Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Book Blast

I'm so out of date on here but I thought I should catch up on (fairly) recent reads...

  • Gold Fame Citrus - Claire Vaye Watkins: I read this over Christmas and it made my 2015 Honorable Mentions but I didn't expand and it is out now so let's revisit it. A possibly sentient sand dune, the Dune Sea, has devastated California. The American South West is a wasteland of drifters and exiles. The rest of the country despises the Mojave refugees. When Luz discovers a strange child at a stoner party, she persuades her boyfriend Ray that they should go out in search of a better life, aiming for a whispered colony/cult at the foot of the dunes. This book is eerie and imaginative and alarmingly plausible. I didn't quite love it at the time but I still think about it often.
  • The Vanishing Man: In Pursuit of Velazquez - Laura Cumming: You know who is the best? Velazquez. (Also, Titian and Rembrandt. Don't make me pick.) Cumming is the Observer art critic and she approaches Velazquez, her great love, obliquely in this dual biography of the artist and a C19th bookseller from Reading who might have loved the Spaniard even more than me and author combined. He risked and lost everything for a painting that he believed to be a lost Velazquez. Cumming traces the lives of both men across the centuries and also reveals her own relationship with the artist. A lovely narrative biography with a bit of mystery.
  • Carry On - Rainbow Rowell: This book FASCINATES me. I really enjoyed the book but I love the idea. In case you're not familiar with Rowell, she wrote a YA novel, Fangirl, a few years ago which features a young woman who (among other things) writes fanfiction. She is part of the Simon Snow fandom - a very explicit Harry Potter copy. Fangirl features extracts from this fake series and from Cath's extended fanwork of the series. I found Fangirl interesting as a mainstream reaction to fandom but didn't particularly bond with it. Carry On is the final book in the fictional Simon Snow series (although it isn't necessarily totally faithful to the extracts in Fangirl). I would love for Rowell to write and publish Cath's fanwork, or something similar, next. I remain unconvinced that Rowell has a really organic experience of fandom or fanfiction but I love how fun and meta this series/world is. Carry On never surprised me but there is magic and cute boys kissing and lots of fully realised female characters and it is super enjoyable. I can't really conceive how you would react to this book without a working knowledge of both Harry Potter and fandom, you'd certainly miss a lot, but it isn't a complicated plot and I guess you'd still have a nice plot.
  • The Living Mountain - Nan Shepherd: I read this as part of an aborted book club. I would never have picked it up myself so it was good to read it even if I never got to talk about this. It is a slim memoir/essay of a mid-century walker's enthusiasm for the Cairngorms. It is beautiful and passionate and I never quite got into it. There were moments when I could almost touch the serenity it seemed to offer but I don't think I did it any favours reading it on and off urban public transport - I could never quite surrender myself to the experience of the book. Despite being deeply rooted in the countryside I have yet to find a piece of nature writing I really enjoyed.
  • The Gracekeepers - Kirsty Logan: This book was so much sadder than I was expecting. A drowned world, a grave keeper, a circus bear. It is imaginative, melancholic fantasy and thumbs up for not being hella straight.
  • Wildwood - Colin Meloy (Carson Ellis): Heads up, this is a children's book. From the internet's enthusiasm I was expecting it to be 'YA' and it isn't. Prue, the delightful heroine, is 10-12 (can't remember exactly) and I would have LOVED this book when I was little - I was charmed by it now but it isn't meant for me. Still, Carson Ellis's illustrations are beautiful and my library copy was covered in endearing crayon marks. There are talking birds, evil, magic queens, useless parents and sibling affection. Lots of plot and adventure and invention and strong moral messages without ever being didactic. I will be enthusiastically recommending this for 8-12 year olds.
  • A House Full of Daughters - Juliet Nicolson: A biography/memoir of seven generations of daughters. Nicolson is the granddaughter of Vita Sackville-West and although much has been written about Vita I never get bored of learning about her. She is only one aspect of this story though because this is a strange and varied family. The narrative travels from the slums of C19th Spain to Henry James's Washington, Knole Park to Sissinghurst, London in the 60s to New York in the 80s and on to the present day. The author discovers repetitions, patterns of behaviour and fractious relationships between generations, that illuminate her own life. The biographical elements are fascinating and the memoir elements are raw and contemplative and the two are compellingly combined.
  • All the Birds in the Sky - Charlie Jane Anders: This book is such fun! I read it over a weekend at-home holiday and it was a total pleasure. It is a smart, stand-alone sci-fi/fantasy-lite novel and it is a ball. There is nature magic and futuristic technology coexisting brilliantly in an apocalyptic near-future California. It is funny and pacy and if you enjoy genre writing I would highly recommend it.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Oh Comely Sunday Morning

