Wednesday, January 04, 2017


clear, bright, and life-enhancing

This winter finds me with no long-term winter reading project in mind.  And not even a hint of what one might be or entail.  In fact until now I completely forgot that I usually have such a thing at all.  I think I'm still stunned by the election and its aftermath, and recent family events, and may remain so indefinitely.  I'm doing my level best to stave off despair and frankly I would love nothing more than to devote myself to some worthy and sublime reading goal.  But I'm not sure I have it in me, this year.

However, last night I did finally feel caught up enough with everything else to at least start to address my current stack of to-be-read books, which have been patiently awaiting attention throughout November and December.  I may have even overheard or at least imagined a quiet clearing of throats, coming from their direction - Ahem, me next, please - and so picked up the largest and most comforting-looking of the bunch.  The Kitchen Diaries II by Nigel Slater (Fourth Estate 2012).  I have wanted this book ever since savoring the first volume some years back, and in a splurgey moment of largesse this fall, I ordered volumes II and III (Fourth Estate 2015).  They are beautiful to look at and a pleasure to hold in the hand.  I bought the U.K. editions, so I don't even have to worry about whether or not I need to make any of the recipes within, since the recipe amounts are all in mysterious (to American me) notations such as g, kg, and ml.  So I read the prose and study the recipes and let the worrisome feeling of I-really-should-try-this-recipe (no shoulds, please, let's just banish them from this new year) slide right on by.

I've written about Nigel Slater before, a few times, but for anyone who might be asking, Who is this Nigel Slater?  One of the only people I regularly read on Twitter, that's who.  He has written a food column for two decades and his recipes and cookery books and tv shows make me think about food (and life) in wonderful ways.  Many of his recipes are simple, with few ingredients.  And his books all have the kind of around-the-recipe commentary that I love.  They remind me in a funny way of the Mrs. Appleyard books that mean so much to me - wry, gentle, smart, autobiographical.  About cookery, yes, but really about everything.  Nigel Slater describes himself this way:    

"I am not a chef and never have been.  I am a home cook who writes about food. Not even a passionate cook (whatever one of those is), just a quietly enthusiastic and slightly greedy one."  (p.xi)

And, specifically about beginning The Kitchen Diaries II, right now:  the lovely thing about starting to read someone else's diary in early January is that the diary in question also begins in early January.  So the reading feels in harmony with daily life around here, not just pleasantly unfolding on the page of someone else's faraway life, at any old time.  A few examples:

January 5:

"The day that precedes Twelfth Night is often the darkest in my calendar.  The sadness of taking down The Tree, packing up the mercury glass decorations in tissue and cardboard and rolling up the strings of tiny lights has long made my heart sink.  Today I descend further than usual.

The rain is torrential and continuous.  I clean the bedroom cupboards, make neat piles of books and untidy ones of clothes ready for the charity shop.... You would think that this day of darkness would be predictable enough for me to organise something to lift the spirits..."  (p.12)

January 6:

"My energy and curiosity may be renewed but the larder isn't.  There is probably less food in the house than there ever has been.  I trudge out to buy a few chicken pieces and a bag of winter greens to make a soup with the spices and noodles I have in the cupboard.  What ends up as dinner is clear, bright and life-enhancing.  It has vitality (that's the greens), warmth (ginger, cinnamon) and it is economical and sustaining too.  I suddenly feel ready for anything the New Year might throw at me."  (p.13)

The soup recipe follows and looks easy and frankly fantastic.  No measurements needed, even, if you are comfortable estimating and tasting as you go.  His generosity and his readiness for the year ahead lifts me in turn.  I hope, so very much, that I will be able to meet the challenges ahead.  I will start the way I always do, with today.

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