Review: The Kitchen Diaries, by Nigel Slater

The Kitchen Diaries: A Year in the Kitchen“Well, well, it’s Nigel Slater, buying a bag of frozen peas,” the woman said to him archly, in her British accent (I would presume, as Nigel lives in London). He sheepishly  pays for his purchase and slinks out, trying to remain anonymous.

Why would anyone make fun of a man for buying a bag of frozen peas? Maybe if that same man also touts the benefits of fresh local foods, cooking simply and beautifully to bring out the foods best flavor, living and eating seasonally — and also happens to be a famous writer and columnist for the London, “Observer”.

At the point that this little blurb appears in the book, I had become so interested in involved in his story – as Slater shares his simple kitchen diary, what he made, how it tasted, and some special notes – that I laughed out loud. Truly, it was a bit out of character for him to do this. But also, it really shows, I think, the approachable nature of this book, for me. It is summed up by the first line of the book, really:

“Right food, right place, right time. It is my belief — and the point of this book — that this is the best recipe of all. … This is the food of the moment — something eaten at a time when it is most appropriate, when the ingredients are at their peak of perfection, when the food, the cook, and the time of year are at one with each other.”

Sound a little too lofty? Well, its really not. His recipes are delightfully simple, and what makes this more than a cookbook (and therefore, an interesting page-turner from start to finish) are the narratives that string together the diary.

Arranged by month, here is a sample from January:

January 11 – Onion soup without tears – I do love the classic onion soup, simmered for hours in a deep iron pot, but if I’m honest, I hate making it. Onions make me cry at the best of times, but slicing enough for an entire pan of soup is more than I can handle. 

Or again, from June:

June 21 – An homage to yogurt – I  cannot remember a day when I didn’t eat yogurt. It is as much a part of my life as mineral water, salad or coffee. Sometimes I buy the Lebanese variety, so white and dense you could spread it with a knife. Other times is has to be the delicate French sheep yogurt that comes in glass pots the size of an egg cup. Mostly is it British goat yogurt from the healthfood shop … The only yogurt I will not eat is the mild, bland, sweet stuff the supermarkets excel at. Yogurt disguised as a dessert. 

At this point, you are either requesting the book at your local library, or thinking, “What? Yogurt?” I was telling dear Hub’band about the book as I was reading, and telling him how much I loved reading this type of book, and he looked at me indulgingly and loving and said, “Yes, I know you do.” 😉 (Which was a beautiful moment in itself, both of us admitting we have differences where books are in question, at least, books about food, but we can still be supportive listeners to what the other is interested in!)

The other take-away from the books, for me, is actually a kind of sadness that we don’t have the great variety of artisan-made cheeses, meats, etc, in local shops that we can walk to. Much of the books details his DAILY shopping trips, in which he can walk a short distance and be at different markets, some ethnic, some farmer’s, buying when he needs for the next day or two. For a mom with a family of 6, I shop once every two weeks, and make a menu plan for that amount of time. I can walk to one local store, but its not my store of choice. That style and kind of shopping outlined by Slater just doesn’t quite exist here.

However, the books, besides giving me several new recipes to try, has also encouraged me in my first Food Goal of 2013 (remember that post where I said I don’t make resolutions? Well….a goal is different from a resolution. So there. My blog, my rules.) — Explore the local ethnic markets and shop there more regularly. Not only does spreading out my food dollar help local people, it also helps my family to further broaden our horizons of good healthful eating! I just read in the local paper that a Russian food store recently opened here – perhaps that will be my first stop!

If you read it:

The Kitchen Diaries, by Nigel Slater. Published 2006, Gotham Books (a trademark of Penguin Group USA).

Other cookbooks by Nigel Slater: Real Fast Food; The 30 Minute Cook; Appetite. Among others.

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Three more books for kids that like growing things –

I like to share my gardening hobby with my kids, and sometimes I do it through books. Which is why I have posted several children’s book reviews already this summer – and here are three more books you might like to read with a young person in your life (or, just by yourself, because you’re young at heart!)

Salamander Room, by Anne Mazer, Ill Steve Johnson. A little boy catches a salamander and wants to keep him as a pet. Prompted by questions from his mother as to how he’ll make his room suitable for such a pet to be happy and healthy, the boy reinvents his room until it resembles the outdoors where the salamander is most happy. Beautiful pictures, and just all-around lovely book.

 

 

Counting on the Woods by George Ella Lyon, Ann W Olson photographer A basic counting book, but with stunning natural photos of the treasures you’ll find when you go walking in the woods.

 

 

 

 

Plant a Little Seed, by Bonnie Christensen. I loved the woodcut illustrations of two young gardeners tending to their community gardening plot – from seed, to watering, to weeding, to waiting – to finally eating (and preserving the bounty). Simple text and repetitive, but that doesn’t take away from the book – I thoroughly enjoyed it.