by Aisté Anusaité-Daubaras
I must admit, I am one of the few odd creatures who really like autumn. With its vibrant changing colours, crisp chilly mornings and long tempestuous evenings. An ideal setting to invite some friends for a cosy meal or to curl up by the fire with a good book. Perhaps something from the old classics that you always wanted to read but never got round to it, or a piquant detective story or something sole-searching and lyrical. Naturally, we all have different notion of what defines “a good book”, so these are just my mere humble suggestions, but any book will do, as long as it gives you enjoyment and delightful pleasure. Happy reading!
How to Eat In
by Adam Byatt
I encountered Adam Byatt (the Michelin-star chef, owner of Trinity restaurant and author of this amazing book) when I had a good fortune to sample his sublime cooking in dusty and foreign Bahrain. It left me with a very pleasant aftertaste of fresh homely air, so curiosity tempted me to order his cookery book. To be perfectly honest, I was a bit apprehensive, as most books by the famous chefs are characteristically show-offy and inferiority inducing. This one, in a vast contrast, surprised me as completely devoid of any ostentation or incomprehensible professional jargon. And none of his recipes require a high level pilotage of maceration, engastration, broasting, flambé’ing, conche’ing, curdling or sous-vide cooking. On the contrary, it is very dawn to earth, practical and cosy kitchen companion. It even offers you a very practical advice on shopping (“buy high-quality ingredients”), preparing in advance (“as much as possible” because that is “the key to a successful and pleasant cooking experience”) and even clearing up (“get everyone as involved as possible”).
So it turns out that it is rather simple once you mastered how to plan, organise and allocate tasks. And then you all can enjoy the results, as dining together, according to Mr. Byatt, is a bonding experience. We need to “feed” our children similar memories as we had as kids and pass on cooking skills that we learned from our mothers and grandmothers. Although sadly this chain of passing knowledge between generations is rapidly breaking in our fast-paced world. For instance, the mastery of bread baking is now completely a thing of the past. Yet having read the introduction outlining his food philosophy, I am not surprised that Adam Byatt starts his book with a chapter on bread baking. Peculiarly, it is not that complex as one might think (for instance his very straight-forward “Foolproof white bread” got even me tempted to try this craft). But if you still think your life is too hectic for such luxuries as home made bread, you will find plenty more of dawn-to-earth, simple yet completely original and well tested recopies (the chef created and wrote all of them which then were ‘tested’ by his clientele and sealed with their approval). They all are neatly organised in groups for starters, mains, puddings and even picnic food. Yet my favourite part is called “The Seasonal Calendar”. Short four pages give you all the necessary information and ideas on what to buy and what not to buy in any particular season. Ok, I did know that English asparagus and the Jersey Royals are at the best in spring, that courgette flowers and cherries should be enjoyed in summer and figs from sunnier climates in early autumn. However, I did not know that you should completely stay clear of any sole (be it Lemon or Dover) in spring as it is spawning then.
I glean this and much more from browsing through his book. Yet I still set off for our interview with a notebook bulging with questions and, frankly, not knowing what to expect from his Michelin-star eatery in Clapham. But I shouldn’t have feared. Straightaway upon entering I am engulfed by a pleasant chaos of restaurant pre-opening hours, with a buzz of deliveries and a hum of preparations and get pleasantly reassured of my host's dawn-to-earthiness. Instead of scary and sterile environment one might expect from a restaurant with a fancy star, I found myself in a very cosy, unfussy space where table cloths are starched just so they drape the tables tidily and invitingly but don’t dig pretentiously and painfully into the flesh of its petrified clientele, everything is welcoming and inviting. So as I drink in my appetising surroundings and warm hospitality of Adam Byatt and his charming staff, I realise that I have already gathered enough material for my entire column without even opening a notepad. He indeed practices what he preaches.
However, I do ask one question, which I know my readers would want to ask me too. ‘Why to buy a cookery book when you can google-up any recipe you wish on-line?”.
“Indeed”, my host smiles, “but it will only be a list of ingredients and a description of the cooking method. A good recipe is much more than that. There is a philosophy behind it. When you read a book, you get a feel”. I could not agree more. Call me an old fashioned, but I completely relate with his traditionalist approach to food preparation and philosophy behind it.
Before I close my notepad, I remember I have one more question, so I query, if our reader should only try just one recipe from How to Eat In, which one he would single out? Whiteout a hesitation he selects The Hot Chocolate Pot, because it is very easy yet impressive, and you can prepare it in advance and freeze it. The chef laughs that even his wife can make it, and I suppose that count for something.
So with “formalities” out of the way we sip freshly brewed lemon balm mint tea and gossip about people we both know in Bahrain, about cooking at home and family traditions, about food-shopping in Bahrain (appalling), in London (rather good if you know where to go) and in France (divine). I leave with a promise to come back for dinner soon and clutching a crispy new copy of How to Eat In inscribed with the chef’s autograph to be won by one lucky Londoniete reader. So keep an eye on our Instagram posts! It is indeed a treasure to have in one’s kitchen.
