Things have been stressful and hectic here for a long, long time. In fact, when I sit down to really look at things objectively, while there have been brief respites from the pressure, it has been off and on stressful for a number of years now. But really, who doesn’t have stress in their lives? You adjust and you move on. My life motto could possibly be: Suck it up and get on with it. Or as my mother-in-law’s fridge magnet used to say: Trust in God to move the mountain but keep on digging. A lot of things are out of our control. I trust the Man upstairs that He has it all under control and can see the big picture because I am too busy digging to even look to see how big the mountain is. So we get on with it and every so often we stop digging, smell the roses and wonder what the poor people are doing today. Because at the end of the day, isn’t life with all its ups and downs just amazing?
Sometimes I even stop for long enough to read a book or write an occasional blog post. It’s the second Monday of the month again. It comes around so fast. This is the slot where I have been trying to do a book review. So far, they have all been gardening books. But in case you haven’t noticed, food is very important in my life. It is one of my joys – cooking it and eating it. So I thought I might change things up a bit and tell you about Appetite by Nigel Slater.
This is possibly one of the first cookbooks I ever picked up and read. As in started at the start and worked my way through like a novel. Normally, I flick through cookbooks on the hunt for something in particular or just looking for a catchy title or pretty picture to grab my attention. We were visiting a friend’s house. It was a cold, wet, windy night and we were sprawled across various couches and armchairs chatting and catching up. There may have been wine and hot chocolates involved – who can be sure? This book was on the top of a pile by the armchair and its cover caught my eye. A plain brown cover with black and grey writing. No pictures. No glossy cover. Plain and simple. It read, “Nigel Slater I want you to take in the spirit of these recipes and to deviate according to your ingredients and your feelings. I urge you to break the rules. I want you to follow your Appetite”
I had never heard of Nigel Slater before, but I was intrigued. His cover comments held true to his recipes inside. Each recipe is simple and to the point. At the end of each is a small section entitled “and more”. In here, you’ll find little suggestions and tips for how you might like to experiment with the recipe or what other combinations he has found work well. Take his fast, warming bowl of soup with noodles, greens, chicken stock, chilli and lemongrass. Sounds fabulous on its own. But what about adding pan fried mushrooms? Or prawns? Or try adding star anise, sugar and nam pla? Or maybe basil, mint and lime.
You know sometimes you get these cookbooks that are trying so hard to be inspirational or to show off how great of a cook or chef the author is, that really the recipes are unachievable in an ordinary kitchen. Not so this book. Nigel’s recipes are down to earth, achievable and inviting. From his lamb shanks to his roast chicken pieces, his soups to his almond and apricot cake, its all fabulous. Easy and tasty.
He talks you through the basics of cooking wanting you to gain your kitchen legs so to speak. He encourages you to trust your taste buds, don’t watch the clock to know if its done, what flavours are marriages made in heaven, what kit you really need and what’s good to have in a store cupboard. We should eat with the seasons but what does that mean? What vegetables are best with what and how? What is a Jerusalem artichoke and how do you cook it? He’s even got a page on washing up, believe it or not!
His practicality rings out through the book. But it really was his opening few chapters that got me hooked. Who are you cooking for? Yourself? A romantic date? The family? Don’t break your back. There is no need to make your own wanton wrappers. Who is it really going to impress? And is it really going to be better. Don’t be an overachiever. Its about good eating. Sometimes, that doesn’t involve cooking. It’s about buying good produce – cheeses, hams, fruit, vegetables, etc. He gives great advice to the new cook. I particularly like that he says its ok to have the occasional takeaway. Yes we should all try and eat healthily and cook our own meals from good produce but its not the end of the world to end up ringing in for a takeaway pizza. Its like he’s human.
Its a great book for the beginner cook and the more experienced cook looking to liven up their repertoire. It has been a bit lost before our move. Some of its shinier, newer companions have been taking the limelight. But recently I have taken it back down again to flick through it for ideas and I have fallen back in love with his simple, encouraging, down to earth style.