As much as I love reading, the only time I have ever opened a recipe book was when I was at someone else’s bookshelf (indicating that I have none), and yet all those books with apparently good looking photographs of ready-to-serve meals have never really caught my attention. But this time was different. The other day I was at a friend’s place and a curiosity was tickling me to open a recipe book that has been lying around her table for quite a while. The book is by Nigel Slater: Nigel Slater, The Kitchen Diaries II. This friend who owns the book has been kind of obsessed with making all the meals from the book lately that she even made a special blog on which she follows each entry of the diaries, narrates her experience in finding the ingredients and going through the process, and then displays the results in a neat way. If you read through her blog, you would notice that it’s not just for the sake of making meals. There’s something from the persona who wrote the book that drives her to that point of making such big efforts. And that perhaps, is what invites Mr. Curiosity in the first place.
As I started to leaf through the pages of this kitchen diaries, it took only the first few sentences to get me hooked. It’s truly different from any other “recipe books” I’ve ever laid my fingers upon. This one has its charm on me, not only the photographs of four different seasons in between each parts, but the sentences that this Nigel Slater writes. He mentions in the book that he’s not a chef, but he prefers to be called a cook who writes. The sentences are crafted, they have a personal depth, and as always, there’s an old blanket of melancholic beauty covering the whole process of making a meal without being corny, just like an honest skillfully-written personal journal. Below was how he described his thoughts as he was sitting in a restaurant by the harbour staring through the window while waiting for his meal to be served:
I have always loved the colour grey. Peaceful, elegant, understated; the colour of stone, steel and soft, nurturing rain. The view from the window across the harbour has every shade, from driftwood to charcoal: the lagoon, the restaurant’s weathered cedar cladding, the moored boats, the trees on the opposite shore, all in delicated shades of calming grey.
And the best part of what I’ve read so far (not so much I guess) is how he gives me a revealing perspective on white rice. Yes, that particular seeds of grain that I’ve been consuming for like, forever. I’m aware that his idea of white rice will occupy my mind each time I think of or eat white rice from now on, which I clearly have no objection to.
Sometimes, I rather like noise. The testosterone-fuelled roar of a football match heard from my back garden; the tired and blissfully happy sounds of a crowd singing along at a festival; the swoosh of a barista’s steam wand. But most times I prefer peace and quiet. The sound of snow falling in a forest is more my style – something I have yet to hear this year.
There is quiet food, too. The tastes of peace and quiet, of gentleness and calm. The solitary observance of a bowl of white rice; the peacefulness of a dish of pearl barley; running your fingers through couscous. The thing these have in common is that they are grains or something of that ilk. What is it about these ingredients that makes them so calming? Could it just be that they bring us gastronomically down to earth, show us how pure and simple good eating can be? This is food pretty much stripped of its trappings. It is, after all, the food that many people survive upon.
The peacefulness of grains, their earth tones and the fact that they don’t snap or crunch between the teeth, is what makes them food to eat when we are looking for solace and calm. The fact they are not from dead animal probably has something to do with it, too.
and the way he ends most of the sentences, it gives me the sensation of riding on a soaring imagination:
A bowl of porridge is a quiet breakfast (no snap, crackle or pop) that sets me up for the day. I feel a sense of calm and wellbeing after a breakfast of porridge. I should add that mine now comes in a wooden bowl. I regard my porridge bowls as some of the most beautiful items in my kitchen. They are made by Guy Kerry at his croft in the Black Isle, with ash wood from a tree blown down in a storm.
I’m also aware of my own crush for people who write skillfully, who ignite beautiful sensation and vivid images through written texts, whose obsession might be driven by the longing for something they’ll never have in life but consequently drives them to keep creating stuffs. I might read his whole book one day, and indeed one doesn’t necessarily have to want to be a pilot to want to read about a pilot’s life, right? But perhaps, I’ll probably have my own perspective on food-making be changed drastically. I, a non-cook who reads. I mean, based on the mere beauty of it all, how could I resist?
ps: oh do watch Toast, a film based on his autobiography with the same name.