icing. This is a keeper. Hello Cupcake up for grabs. Never baking from this.


The Book of Tapas by Simone and Ines Ortega – just to show what happens when you have more than one wishlist on Amazon. I use one for storing books for future Friday Fives, and one for stuff I’d really like. And sometimes, some members of the family have got the two mixed up. Sometimes it would work ok. And sometimes, there are times when it doesn’t. This one didn’t see another birthday in the house.


How to be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Caking – of course, there’s a cake theme, baking, comfort food. My friends know me well. This book is very well-thumbed, and is covered in different cake batters. I don’t think there’s a better recommendation for a cookbook than finding the messiest one on anyone’s shelf!


Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky – this was a follow up to me reading Cod the year before. Great reading, some brilliant recipes, and more stuff than you ever thought you wanted to know about salt. And then some.


So, who knows what the birthday fairy might turn up with this year if I’ve been good? Will keep you posted!



Is food culture?


Eating together - surely a cultural experience?


As I drove into the office today, I got to pondering if perhaps I was way off base yesterday about Turkish food, and also why the Istanbul capital of culture website made no reference to food or eating. And then tweeting with Tom Aikens about the subject made me wonder if food is not considered culture?

After all, do I remember when Liverpool was the capital of culture a rich outpouring of interest in British food? Perhaps not here, maybe overseas, which is perhaps part of the whole PR campaign for these designations. During Liverpool’s year Taste Lancashire 08 was running, bringing a whole region’s food into focus, and there was a Food & Drink Festival during the year. It doesn’t look like either got major PR pushes though.

So, what is culture? If I google it, then I get definitions that include a particular society at a particular time and place, and the tastes in arts and manners that are favoured by a social group. What I think gets closest for me is the connection to anthropology, and would therefore link culture to the distinct ways that people living in different parts of the world classified and represented their experiences, and acted creatively.

Now if that doesn’t involve cooking and eating, I don’t know what does. Early man went out to basically look for food to survive, which would have then led him to different experiences, places with different foodstuffs. There would no doubt have been long tales around the campfire about how difficult that day’s mammoth was to catch, and that story could have expanded and grown, been put into a poem, put to music. Someone eventually found a way to record it through drawing it on walls. But without food, none of this might have started.

One of my favourite reads this year was Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World. It was a fascinating read, to see how hunting just one food led different cultures to meet, combine, clash, part and also share. There were very unusual recipes using every part of the fish, and I mean every part. But without the fish, these traditional recipes wouldn’t have developed, and nations wouldn’t have crossed oceans to hunt and trade in the fish.

And then there’s the act of sitting down to eat and drink together. Where would all great artists be without meetings in cafes and restaurants? How much debate went on at those gatherings? Every city in the world seems to have a restaurant that was a favourite gathering place of the writers and artists of the day. My favourite is Bagutta in Milan, where they founded the first Italian literary award. Not to mention they make a fabulous risotto, and their stuffed courgette flowers when available are perfection.

Certainly if you bang food and culture into the search bar on Amazon you get back over 700 results. I’m no academic, but for me culture and food are intertwined, and so I am just slightly bemused, and saddened, that these cultural celebrations don’t have food very near to the heart of them. What better way to show people your culture than how you sit and break bread together?

Given the richness of Turkish cuisine, not to mention the melting pot of cultures represented in Istanbul, I think it would be a real shame if they were to let their year go by without celebrating the thing that probably kicked off every aspect of culture. So, go cook, invite friends round, start a conversation, debate, argue, agree, laugh. That’s culture to me, as much as the next big artist. And, lets face it, foodies, gourmands, food lovers and all are a cultural movement all of our own!

Fabulous photo of the camaraderie of eating together by Simon Blackley on Flickr.

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My foodie holiday reading


One of the best parts of a holiday is choosing your holiday reading, and I am happy to have got through 3 books over the fortnight that have a definite foodie flavour to them (somehow, I can’t really say A Year in the Merde counts, although it was a good trashy read). In case you or your loved one need some inspiration, these were my three:


Cod - the fish that changed the world - great gift for a food lover looking for a good book


1. Cod A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky

This was on the bookshelf in our gite, and I swapped A Year in the Merde for it, and am really pleased I did. An unlikely subject, but really fascinating. I may not be dashing into the kitchen to try some of the recipes though. Salted cod tounges anyone? I know it’s not a new book, having won the Best Food Book at the Glenfiddich 1999 Food & Drink Awards, but it is worth a read

2. Pies and Prejudice by Stuart Maconie

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at this book, being a good Northern girl myself. Plenty of food references, from Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls through to the best black pudding on Bury market. Easy read, but worth every minute of reading it.

3. Eat My Globe by Simon Majumdar

Simon exists so I don’t have to try things like dog and rat. I feel like a very poor foodie in relation to the things he’s tried, but quite happy not to! This is a world tour like no other, and worth reading wherever you are in the world.

Should keep you going for a little while at least!