Friday, May 21, 2010

Bitter oranges, Porcelains and Peacocks

Kendra at Porcelains and Peacocks has awarded me the Creative Blogger Award and rather than ask me to relate seven things about me that you might not know, and which I had done once before, she asked for seven favorite reads. I hadn't planned on posting this week but this gets me off my mental backside.


My favorites are always those books I'm busy with at the moment and here is the list.

Ottolenghi: the Cookbook was a birthday present to my partner and I'm looking through it for soups suitable for hot weather. I'll probably hand it back to him saying that there is a cake recipe he might use - he's the fancy cake baker in this house whereas I limit myself to fruitcake and gingerbread. Fruitcake mainly because its a requirement each weekend with his cup of tea and on occasion an early breakfast (just to get one through to the real breakfast, you understand), and gingerbread is something to tide one over in case the kitchen has been a bit tardy in topping up the supply of fruitcake. A small remnant, a crumb really, of Dundee cake inhabits the same cake tin as the very tasty seed cake he made last weekend two hours before announcing we both need to go on diets. Oh, and by the way, having thrown away what must have been a king's ransom in stale spices and herbs over the years, I now keep all in the freezer.

Having just found bitter oranges, to my great surprise and dread (normally they should appear in the market early in January and when they didn't I thought I'd been let off the hook), I took from the shelves Harrods Book of Jams, Jellies and Chutneys - a book I've had for absolute yonks and keep only for the marmalade recipe I knew I would need. Bitter oranges are the essential component of a good marmalade - none of that ordinary oranges and a lemon nonsense in this house. So, the cook will be busy with the dreadful task of preparing marmalade all the while trying to steer the course to a slimmer, more lovely form. At this point I might as well tell about the other requirement from the kitchen - chutney. Each autumn I make enough of Elizabeth David's recipe for green tomato chutney to last a year and when that last pot is opened I know the summer is over and it's time to bake, preserve, pot, wrap and store all over again.

Billy Baldwin: an Autobiography I first read years ago when I was a graduate student and haunted the university library, and it came to mind again when I was writing about Arthur Smith his erstwhile assistant, partner and successor in Baldwin's business. It's a charming read, if a little stilted when Mr Baldwin is quoted - the book is titled an autobiography but it was actually written with Michael Gardine - and, as with many autobiographies, the other people in it are what make it really interesting. Sometimes it can be hard to separate puff from substance and Baldwin's autobiography to me whilst interesting is not of great moment.

George, Nicolas and Wilhelm is an account of three royal cousins and the road to World War 1 that I bought at Crawford Doyle last Friday between breakfast at Sant Ambroeus and lunch at Jean Georges. I began to read it in the plane home and finished it within two days - I won't say I could not put it down but I can say I did not want to put it down. It is fascinating - as fascinating as the foie gras brulé in rhubarb sauce at lunch was delectable. I cannot resist foie gras, despite the anti-cholesterol medication I take, when I see it on a menu and neither, seemingly, can I rebuff thick history books. Which brings me to me to the fifth of my week's reading:

The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400 - 1000 - a book that has been described as dry and dry it is but in the way that a well-baked ciabatta crust or a piece of shortbread is dry - it gives one a good chew whilst ruminating. Last night, reading in bed after dinner with the Celt's step-mama who'd had her flight from New York to Scotland cancelled by volcanic ash and was able therefore to spend a few days in Atlanta, I realized that utterly enthralling as Merovingian Gaul and Germany were in 500 t0 571 CE I needed to be as switched off as the bedside light was going to be. Dinner by the way was risotto with mushrooms and truffle and I was reminded that though the risotto was as al-dente (the ideal comforting chew as everyone googles, tweets and texts around one) as it should be I don't find truffles interesting. They taste faintly of soap to me - not offensively so, but there again, I do wonder who really likes soap.

In this house books are categorized into what he reads and those I read and generally speaking there's not much crossover. But The Elegance of the Hedgehog, parts of which were read to me on the plane to New York, is one of the rare exceptions. I'm not strong on books where there's a lot of inner-landscape spreading flatly and confoundingly nowhere, and though my fear was that this book would be like that, the first chapter captured me.

