Sunday, June 04, 2006

Men and women cookery writers

Also in today's blog

Don't Sweat the Aubergine
Nine-year struggle into print
£800 for a hotel room, without breakfast

In May I spent £60.50 on two hardbacks and five paperbacks.

[The invaluable Universal Currency Converter tells me that, in round figures, that was the equivalent of 88 Euros, US$113 and Australian $148]

Some of that money was not well-spent. My own fault. It was foolish to break a rule, based on long experience i.e. never buy a novel without test-reading the first five pages in a library or bookshop. As I'll explain later, there were good reasons for breaking the rule, but it will be a long time - if ever! - before I break it again.

The books I bought were -
Don't Sweat the Aubergine by Nicholas Clee
Wild Mary : A Life of Mary Wesley by Patrick Marnham
I Can Make You Thin [with a CD] by Paul McKenna
Asthma at your fingertips by Dr Mark Levy [a 50 pence discard from my public library]
Eve Green by Susan Fletcher [given away with the May issue of Woman & Home magazine which cost £3.10]
Coast to Coast by Jan Minshull
Gardens of Delight by Erica James [winner of the FosterGrant Reading Glasses Romantic Novel of the Year Award 2006], prize money £10,000.

Don't Sweat The Aubergine

Well worth its hardback price of £12.99 is Nicholas Clee's Don't Sweat the Aubergine : What works in the kitchen and why published by Short Books at £12.99.

["Launched in 2000 by former journalists Rebecca Nicolson and Aurea Carpenter, Shortbooks strives to bridge the gap between publishing and journalism."]

But that was a foregone conclusion because, although I have never met him, for most of the time I was writing a column for The Bookseller, Nicholas Clee was the magazine's editor and from reading his leader articles and signed pieces I knew he was an excellent writer. When I heard he was working on a book, I felt sure it would be good. However, rather than ordering it online when it came out in October 2005, I waited until I was back among realworld bookshops and could ask an independent bookseller to get it for me. The "indies", as they're known in the book trade, need all the support we can give them.

A quote from Nigel Slater above the title on the jacket of Don't Sweat the Aubergine reads - "Intelligent, thoughtful, fascinating - a gem." The blurb on the front jacket flap begins - "On average, people cook no more than two dishes from each cookbook they buy. The reason? Most of the other recipes seem just too daunting. This is where Nicholas Clee comes to the rescue. At last, here is the book that answers the questions you always want to ask and solves those frustrating kitchen conundrums - why do some writers tell you to…"

The book's Introduction starts - "The most stressful event in your life, I have read, is moving house. Giving a speech is up there too. Weddings can cause a good degree of anxiety. Here's another scenario to get you in a sweat : there are eight people coming to dinner, you're attempting a dish you haven't prepared before, and it's not going well."

There's a paperback edition coming on August 10. Reviewers at Amazon UK wrote -
"I was tempted by this one because of the sub title and I would recommend this book to all cooks from beginner to old hands. It's full of sound common sense which we all need to be reminded of from time to time. It's also done with much humour and I greatly enjoyed it"
"Quite brilliant in the sheer practicality and readability. My 86 year old mother who has been cooking for eighty years found that she learned several things from it. As a relatively novice cook it encourages me to try all sorts of things I would never have considered. Not only does the author tell you what to do but he also explains why it needs to be done. All this and filled with humour. Unconditionally recommended."
Yes, I know it's possible they are chums of
, but it's equally possible they don't know him from Adam.

Nine year struggle into print

On Tuesday I was astonished to read in Lorna Williams' Washington Times review of My Life In France by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme
"The nine-year struggle to get "Mastering" in print is the core of this book, and makes fascinating reading for anyone interested in the publishing business. Houghton Mifflin turned it down after hearing from a group of male editors that American women wanted quick, easy recipes, preferably including mixes. (They were half right of course but ignored Francophile cooks who wanted authentic recipes.) Finally Knopf took it on, though Alfred Knopf himself quipped: "I'll eat my hat if anyone buys a book with that title!" "

Ms Williams' review begins,"The first meal Julia Child cooked after her marriage in 1946 -- brains simmered in red wine -- was ambitious but a disaster. When she sailed to France two years later with her foreign-service husband, she did not understand or speak French. Thirty-six years old, she knew little about the country, even less about its famed cuisine, and fancied that "France was a nation of icky-picky people where the women were all dainty, exquisitely coiffed, nasty little creatures, the men all ... dandies who twirled their mustaches, pinched girls and schemed against American rubes."

"Yet in 15 years this self-described "rather loud and unserious Californian" emerged as America's high priestess of French cuisine: the principal author of the encyclopedic "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," and the plummy-voiced star of a ground-breaking TV cooking show, "The French Chef." Not bad for someone who was neither French nor a chef, and who did not find her metier until her late 30s."

My first encounter with Julia Child was while watching TV during a visit to America way back in the Eighties. Within half an hour she had won a devoted admirer, not something that can be said of most of the people one sees on TV today."

My cookery/food bookshelf

Before buying Nicholas Clee's book, I had 16 books on a shelf in our Guernsey kitchen.
Listed by the year of publication, they are
1932 Good Things in England : Florence White [republished by Persephone]
[No date] Kitchen Encyclopaedia : Nella Whitfield
1968 Mrs Manders' Cookbook [Mrs M was cook to author Rumer Godden]
1969 The Joy of Cooking : Rombauer & Becker [first pub. 1946, many editions]
1970 Charcuterie & French Pork Cookery : Jane Grigson
1973 Good Things : Jane Grigson
1974 The Times Cookery Book : Katie Stewart
1976 Not All In The Mind : Dr Richard Mackarness
1978 From Julia Child's Kitchen
1979 The Cook Is The Captain : Hollander & Mertes
1980 Chemical Victims : Richard Mackarness
1980 Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book
1980 Simca's Cuisine : Simone Beck
1981 Weight Watchers New Program Cookbook : Jean Nidetch [bought in Bradenton USA]
1986 Cuisine Spontanée : Fredy Girardet
1994 Food Combining in 30 Days : Kathryn Marsden

£800 for hotel room, without breakfast

"He's forever lambasting the British and our cuisine, but when Jan Moir met revered chef Raymond Blanc, she had a few criticisms of her own," I read in Mr Bookworm's newspaper on Monday. In her article, Ms Moir revealed that one night at Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons costs £800 - without breakfast. What kind of people stay there? one wonders. [The picture on the left is of one of the bedrooms.]

In Wednesday's issue of the paper there was a letter from Raymond Blanc headed "I must try harder".
It read -
"SIR - Of course I was sad to read Jan Moir's article. Miss Moir obviously did not have the pleasurable experience that is the true goal of everything we do for our guests at Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons. I accept the responsibility for this evident failure. Miss Moir indicated that her dissatisfaction was with me alone, and not with my team - and for this at least I am grateful. I shall study her piece, and see what lessons can be learnt that will make Le Manoir an even better place for our guests. Raymond Blanc Great Milton, Oxon"

On Thursday and Friday, I opened the paper, half-expecting to see that some of M.Blanc's satisfied customers had sprung to his defence. But they hadn't.

Yesterday [June 3], Ms Moir's review of Le Manoir appeared in the Weekend section of the Telegraph. She and her companion chose the Menu Découverte for two which, excluding drinks and service, costs UK £220!!

They left before the end of the meal "we've been stuck in this blister bubble for over three hours and cannot take another second."

Postponed till next Sunday

Having already overrun my word-limit, I'll tell you about the novels I wish I had NOT bought next weekend.