I spent a happy hour this morning sipping tea and browsing the latest issue of Oh Comely. It's a lovely issue and I contributed to the What We're Reading feature again. The issue's theme is 'change' and the feature is about books that changed you which gave me the delightful opportunity to write about Emma. I feel like to legitimately understand me you must also understand that Emma is the greatest and that it is one of my defining texts. (Happily Alice Naylor wrote about His Dark Materials so I didn't have to feel too torn.) I could talk and write about how much I love it forever.

Issue highlights:
- Linnea Enstrom writing about her abortion and Virginia Woolf vs. Jean Rhys in regards to rooms of one's own (heart)
- Jack Murphy writing about teaching the Beatles to school children
- Naomi Shimada being beautiful and joyous
- Women Who Changed the World: Barbara McClintock, Claude Cahun, Jennie Lee, Audre Lorde

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Small Things

Sometimes life is busy and overwhelming. Balance seems impossible and you're exhausted more often than you're not. Which isn't to say that life is bad just that it is complicated and sometimes it can be hard to see the wood for the trees. I don't have an answer for stress. Take time for yourself? Exercise? See friends? Drink more water? Sleep more (actually this is almost always a good answer if you can find the time)? Re-evaluate your life and make assertive, positive changes? Fine, fine, sensible even, but time consuming and lacking the immediate pleasure hit that one sometimes need. Or that I do, anyway, because I am impatient and greedy. 

The above/below make me 5-10% happier on contact. It doesn't take much and it doesn't necessarily last but why would you look a relatively inexpensive, delicious gift horse in the mouth? These are small, good, cheering things:
  • Tregothnan Classic Tea: May I never recommend another product emblazoned with a Union Jack again. *shudder* This tea is grown in Cornwall (or, I think, 60% is) and it is really good. The price per bag is not sensible but I got a box in my stocking and I have very much enjoyed it as a weekend tea. It is strong and rich and vaguely local and I liked the flavour. It was deeply satisfying.
  • Whole Earth 3 Nut Butter: Holy crap, this stuff is amazing. I've only managed to buy it in my local supermarket once but it was life changingly good. I eat peanut butter every morning and almond butter on the regular and I've enjoyed a cashew butter in my time. Nut butters are my jam - I can't imagine a nut butter I wouldn't enjoy - but this reaches a new high. Peanut butter with the depth of cashew and the implied puddinginess of hazelnut. CRAZY GOOD, I TELL YOU. Catch it if you can.
  • Mini Daim bars: There are mini Daim bar wrappers down the back of my sofa and in the pockets of my coats. They drift around the flat. I'll admit that the individually wrapped chocolates are not environmentally friendly but they are also perfect and convenient. They have a more satisfying chocolate: almond caramel ratio than a full sized Daim bar and I LOVE them. R doesn't get it but he's wrong and they're amazing. Instant happy maker.
Also, border collies know what's up. Watch this Vine 27 times and just try not to grin inanely...

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Recent Home Eats

I had a New Year's Eve revelation about microwave curries, specifically Marks & Spark's butter chicken which is totally enjoyable in the right context, and the value (emotional, really) of instant food and it is something I'm going to be exploring more in 2016. Epiphanies aside though, I cook a lot and mostly from scratch (pasta and the like aside because, personally, I think making your own pasta is for suckers and hobby cooks. If you've got a free afternoon and nothing else to do then, sure, but it is never worth the time/effort of a week night).

