Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Happy on Hypatia Avenue No. 3: Good Cookery Books

I have a big collection of cookery books and books about food. Each one fills me with joy and while Mr Hypatia Avenue can happily read thick tomes of non-fiction on political, social and economic history or collected essays by big hitters such as George Orwell and Gore Vidal (he's terribly clever), I can read a collection of Catalan cookery recipes from cover to cover. For the fellow food-lovers and bookworms who follow this blog (hello Planethalder!), here is an incomplete but indicative list of what's on my foodie bookshelf:

Nigel Slater (2)

River Cafe
Heston Blumenthal

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall
Claudia Roden - The Book of Jewish Cookery Irish Traditional
Scottish Heritage Food
Music, Food and Love (a Chinese musician's memoirs mainly about food, with recipes)
Elizabeth David (2)
Ainsley Harriott's Cooking for Friends and Family

The Alice B Toklas Cookery Book

The Elizabeth David books are classics and one of them was a wedding present (thanks Sir Humphrey and Lady Humphrey) The recipes fill me with horror but I can't stop going back to them... the stand out recipe is for a chicken and ham pie which, once you have combined the butter, cream, lard and animal fats is about 85 per cent cholesterol. And then, just before serving, you're instructed to poke a hole in the top and pour in a pint of boiling double cream.
I love pie but I like the idea of living beyond 45 as well.

The Ainsley Harriott book was a present and not something I would pick for myself but I was pleasantly surprised by the West Indian recipes within. The Alice B Toklas book is full of appalling food and even worse name-dropping but I'm learning more about Alice and her relationship with Gertrude Stein, which makes the reading even more fascinating. I'm looking forward to a live show about the two later this year - and I'll get to try the food too!
And then there's this...

The launch involved massive trays of Portuguese cakes and glasses of white port or bottles of syrupy chocolate milk, plus lots of beautiful people sauntering over from design offices and work/live warehouse conversions in nearby Shoreditch. Not only did I get my book signed along with doodles of the authors' favourite cakes, I also got a wall chart that describes, in mouthwatering photography and text, the history, ingredients and signicant features of each Portuguese cake ever made and sold. Portugal is definitely on the list of places to visit, even if I can only order cake and coffee and the occasional glass of port when I'm there. I won't be unhappy, not at all...
The Happy on Hypatia Avenue No. 2: The Good Life

Next in my series of The Happy is the beginning of The Good Life which started when I bought a tomato plant in July. I've never grown or kept plants before but had the urge to do so when we had some bright sunny days and our balcony was getting sunshine all afternoon and evening. So the tomato plants came home with me one weekend and then followed several excited early Saturday morning wake-up calls to my husband who patiently listened with one eye open while I stood at the foot of the bed in gardening clothes, exclaiming about the flowers and the tiny green things that might turn into fruit soon.

We eventually got the first fruit from the plant and there was much rejoicing. Then Mr Hypatia brought home two boxes of salad plants for window boxes that had been sent to his office for press purposes - nobody wanted them so he brought them home to me, his wife with new green fingers! There was much more rejoicing and many nights of fresh spinach, mizuna and baby chard.

The salad boxes haven't survived the wet and stormy weather very well but the spinach is still good. We'll have carrots at the end of October which should be interesting... and the tomatoes are still bravely growing though the days are shorter and the air is colder.

It has made me immensely happy and proud to get over my childhood dislike of soil and gardening. I've had meals made from things I've grown myself, and even though we're far from self-sufficent (we've grown six tomatoes so far but I cook with minimum 12 for a basic sauce so that's *very* far from self-sufficient), I do appreciate organic vegetables far more. I get stupidly excited at farmers markets and no longer turn my nose up at the prices.

I've even got on my hands and knees to dig around in compost with my bare hands. AND just this week, I picked off two enormous caterpillars without screaming. I have come a long way. And when we get the house of our dreams with the roof terrace garden, I will be ready to go even further.