Dick Francis is not an author that springs to mind when I'm asked what I like to read but I can honestly say that each time I have read one of his books I have thoroughly enjoyed it. So it is with Longshot the book I was trying to read on the plane to New York. I didn't finish it in the hotel as planned and the other books on this list have intervened but now there's time for the remaining eleven chapters.

So, that's it - my list of books I'm reading now. If you wonder how I have the time to read so much I can only say with a certain diffidence that I'm on vacation for the month of May and after a long semester there have been days when I have not left the flat.

Next week I shall resurface - we are going together with an old friend flying from London, volcano permitting, to Pittsburgh from where we'll day trip to Falling Water and Kentuck Knob and then a few days later go back to New York for theatre and, in my case, foie gras.

I forgot, thus I'm editing this to write about the blogs I read all the time - there's not a day that goes by without me opening my blog page without a sense of expectation. My blog roll is perhaps a truer list than a limit of seven and further to that I will say this: blogging has become such an essential component of my life, the whys and wherefores of which I find very hard to analyze. I recognize we are members of a club, we are like-minded, we share values and value what we share, and we are polite with each other and the world in general.

So, if you are on my blog roll, you can be assured that I read you each time you post - with great pleasure and expectation.

11 comments:

  1. Now this post just confirms it: yours is one of the blogs I'd love to print out and have with me at all times, stuck in a backpack, so that I would be able to thumb through the pages at will; what magnificence is here!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hello Blue,
    With this post you are absolved from the responsibilities that the awards Reggie also bestowed upon you yesterday carry. No sense in doing triple duty here! Funny, we just agreed with friends to spend a weekend in Pittsburgh this fall, taking in the sights there. I've had a bee in my bonnet to visit Pittsburgh for some time and look around. Do please let us know what you find there, and recommend. Reggie

    ReplyDelete
  3. Blue, you have outdone yourself! pgt

    ReplyDelete
  4. Blue --

    The Inheritance of Rome is a lot of fun. It's one of a gaggle of books recently published on the fall of Rome and the next five hundred years. Some are better than others and most wind up taking sides on the (surprisingly fraught) political question of whether society got worse or merely changed and/or evolved. (I vote for near total collapse, across the board.)

    Best.

    P.S. I have an unfortunate weakness for truffles -- just last week I had a delicious venison terrine stuffed with black ones up in Philadelphia -- but I've never been able to make them work in a mushroom risotto. However, if you're tempted to try it again, you might want to use a high-quality white truffle oil instead, applied at the very end. (It works for me.)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Blue --

    The Inheritance of Rome is a lot of fun. It's one of a gaggle of books recently published on the fall of Rome and the next five hundred years. Some are better than others and most wind up taking sides on the (surprisingly fraught) political question of whether society got worse or merely changed and/or evolved. (I vote for near total collapse, across the board.)

    Best.

    P.S. I have an unfortunate weakness for truffles -- just last week I had a delicious venison terrine stuffed with black ones up in Philadelphia -- but I've never been able to make them work in a mushroom risotto. However, if you're tempted to try it again, you might want to use a high-quality white truffle oil instead, applied at the very end. (It works for me.)

    P.P.S. I'm having some connectivity issues; if this double posts, I apologize.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Ancient, good afternoon. So far my vote is with yours. Apropos truffle, even when its in the form of oil it still tastes mildly of soap. My partner actively dislikes the smell and for me the taste isn't that pleasant so from now on both of us will probably avoid truffles. BTW I misled with the phrasing in my post - dinner was in a restaurant that night.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Reggie, phew! I was racking my brains to come up with something new about me, so I'm grateful to be off the hook.

    Little Augury, thank you. It was one of those posts that just was ready to be written.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Victoria, thank you for such a compliment. I'm quite moved. You're added to my blogroll.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I am comforted to know someone else's reading list is just as randomly diverse as my own. Interestingly, I just added the Ottolenghi cookbook to my wedding registry yesterday!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Congratulations on your much deserved award. I know blogging takes a great deal of time, but I hope this helps to show appreciation for your efforts.

    ReplyDelete