I love cooking and thinking about food but it is time-consuming and I go through dry spells where I can't find things I want to cook or nothing is as good as I hope will be or it is all just uninspiring and tedious. Luckily though, I've been on a hot streak recently and I've made and eaten lots of great things. For other regular home cooks and my own memories here are some hits:

  • Roasted sausage, chard and cannellini beans (Food52): I made this with cavolo nero and real English sausages (what even are chicken sausages, America?? how?) and it was so easy. No pre-cooking, just toss and cook. Protein, carb and veg in a single bowl with jazzy flavours. 1 tin beans, 1 pack of cavolo nero and 1 pack of sausages (6) served two hungry people with no leftovers as a main.
  • Beef chilli with bourbon, beer and black beans (Nigella Lawson): Not necessarily #authentic but yummy and straightforward. Black beans are amazing. I always make Heston's slaw where slaw is called for - it is very moreish. 
  • Lemon and aubergine risotto (Ottolenghi): I've made this many times as a risotto and as a soup both are good although they really benefit from an open flame which I don't have access to in the flat. Reliably enjoyable.
  • Roasted squash cobbler (Claire Ptak): I wouldn't recommend starting this recipe at 9.15 on a Tuesday night because it is a bit time consuming but it is good and the biscuits are actually crazy easy. I always forget how quick biscuits are to make. I should make them more often.
  • Oxtail ragu with leeks and lemons over pappardelle (Ottolenghi): Man, this is great! I used shin because I couldn't get hold of oxtail and it was awesome. It felt super weird making a beef stew (basically) with white wine and lemon but it really really works. The pecorino on top makes it. The leek and chorizo pie in this column is amazing too in a really rich, luxurious way. Ottolenghi leek week forever. Leeks forever. So good.
  • Roasted pork belly with miso butternut squash and apple and walnut salsa (Nopi): Ok, I didn't make this, R did and it was a lot of work but DAMN it is good. The flavours complement each other perfectly. This is why you make all the sides and trimmings of an expert - they are more than the sum of their parts and their parts are superlative to begin with.
  • 'Boston' baked beans (ME): I decided to make Boston baked beans (or my idea of Boston baked beans - I've never been to Boston, I don't know if I've ever even really eaten 'Boston baked beans' before) on a whim and I couldn't find a recipe that did exactly what I wanted so I made one up and it was AWESOME. Easy, delicious, amazing for after work. The fanciest instant food ever.
Chuck's Pretend Boston Baked Beans
  • 1 tin cannellini beans (I realised afterwards that baked beans are normally haricots but whatever)
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 pack of lardons/sliced bacon (I wouldn't waste pancetta here but do as you wish)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp chilli flakes
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp black treacle (in place of molasses)
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • Cheeeeese, maybe a nice moderately mature Cheddar?
  • (Baked potatoes)
  1. Preheat the oven to 200-220oC.
  2. Stick the onions, lardons and spices in a roasting tin and cook until the onions soften and the bacon has browned. 10 minutes?
  3. Stir the mustard and treacle through the onions.
  4. Throw in the beans and tomatoes and mix it all up.
  5. Bake until the tomato sauce thickens and is all dark and sticky and irresistible.
  6. Dollop out some beans into ovenproof cookware, top with cheese and stick back in the oven until the cheese has melted and everything is bubbling.
  7. Add a baked potato and call it a meal.
  8. Wrap yourself in a nice blanket and re-watch The Office US.
So there you go. Some food. Clearly winter is the time for beans and squashes. Yum.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Reading Wokely

I read Jia Tolentino's piece about noisy literary resolutions yesterday and I feel conflicted. I had been planning to do a (typically late) #DiverseDecember post but now I'm worried that I'm just being self-righteous and reinforcing binaries. I don't think I'm interested in scoring points for my own open-mindedness but I suppose that I wouldn't think that. And I do think it is a positive thing to make a concerted effort to read outside your own milieu and to read/buy/support authors and stories who have historically been overlooked and excluded from literary circles...

So rather than chase my own, anxious tail indefinitely I'm going to shout out some great books by BAME authors that I have read over the last year.

