Given that we are half way through June it suddenly dawned on me that 2014 has been marching on with some pace. Summer is unquestionably here, the sun is even shining, 6 months have rocketed past and I am reminded that back in the deep dark days of winter I did make a couple of New Years resolutions that bordered on being within reach for once. Previously I have set out with just a long list of damn right ridiculous notions but this year was different and so much more satisfying because of that. On the eve of midsummer day I thought it the perfect time for a little reflection, a quick pat on the back as one of those new year numbers has been achieved, hurrah!
‘Reading’; yes pretty simple stuff but somehow the last 4 years have created a barren wasteland of half read books, or no books at all. I’ m a fussy reader so I knew I needed to get it right, to lure me back into the literary fold I had to get totally hooked on a couple of really good books. The magic worked! I find reading intoxicating, a luxury, it is just finding the time to do it. Now the ‘little people’ have embarked on a more civilised sleeping regime life has thankfully regained some sense of normality and my stack of books I want to read grows ever more magnificent. It’s a diverse mix, usually with a few unifying undertones. There’s occasionally the odd random entry such as ‘A Spy Among Friends’ by Ben McIntyre, a good scattering of autobiographies, a lot of food related books and the odd parenting/ child rearing number for good measure. There is nothing I love more than a friend passing on a much loved book, and hence the merry go round begins, personnal recommendations are like nuggets of gold and I want to share them again and again with an ever larger network of friends, family and indeed strangers. So with the summer holidays in sight, you hopefully may get more than a snatched 5 minutes to read, here are a few of the books I have enjoyed and would happily share with anyone prepared to listen.
‘A Spy Among Friends’ – the story of Kim Philby, and the great spy betrayal within MI5 and MI6, totally gripping, ‘sneaky beaky stuff’, you can’t put it down. Beautifully written.
‘A Change of Appetite’ Diana Henry- the ‘grande dame’of cookery writing strikes again with a most delightful recipe book packed full of refreshing ideas, exquisite photos and some good common sense writing on food and what to eat – utterly refreshing, and a great house present if you are staying with friends this summer!
‘Not on the Label’ Felicity Lawrence- a must read for anyone interested in where our food comes from, what has happened to farming in the past 100 years and the power of the supermarkets. Not that palatable, so be warned this will change the way you think about food, shop and eat. Brilliantly researched, no stone is left unturned in her quest for the truth particularly over the horse meat scandal. Life changing, but for the right reasons
’21st Century Boys’ Sue Palmer – if only I had read this book 2 years ago! But thank goodness I have read it now. A real eye opener into the male psyche, childhood and how very different the blue and pink really are, literally from the moment they are born. A brilliant must have book for anyone who feels challenged by their little darling boy and wants to understand them more.
‘Cooked’ Michael Pollan – I can’t quite claim to have read this, honestly I have only just started but if you adore food and are trying to justify why you spend so much time thinking about food and cooking it, this may be the ‘cheap shrinks’ answer to make you feel better. Written by the man whose famous mantra I totally subscribe to: ‘Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants’ . It is in essence about why we cook; he takes us back to basics, to cook with fire, with water, with air and with earth. It’s about the importance of food, the importance of cooking for family and friends, and the reason why food and the cooking of it has knitted society together since time began. Compelling – to date!
‘Wildflower’ An Extraordinary Life and Mysterious Death in Africa- Mark Seal – the inspirational story of Joan Root. Easy and light to read and perfect for anyone who loves East Africa, wildlife and adventure. Tragic in part, with a fascinating chapter on the rose / flower industry in Kenya that may result in you never buying flowers from a garage forecourt ever again! (as if you ever did) !!
Apart from reading, my other new year resolutions haven’t gone too badly either. Coffee has been given up, lipstick is being worn, exercise taken, the curtains have finally been made for the dining room (it did take 18 months), the sewing machine is up and running (though I still need lessons), and I have started working again in an ‘ad hoc’ fashion (Canapés for 200 last week- oh such fun). I still haven’t learnt a foreign language, don’t really ‘get’ social media, have not seen ‘Frozen’ (much to the pink ones horror) and am amazed (if a little baffled) by the unbelievable technological advances that grip our world; hello UBER I love you!
Cooking as you can see is my saviour so let me leave you with this pretty, seasonal summer salad, perfect for lunch in the garden or just a starter to get your taste buds dancing!
Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as a starter
2 flat white peaches, I call them angels navels but I think they may be called
1 bunch of English asparagus
150gms of soft white goats cheese
1 handful of washed rocket or mixed garden leaves, including mint and oregano
Rosemary flowers or chive flowers to garnish
1 tablespoon of elderflower cordial
3 tablespoons of really good olive oil
1. Cut the asparagus in half and chargrill. Once the chargrill lines are obvious set aside with a good splash of olive oil, salt and ground pepper.
2. Segment the ripe white peaches. You can peel them but I prefer them with the pink skin on.
3. Layer up the salad, leaves first, asparagus, peaches then crumbled goats cheese, followed by the herb flowers and the dressing. Remember to season with salt and pepper and serve with sourdough toast.