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:

Good:
  • 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.
Great:
  • 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