  • We Need New Names - NoViolet Bulawayo: Child protagonists can be risky but Bulawayo's Darling is a delight - joyful, sharp, unsentimental. The book is alternately glowingly happy and deeply scary in its depiction of Darling's childhood in Zimbabwe and her emigration to Michigan.
  • The Turner House - Angela Flournoy: Big families are full of love and trouble. The lives of the Turner children are beautifully drawn and woven together here. And the book is especially good on both Detroit and our current economic sitch. (More from me.)
  • Negroland - Margo Jefferson: A fascinating and unexpected (to me) memoir of upper-middle-class black life in America. Growing up as part of the black bourgeoisie seems remarkably emotionally complicated and Jefferson recalls her own experiences and the history of this subsection of society with sly elegance.
  • The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms - N. K. Jemisin: In terms of fantasy this was a little trad for me but that might be your cup of tea and I want 1000% more awesome POC fantasy heroines. 
  • The Twelve Tribes of Hattie - Ayana Mathis: This novel has a similar basic premise to The Turner House - a large black family in a rundown American city - but it has a wider historical and geographical sweep. If I could only pick one of the two I would go with The Turner House but I don't have to choose either/or and neither do you. Spoil yourself, read both. (More from me.)
  • Americanah - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: I have said it once, I have said it twiceAmericanah is FIRE. If you're one of the seven people who hasn't read it yet I would suggest you remedy that sharpish. Ride the hype or overcome it, depending on your own disposition.
  • The Woman Next Door - Yewande Omotoso: You know what is awesome? Sharp-tongued, short-tempered old women hating each other and gradually becoming friends. One to watch in 2016.
  • Men We Reaped - Jesmyn Ward: A crushing memoir of black death in America. Not pleasant but beautiful and very moving. A powerful book in its own right and your daily reminder to read Salvage the Bones like yesterday. I don't know why you're even here. Why aren't you reading Salvage the Bones right now?? (More from me.)
(Also, these kind of exercises, while imperfect, can be useful. In putting together this list I realised that none of these are British authors. That is shocking and something that I want/need to correct. Recs, specifically fiction, very welcome.)

Friday, January 1, 2016

My 10 Favourite Books of 2015, I Think

This is an inconclusive list in every possible way. I read 92 books in 2015 and there were so many that I loved, liked, disliked and forgot. I read many great books that aren't on this list. Most of these weren't published this year. These are the books that I enjoyed the most or felt most strongly about (see The Blazing World - liking doesn't always come into it); they are the most interesting and important to me at this specific moment in time. That might well change. Maybe when I look back in ten years these won't be the ten books I remember. Who can say?

If I could push any two books I read this year into the hands of everyone I do and don't know, though, they would be The Country of Ice Cream Star and All My Puny Sorrows. Please read them.

Most of the books I read before September are well documented on the blog and the best way to find them is my fiction tag. September-December has been very busy and I would like to promise that I'll catch up the highlights but, really, that seems unlikely! Anyway. Books.

My 10 Favourite Books of 2015, I Think (alphabetical order):
The Blazing World - Siri Hustvedt: Repulsive, Infuriating, Fascinating
City of Stairs - Robert Jackson Bennett: Complex, Fully-realised, Fantasy
Euphoria - Lily King: Atmospheric, Elegant, Anthropological
Forty-One False Starts - Janet Malcolm: Precise, Brilliant, Essays
Physical - Andrew McMillan: Moving, Gay, Poetry
The Rest of Us Just Live Here - Patrick Ness: Diverse, Imaginative, Young-adult
The Country of Ice Cream Star - Sandra Newman: Epic, Creative, Dystopia
Americanah - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Real, Sharp, Undeniable
All My Puny Sorrows - Miriam Toews: Funny, Tragic, Mind-changing
The Interestings - Meg Wolitzer: Human, Inevitable, Bildungsroman

Honorable Mentions:
Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend - Katarina Bivald
We Need New Names - NoViolet Bulawayo
The Girls - Emma Cline
The Turner House - Angela Flournoy
Fates and Furies - Lauren Groff
Negroland - Margo Jefferson
A Sense of Direction - Gideon Lewis-Kraus
Gold Fame Citrus - Claire Vaye Watkins
Fingersmith - Sarah Waters

Graphic Favourites:
Step Aside, Pops - Kate Beaton
Hyperbole and a Half - Allie Brosh

Bonus - Great reportage and unforgettable creepy crawlies:
The Lost City of Z - David Grann

Bonus - Book I didn't really like but think about often:
Green Girl - Kate Zambreno

