Thursday, 14 October 2010

All booked up

It has been a fun day in the book department, with a stream of titles arriving for me from Amazon, which is in danger of becoming my biggest vice.

First post this morning brought two copies of Judi Dench's new autobiography, And Furthermore – one of which is earmarked for my mother for Christmas – plus Finishing the Hat: collected lyrics (1954-1981) with attendant comments, principles, heresies, grudges, whines and anecdotes by Stephen Sondheim, together with The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Mann, Christopher Isherwood's A Single Man and Mark Kurlansky's Cod: a biography of the fish that changed the world.

My editor took a slow look at this stack, ignored the last one and announced: "You're really a gay man". Well I suppose that's one way to look it.

This afternoon's post produced Cheese: A Global History by Andrew Dalby – my goodness, there's a whole mini library of such one-food histories from Edible – the 700-odd page History of Food by Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat, Salt: A World History by Kurlansky (what price he does one on salted cod?) and In the Devil's Garden: A Sinful History of Forbidden Food by Stewart Lee Allen.

You see what I mean about my Amazon vice? It's just so easy – especially when they start picking up your 'trends' and suggesting things you never even knew existed before.

The food books were ordered as a job lot, after I dared to go looking for Kurlansky's book about salt: Amazon took a hint, saw an opening, and started suggesting assorted other food titles. The others were a response to assorted long-term interests.

Is it really gay to love Sondheim?

Anyway, rather later, back at home, I hauled out a cling film-wrapped ball of pastry that I'd made rearlier (one half of what I'd made for my small tarte tatinlast weekend). Inevitably, it needed a little thawing, but while that was happening, I re-arranged (yet again) my kitchen bookshelves to take all the latest additions to my food library, and listened to Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park With George.

Rather interestingly, I had spotted a story this morning on the Beeb about food and sound. It appears that sound affects how you taste food: fascinating. Although it cannot be blamed for the staggering blandness of today's lunch when, at a loss for what else to eat, I got a jacket potato from the deli bar (posh description for our staff canteen) with cottage cheese, and ended up salting it ludicrously just to give it some sort of taste. To think that I used to consume the stuff by the tub!

Of course, it does bring to mind Heston Blumenthal and his "construction of ’sand’, scallops, seaweed and foam", served while listening to sounds of the sea on an iPod in a shell at The Fat Duck. Perhaps he actually has a point.

But whatever, the Sondheim certainly seems conducive to cooking.

Anyhow, this is a Gordon Ramsay recipe – so I'm not going to reproduce it here in detail, since it's too complex.

But as an overview, you blind bake the pastry case, as is usual in such dishes. Then you take orange juice – and somewhat less lemon juice – and boil to reduce by half. Then you measure out caster sugar and beat with egg yolks (less than the recipe stipulates, because, as a total size queen, I always have XXL eggs and not medium unless I have specifically planned a baking session) and some grated zest of the lemons and oranges.

Let the pastry case cool, then fill carefully with the citrus mix and bake for 40 minutes or so.

I want a bigger kitchen: I need more storage space for all the sugars and vinegars and oils etc. And that's before I consider how much the kitchen is becoming my natural habitat and therefore obviously should be bigger. And I also want a mixer – one of those lovely retro – but bloody sturdy – ones, because that'll make life so much easier when I bake, although I have no idea where it could be stored.

In other words, I just need a bigger home.

However, baking is cooking for pedants: none of that Jamie Oliver stuff of just throwing in unmeasured ingredients. Accuracy is essential. Perhaps that's why I actually like baking as much as I do ...

But then again, what I'm doing tonight is certainly being done without a calculator.

So what else can I say?

Well, I've committed to fund-raising for Greenpeace's 'flour power' campaign, and my colleagues are already getting excited and demanding that whatever I cook has to involve chocolate: so I'm having a big think. Should I bake – as per the campaign title – or should I do chocolate, as my colleagues apparently want?

The citrus tart is still cooking – but otherwise, I think it's a question of: 'watch this space'.

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