The Fires of Autumn
by Irène Nèmirovsky
I always think of this great writer as Chagall of the literature. Perhaps it is the Jewish émigré melancholy that strikes the resemblance. Seems to me that she writes in pastel colours, yet her pliably piano narrations always hit a very powerfully poignant note. Although Irène Némirovsky is now best known for her posthumously published novel Suite Française, which was hailed to be a masterpiece (quite justly), I find all of her work strong and griping, full of very understandable human emotions and tribulations. The Fires of Autumn is no exception.
Set in Paris in between two wars the story follows the lives of Bernard Jacquelain and his long suffering wife Thérèse from their cushioned and safe adolescence, through the turmoil of the Great War, heady post-war years, when people “made money out of everything, out of nothing” and “lived only for those moments of pleasure that they did not even dare call “love”. How drawn was Bernard to heady lures of those pleasures. How stoically Thérèse suffered his betrayals. Yet another war halted abruptly this frantic merry-go-round. Will their marriage survive another big trial?
The story unfolds at a steady pace and without a slightest hint of judgement or condemnation. We all are only humans, Némirovsky seems to be saying, and regardless of how undeservingly it might appear, we all deserve a second... or a third chance.
The Age of Innocence
by Edith Wharton
The opening chapter of this compelling novel transports us into an opera night at the Academy of Music of 1870's New York. There is one phrase, that in my view, summarises the essence of this book in a nutshell, i.e. the ridiculousness and pretentiousness of the high society rules, pointless regulations imposed for a sake of imposition to aid a social hierarchy and rivalry. So we witness how the prima donna sings balderdash text of her aria (its true meaning somehow lost in translation) because “an unalterable and unquestioned law of the musical world required that the German text of French operas sung by Swedish artist should be translated into Italian for the clearer understanding of English-speaking audiences”.
But nobody seems to notice or event attempt to listen. The sole reason why they flock to the opera is to be seen arriving at the ‘right time’ in the ‘right company’ wearing the ‘right outfit’. Yes, indeed it is a comedy of manners but very powerful and even disturbing at times. It is impossible not to admire how vividly Edith Wharton describes the customs of the period, how well she had researched the laws of society that governed and griped New York’s elite in these days. Laced with her brilliant wit and subtle irony the novel became an instant hit upon its publication in 1920. Not only that, a year later it earned its creator the Pulitzer Prize, the prestigious award a very first time won by a woman author. And that was not an insignificant achievement for a lady in these days. Or any days, for that matter.
by William Thackeray
Seldomly, if ever, a film or TV adaptation is a satisfactory substitute for a good book. So if this absolutely brilliant and timeless classic omitted your radar so far, pore over the saucy story of Rebecca (Becky) Sharp before the lavish ITV production hits TV screens this autumn.
These shows give us different enjoyment, but they are not the same as reading the book.
The Queens Marriage
by Lady Colin Campbell
On a scorchingly hot June evening Lady Colin Campbell gathered her friends and family to an official launch of her new book The Queens Marriage. Being a great fan of her biographies, I was very pleased to be amongst the first few to get my hands on this hot-from-the-press volume, which was embargoed and kept secret till the night of the launch. Yet to my immense surprise the next day
reviews started pouring in. Not all of them favourable or just. Well, if anything, these ill disguised attacks against the author only wetted my apatite. However, I promised myself not to bore my readers with any more books on royalty (as I very well fathom that not everyone shares my obsession). And yet, when I started turning pages of The Queens Marriage, I got helplessly engrossed. Again, it very well might be my personal taste, but a story of one of world's longest marriages, presented against an illustrative historical background, peppered with quotes from society insiders and narrated in her eloquent and witty language, got me hooked. Not an easy task to write about such illustrious union between two outstanding royals, who, above all, as the author quite successfully managed to convey, are first and foremost just mere humans. I know from our conversation back in February, that it was her aim to look beyond royal pomp and circumstance and show two 'ordinary' people thrown into most unusual and confined circumstances, who managed to make a success of their challenging path. I particularly devoured vivid portraits of their parents, grandparents and other notable people who shaped their personalities (an almost complete A to Z of European royalty). Yet I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed that the longest chunk of their joint lives was rushed though just a few concluding chapters. Does it mean that there was nothing noteworthy to report from this period or that the author is planning a sequel?
The Mystery of the Yellow Room
by Gaston Leroux
Many would agree that a good detective story is, indeed, a perfect companion for a long rainy evening. But if you have already exhausted your collection of hercule poirots, miss marples and sherlock holmeses, why not sample another, a bit less known, classic. The Mystery of the Yellow Room is in fact one of the best examples of so called ‘locked-room mystery’, a famous sub-genre of crime fiction. It it said, that this book inspired many other detective stories writers and was even quoted in one Agatha Christie’s Poirot novels.
Although Gaston Leroux is better known to the English speaking world for his novel The Phantom of the Opera, the recent republication (in a beautiful hardback edition) of his best work gives us a chance get re-aquatinted with this talented writer. Though for a modern-day reader, used to more complex psychological twists and quirky depths of characters, it might seem a bit old-fashioned, yet let’s not forget that a well constructed plot can still make a very engrossing read.
Why Mummy Swears
by Gill Sims
Those mothers who found themselves overwhelmed by school-holiday struggles are definitely not alone in their plight. So now, when your offspring is back to school and you can snatch a well deserved quiet moment, brew some coffee, grab this funny novel by hilarious Gill Sims and giggle to your heart's content.