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Paris Bits

We were in Paris over the weekend and it was total bliss so I thought I should make a couple of notes. It would be very easy to let the long weekend blur into a single soft-focus impression of loveliness and I would like to capture some specifics for future reference.
  1. We booked the trip the week before the attacks and obviously our discomfort was the least bad repercussion of the tragedy. We were outsiders and we were only in town for a few days but it felt like the city was beginning to recover. The people directly affected will probably never recover and there will be many physical and psychic scars but Parisians were drinking in bars and restaurants and it felt like the atmosphere would have been notably more strained if we had visited even a weekend earlier. I think that a lot of tourists had cancelled trips and the city was quiet when the locals were at work but it was beautiful and we didn't feel uncomfortably tense.
  2. We stayed in a nice hotel by the Pantheon. Nice hotels are still rather alien to me. Historically I have stayed in hostels and shit holes and, more recently, I have stayed almost exclusively in Airbnb apartments. I like the feeling of living in a place and having access to a kitchen and personal space. For a number of reasons, though, a hotel was the right choice for this trip. We slept for many many hours in a clean, comfortable bed, there was a nice bath, check-in was totally stress-free and we could wander out the door and around the Left Bank. Email me if you need a hotel rec.
  3. Bistrot l'Estrapade: Blackboards, earthenware carafes, poached pears and chorizo in a warm sloop of Roquefort cream.
  4. Walking over the Pont de la Tournelle, admiring the flying buttresses of Notre Dame and making tired, happy, deeply silly jokes.
  5. Musée Picasso: The renovated museum opened last year and the museum is gorgeous. They've done a really lovely job on the building. Exhausted and sleepwalking through the exhibitions, though, I had to admit that I care for very little of Picasso's work.
  6. La Maison Plisson: This fancy deli is delightful and ridiculous in much the same way as Dean & DeLuca. The food sorts they sell are beautiful and exquisitely packaged but it is inconceivable that anyone would do any actual shopping here. I was in self-indulgent heaven browsing 15 difference €15 gourmet Nutellas (I didn't buy any) and an interesting aspect of this trip was acknowledging my tastes and weaknesses. I have types and preferences and they are admirable and despicable and quite thoroughly engrained.
  7. Le Bon Marché l'Arbre de Noël: My sister deserves all credit here. Le Bon Marché is a wonderful department store - perhaps the nicest I've ever been to? - but that is besides the point. Their Christmas tree/bauble area on the top floor is out of this world. I think it is fair to say that R and I LOST OUR SHIT. It was only through severe applications of common sense that we managed not to spend thousands of euros on hand-blown and hand-painted glass ridiculousness. Somehow I resisted Father-Christmas-riding-a-dolphin and scuba-diving-Father-Christmas and various flamingoes but the vegetables were too much. I nearly asphyxiated with joy. Our Christmas is going to look so fucking weird - I cannot wait. I don't know when I last felt a childlike joy so pure.
  8. Mamie Gâteaux: French-Japanese rustic kitsch, excellent goats' cheese and courgette tart, red wine with lunch having earned no such luxury.
  9. Musée de la Vie Romantique: Another success from my sister. This house in the 9th arrondissement is adorable, well preserved and containing a strange mixture of George Sand and romantic memorabilia. I'm not sure what I learnt but it is exactly what you might wish a Parisian museum to be.
  10. Sept Cinq: I don't know who taught the Parisians the term 'concept store' but it is being enthusiastically over-applied across the city. This is a nice shop in a Brooklyn hipster mode and Christmas presents were bought.
  11. Sleep is an underrated component city breaks. I suppose that this is easier to admit when visiting a city that you know moderately well and will, in all likelihood, visit again. City breaks are more fun when you're not on your feet all day trying to do or see everything.
  12. It can be bliss when someone makes a decision for you. You might have made a better decision for yourself but the not-making is a true gift. Note to self: be generous, make decisions for others. Note to note: Obviously read the room and don't override other people's choices, only assist the indecisive.
  13. Holybelly: Hate the name, love the food. Brunch options are scarce in Paris but this cafe comfortably meets Australian/London/New York/LA breakfast standards. I spent time on this trip worrying about globalisation and standardisation and the costs of everywhere becoming like everywhere else and I think those are valid concerns although I also think that they can impose unnecessary discomfort on others in the name of antiquated/aesthetic tastes... I don't know, there is no simple answer but good coffee and fried eggs with home-made hashbrowns, sausage patties and mixed beans shut my brain up for a while.
  14. Saint-Étienne-du-Mont is a very beautiful church.
  15. Wine bars and cured meat, saucisson, standing room only. Chez Nous is elegant but L'Avant Comptoir is chaotic fun. A bar loud enough to lean in to speak but quiet enough to hear, white tiles and the menu hanging from the ceiling, croquettes, always croquettes.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Life Snapshots


This is a bad picture of one of the most delicious things I have eaten at home in 4 eva. Thomasina Miers' Smoky-roasted vegetables with whipped goat’s cheese and toasted nuts. We're talking beetroot, leeks, paprika, hazelnuts, goats' cheese, lime, harissa... It sounds like a bit of a hot mess but it is ridiculously good. R made it for me and I died.

Walthamstow is a thousand million miles away but the William Morris Gallery is free and well worth a visit. I am working on a Morris book at the moment so I am predisposed to be interested but he was a legitimately fascinating dude. A craftsman, a traveller and a socialist. There's plenty of information at the gallery and miles of his wonderful design. Also a beautiful garden.

Walk around London. Obviously. But when you live in a place it is hard to remember that it exists. The weather is getting ever more unreliable but one of my new favourite ways to catch up with friends is to meet them for a walk. Pick a start point and an end point or whatever who cares; put your feet in front of each other and look around. I found a Nancy Mitford plaque. Speaking of, these new Fig Tree editions are goooorgeous.


The Mother of All Questions - Rebecca Solnit: The magnificent Solnit on child rearing, life choosing and Virginia Woolf. This is a wonderful essay.

Ina Garten Does it Herself - Choire Sicha: I find the Barefoot Contessa more or less unwatchable but I like that it exists and I like its enthusiastic fan-base. I also like Ina Garten and this is a great profile of an interesting and very successful women.

The Semiotics of Rose Gold - Rebecca Mead: What a dream! I love a close analysis of an apparently superficial fashion trend. I could have read 12,000 more words on the history and economics of 'rose gold' and our current obsession with it.

Anne Hathaway Can't Win - Anne Helen Petersen: I am a rampant trier, I work very hard at almost everything I care about and I make approximately nothing look effortless, and even I can't suppress the instinctive dislike of other strivers. Or, at least, I find it hard to like/not squirm at Anne Hathaway. I wish her well but I also don't want to see her doing embarrassing shit. "Anne Hathaway is nothing if not a woman-shaped aggregation of trying." - AHP is great on our gendered judgement.


Kendrick Lamar - King Kunta

Nicki Minaj - Truffle Butter

KStewart - Ain't Nobody

Jabilough/Wilough - Whatislife?

Monday, October 19, 2015

Food Reviewed: Primeur

I have been honing my platonic ideal of a restaurant for years. My perfect restaurant is warm and buzzing with quiet conversation and laughter. It isn't too loud and it has nice cutlery and gimmick-free plates. Personally, I like mismatched crockery but that isn't a deal-breaker. I don't mind a restaurant that's a little overcrowded, that doesn't want to turn a group of friends away, but I don't want to be sitting in my neighbour's lap and I want to maintain some privacy. Comfortable chairs are essential and I like a soft furnishing, cushions or plush fabrics. I like wood but never pine.

I want the food to be brain-meltingly delicious without being fussy. I appreciate food that looks like art, food that has been painstakingly assembled with brushes and tweezers and an eye for the aesthetic, but I don't find it relaxing. I don't want silver service - I just want friendly, relaxed discretion. I want someone who is going to be able to translate my garbled wine speak and help me find something that I'm in the mood for without foisting the most expensive bottle on the menu onto me. I want a menu small enough that it pushes me to try something new and large enough that I don't have to eat salmon or cauliflower. I want good quality ingredients that haven't been messed about and food that tastes like love. I don't think it is too much to ask.

There are restaurants that come close to this ideal. The buzz and the homeliness of the food at Bocca di Lupo. The simultaneous perfection and lack of pretension at The West House. The warmth and seasonality of The Gardener's Cottage. The wood-fired oven, chaotic plants and smoky goodness of Ned Ludd. 10 Greek Street, Les Enfants Perdu, Mayfields (tragically deceased), Green Man & French Horn (tragically deceased). None of them are quite everything I'm searching for but all of them are wonderful and I always keep my eyes open for the next.

Primeur ticks a lot of my boxes. It is going on my favourites list with the above. It feels like a neighbourhood restaurant. The chairs are upholstered in a grubby mustard velvet and the tables are long and wooden. There's only a blackboard menu and on a wintery Friday night it is warm from the heat of happy bodies and an open kitchen. Candles flicker across the room and your wine tastes better in the gentle gloaming. Our wine was excellent for which Laura must take most of the credit. She is an excellent chooser of wine and a top notch restaurant companion - 10/10 would recommend. I have no idea what the wine was or who made it but it tasted strange and apply and oddly delicious with red meats that I can't imagine it was intended to be paired with. It had a drawing of a girl on the bottle. She was the daughter in an imaginary family, I think, and the wine tasted like her, like an awkward teenage girl in all her idiosyncratic magnificence. I want to say that her name was Therese but I am only about 15% confident on that and no amount of googling wine + girl + therese + german? is proving successful. She had a grandmother and a brother and other family members and now I want to collect them all like alcoholic, liquid Pokemon.

We had a terrine, I think, and some fried fishy thing. There was a strange, sweet puddle of sweetcorn mush that could, conceivably, have been a pudding and which was still somehow moreish and enjoyable. There was a pork belly that was delicious in the way that pork belly always should be, fatty and salty with shards of crackling and greasy fingers, and green beans and, perhaps, a lemon-mustard sauce thingy. All of this was good but it was eclipsed by the perfection of the beef rump with roasted onion puree and brown butter. It was a perfect dish. I could have eaten five. Laura could have eaten five. Our other dining companions seemed less emotionally involved with their dinner but I can only imagine that, given half a chance, they too could have eaten five. I haven't studied maths in many a year but I'm pretty confident that between us we could have put away at least twenty. The beef was tender and well cut, the onions were sweet and sticky and a little smoky. The brown butter was a dark pool of nutty glory. Together they were rich and warm and a little syrupy and a little ferrous and a lot irresistible. It was a dish to remember and if there wasn't enough room at our table to use my knife and fork and if I heard far too much of my neighbour's conversation then those were relatively small prices to pay.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Selected Reads: August 2015

It's totally still September. I'm doing fine! I mean, I'm not, it has been eighteen days since my last confession (blog post) and that is a long ass time, but if I start bringing guilt into this I will become mired down in a hopeless morass and never blog again! Maybe. I have read 13 books so far in September so August feels like a distant dream but let me dredge the memory banks.
  • Women - Chloe Caldwell: Women exploring their sense of self and their sexuality forever! I found this novella of a destructive love affair with an older woman rather insubstantial but I enjoyed Caldwell's clarity and I will continue to endorse this genre indefinitely.
  • Sex Criminals, Vol. 1 - Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky: As an internet dweller with access to many recommendations, I have decided that comics are going to be a key gift for R going forward. He is gently enthusiastic about comics but lacks the time/energy to work out what to read next, I pick up suggestions without effort but lack sufficient interest to follow through; together we shall make a quiet, low key team, slowly buying and reading the best of the comic landscape 2-5 years after original publication. I bought him Volumes 1 of Sex Criminals and Saga for his birthday and he thought I should try the former. I enjoyed the very silly premise (of two people who can stop time when they orgasm and who use this gift to attempt to rob a bank) but failed to connect with the form. It is still early days in my exploration of the comic media but I have yet to really get it. I'm sure that I will continue to road-test R's presents but if you have any comic recommendations for non-comic readers do let me know.
  • My Horizontal Life - Chelsea Handler: I am becoming something of a connoisseur of comedienne memoirs. Not that I care for the term 'comedienne' but 'lady comics' seems equally clumsy. I have never seen the American comedian/talk-show host/whathaveyou Chelsea Handler in action but I knew who she was when I stumbled across her first memoir/essay collection at the library and fancied something light. And, credit where it is due, Handler knows how to tell an anecdote and she has an apparently endless array of juicy stories that the 'good girl' comics can only dream of. These raucous adventures are often pretty funny but are also surprisingly mean. The casual cruelty and all-out alcoholism of many of her stories sometimes caught me off guard and it is interesting to consider how much the landscape has changed in the last eight years. This feels like a relic of the Sex and the City era now - fun but alien.
  • The Turner House - Angela Flournoy: This book is, more or less, everything I wanted The Twelve Tribes of Hattie to be. This is another story of a massive black family in a run down American city, Detroit this time, but the structure here allows you to actually get to know some of the characters. By focussing on the children who have stayed in Detroit and their decision about what to do with their family home once their mother can no longer live in it, you can have an evolving relationship with a handful of the offspring. Cha-Cha may be haunted by a haint, Lelah is secretly homeless and struggling with a gambling addiction and Troy is a cop who doesn't think that the law applies to him. The novel is concerned with white flight and redlining and the recession as well as family and race and mental health but it wears all of its 'issues' lightly and is primarily a great book with great writing.